on October 31, 2003
Capsule Description: Proto-Cyberpunkish dark future with some unique twists, a flawed and driven protagonist, and gripping action. On my Top Ten list. Read it. Buy it. Buy two and give one to a friend.
Review: Alfred Bester is generally recognized as one of the greatest writers of SF, especially on the strength of his plots and prose style. He made his reputation on short stories, but is best remembered for two novels: The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination (sometimes known as "Tiger! Tiger!" in the UK). First published in 1956, The Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement -- the megacorporations as powerful as the governments, body and mind redesign to specs, the dark overall nature of the world, even the cybernetic enhancement of the body. To this it added the standard "one wierd idea" of SF -- that human beings could learn to teleport, or "jaunte" from point to point, with various personal limitations but one overall absolute limit: no one could bridge the gap between a planet and anywhere in outer space. On the surface of a planet, the jaunte ruled supreme; off of it, mankind was still restricted to machinery. In this future world -- extrapolated with convincing and sometimes frightening accuracy by Bester -- we are introduced to the protagonist, Gulliver ("Gully") Foyle: "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead..." Foyle is a former nobody, a man who had lots of potential but never had to use it, completely lazy, doing the minimum he could to get by, who is suddenly marooned in space with no escape. Even this isn't enough to motivate him beyond trying to find air and food on the wreck; he hasn't learned enough to know it's possible to FIND a way out of his situation. But he is galvanized to action when an apparent rescue ship deliberately passes him by.
In a sense, The Stars My Destination is simply a SF rewrite of a far older classic, The Count of Monte Cristo. It's the study of a capable, vengeance-driven man who escapes from an apparently impossible situation (twice, in Foyle's case) and returns as an utterly different man to wreak the vengeance that he was denied under his old name. Unlike many other Monte Cristo homages, however, Bester's is written with language fully as evocative as the original's, and with added intricate plot threads that make Gully Foyle's odyssey unique.
I cannot find sufficiently enthusiastic ways to recommend this book. It is one of the best, shining examples of what science fiction can be, in many ways. Read it.
on October 22, 1999
_The Stars My Destination_ is one of the best novels I have ever read. It's so good that the first time I read it, I was overwhelmed by the number of amazing ideas and action-packed scenes filled in the book. Gully Foyle is one of the most wonderfully ruthless and tortured protagonists ever to be written. And the novel has no limits to its sense of depth and imagination; jaunting across Earth, Foyle's quest for revenge against Vorga, the number of interesting and unique characters Bester created, as well as his wonderful experiments in elaborate prose manipulation...this book is the very definition of compelling. About the only flaw I can say that the novel has is that some of the references are a bit dated from the 50's. But it's still so fresh and innovative that it makes a lot of today's SF novels seem dated. And it has influenced thousands of other writers, myself included. Along with this book, there's Bester's _The Demolished Man_. Another great book that shouldn't be missed.
on September 5, 2002
That this book is over 45 years old and still an "underground" classic is a travesty.
This author perfected the concept of world building before the phrase was coined. Bester visualized a future three hundred years from now that will be demolished and reconstructed by humanity's discovery of a talent for teleportation (jaunting). His insights into how this one factor has affected every level of our society are so fresh and well thought out that my preconceived notions about early sci fi writers being quaint and naiive have been permanently obliterated.
If, like me, you also expect the characters and dialog to reflect a '50's cliche, you will be shamed. Our so-called hero is every bit the foul-mouthed, amoral neanderthal from the beginning, when he is pushed to stretch his mental powers in order to survive abandonment in deep space. From there on, he uses everything and everyone in his quest for vengeance, which necessitates his surface transformation into an educated, civilized man -- indeed, only his language really cleans up. The other characters are also revealed one by one to be ruthless and driven, once they have been crossed or betrayed by Gully Foyle. Bester draws a chilling, fascinating portrait of human nature that is sharpened by dystopia.
For all these admittedly dark and depressing themes, this novel avoids melancholy or bleakness. The pervading feeling is strangely light and hopeful, the people oddly likeable. At the last fifty pages or so, we find plot twists that cause us to question and reevaluate our assumptions once again.
In all, The Stars My Destination was so well conceived that I can only marvel at the distinct lack of copycat authors in ensuing decades. Perhaps Bester is in such a class of his own that the rest of the sci fi genre intuitively shys away from mimicry. Bravo, well done.
on October 24, 1999
What a shame this immortal story of Gully Foyle, the man shipwrecked and forever marked by the Maori tattoo on his face was never made into a movie! His rise from simpleton to cosmic Donald Trump (and then some!) is a classic of modern fiction, never mind "science" fiction! There is more richness of detail here than in many current "hard" sci-fi books. The whole aspect of "jaunting" has never been duplicated by anyone since. The characters are alive, sympathetic, ugly, real, weak, strong and demented. The story is rich with classic motifs and underpinnings. This is a Story (with a capital S) that deserves continued praise and a movie adaptation (and don't anyone say Leonardo DiCaprio)!
on May 28, 2012
I agree with most of the reviewers here that The Stars my Destination is an excellent book. I have read and re-read the book many times and teach the book as one of the novels in a science-fiction course at a high school. The book is valuable both as a well-written and idea-filled story in its own right, and for the historical significance in science-fiction of being the source of so many ideas for later authors. The style of storytelling is very different than a lot of well-known science-fiction books from the early 1950s and relies on the reader's ability to put ideas together rather than spelling everything out for you. This is the first book to present many of the ideas we now commonly see in fiction and science-fiction, and to studiously probe their effects and consequences. It's a fantastic read and I recommend THE BOOK to anyone who wants a good, fast, thought-provoking read from the 1950s.
However, the Kindle version of the book is sorely lacking in one crucial section of the book. Towards the end, there is a set of several pages on which the author lays out a very particular presentation in words to tell that part of the story. The words are in fact drawn instead of typeset to convey the action of the story for the main character in a unique and specific way. Several points of the plot are brought together and explained in this segment. The Kindle version does away with the art in the words and attempts to show what Bester did with typesetting instead of the images of the words, and whoever did this fails completely in conveying what Bester wants to show the reader. Unless you read an actual copy of the book with the original presentation, you will miss out on what Alfred Bester did. For this reason, if this is your first run at the book, do NOT buy the Kindle version. Buy the real book - you'll be glad you did!
I really appreciate the effort of whoever tried to 'port the book over to the Kindle. The book hasn't been reprinted in years, and several recent reprints (within the past twenty years) put a picture of the main character on the front cover and ruin the reader's opportunity to see the character for themselves, in their minds. I don't like that, and the Kindle version doesn't have that cover in the file. I had high hopes for the Kindle version; how great it would be to have an electronic copy of this book! I've had to scour half my city's used bookstores to find enough copies to teach with, and the course is doubling in size next year. But not putting the words in the penultimate chapter in the style in which Bester wrote and drew them ruins one of the really critical passages in the book. Until this is fixed, the only people who should buy the Kindle version are those who already appreciate the book and want an electronic copy for themselves.
The extra cost for a printed copy is worth it, as long as the Kindle version has this error. Buy the real book!
on November 13, 1996
What incredible news for another generation of science fiction
fans. Ever since I first read this novel, more than twenty-five
years ago, I have always included it in my own "Top 10" list.
This is rich tale of revenge and redemption set in a well-sketched,
complex future society, bouyed by enough semi-hard SF to mask [pun
intended] plot origins in Dumas, "The Stars My Destination" is a
catching page-turner for a captive afternoon's enjoyment. THIS
is one science fiction novel that would be a great movie.
Arnold, are you listening?
The central figure, Gulliver Foyle, floats through his life on the
bottom of his society's ladder, until, under duress, he exhibits a
skill that transforms him, and his society. In the process, he
loses himself, his freedom, his heart and his humanity, in an
excruciating series of incidents and challenges, ultimately finding
simple love and simple human bonds are the true steel of existence.
And society's beauties/norms/conventions may in truth be ugly.
As would be typical of almost all novels from this era, the future
society lacks obvious modern touches, but, overall, this book will
have aged well. The S-F, rockets/space travel, planetary colonies,
and the like are merely stage dressing for a psychological adventure.
But don't worry, this isn't a psychobabble baby story. We should
hate and despise Foyle, yet but the tale's end we are
cheering him on. Since, "feeling his pain," we undergo the
same transformation, and the stars are truly our destination.
Can I say enough? They don't make them like this anymore.
on December 20, 2013
he snatched the book up with a smile & I have not seen him since....the 5 star review does not indicate that I am thrilled he has retired to the reading room...the 5 star review indicates it must be a hell of a Sci-Fi.
on August 17, 2005
I really loved this novel, a space opera, very much ahead of its time. Alfred Bester envisions a future world beset with many of the problems of our current times. The outer planets of our solar system our at war with the inner planets, including earth. Giant mercantile corporations, controlled by family clans, greatly influence the governments of the inner planets. The families in control largely stand above the law. People have learned that they have the innate power to "jaunte", instantly transport themselves from place to place, at distances of around five hundred miles. Now that people have the power to instantly transport themselves, people have become more free, but society has suffered. People abuse their power, raiding homes, and moving onto the next residence. Companies can't keep employees, who tend to move on to the next experience without any regrets. Thousands' or revelers follow the globe, from night spot to night spot, in a never ending race to beat bar closing. The bad element's of Bester's world sound a little like the negative elements of today's internet and cell phone life style.
Our protagonist, Gulliver ("Gully") Foyle, is a stranded spaceman. The only survivor of a space ship that was attacked by enemy ships from the outer planets. His abandoned ship encounters another ship, that refuses to rescue him, leaving him to die in space. Foyle becomes consumed with revenge, against the ship, the ship's crew, and the ship's owners. This monomaniacal desire for revenge drives Foyle to escape from his ruined and ship and return to earth in order to carry out his schemes. Most people will recognize the underlying similarities with Duma's The Count of Monte Cristo. Especially when Foyle finds unexpected wealth, and assumes a new, more noble identity, in order to carry out his revenge plans.
But this novel contains so much more than a re-telling of Dumas' work. Bester's novel has themes from the cold war, who has the "right" to control weapons of mass destruction. The novel includes elements of Moby Dick; what happens to people when they are consumed by revenge. The novel ends with elements that sci-fi readers will recognize from 2001, a Space Odyssey, written years later. One will also see elements of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, also written years latter. In my opinion, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, and other giants of science fiction may have, stood on the shoulders of Alfred Bester and unfortunately, Bester has disappeared from our collective memory. One should definitely read this novel and see a world that is eerily similar to our present, somewhat retro, in its attitudes towards women and that future scientist's are stumped in their attempts to remove a tattoo, and ground breaking in its depiction of a stark, nihilistic future.
on October 13, 2002
The prologue of this book paints a whole world and time, into which is placed a truly unlikely, but unforgettable, main character, Gully Foyle. Who is introduced with: "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead." Possibly the best opening line in all of SF. I still remember it 10 years after my last reading. Only the opening line in "Ringworld" comes close. Literally the textbook example of the "narrative hook."
The story, as such, is "The Count of Monte Cristo in the 25th Century" -- and Bester never claimed otherwise. But it's the fabric of the world he creates to set it in, the sheer mastery of prose, and audacity of his ambition, that sets this book apart from most. It's such a grand ride, like a roller coaster that keeps on going every time you thought there wasn't any more it could do.
A grand display of a first-rate writer at the peak of his form.
Is Demolished Man a better book? I don't think so, but, heck, read them both and decide for yourself.
on September 22, 2012
If I had just picked this off a shelf and read it, I would never have guessed that this book was first published in 1956. I usually associate 50s and 60s science fiction with Lester Del Rey, Doc Smith, Isaac Asimov, and tales of other worlds and heroic adventures. This is a noir science fiction novel way before its time.
Gully Foyle is a dark figure, at best. Abandoned on the Nomad, a wrecked spaceship drifting in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars, Foyle's personal quest is to find and punish the responsible party aboard a ship that passed by him, received his desperate signal, and left him to die. That story of revenge gives Bester the chance to take us through a narrative of interplanetary politics, selfish pursuits, and dark endings.
Foyle is no hero. He's narrow in his perspective, and he's uninihibited by conventional morality. His character is what makes the book unusual for its time. Bester surrounds Foyle with other interesting, and complicated characters as well, to make the story unpredictable and provocative.
He also introduces two story props -- "jaunting" and "PyrE" -- that are transformative. Jaunting allows anyone of normal cognitive abilities to transport themselves instantly across locations. Bester doesn't develop the consequences as fullly as he might -- this is not a technocentric story -- but he does begin to spin out how the world could change as the result of such an ability. Physical boundaries mean nothing. Distance is irrelevant.
PyrE provides the root of a counter-story to Foyle's pursuit of revenge. Some amount of the substance, a kind of cosmological explosive, was hidden aboard the Nomad when it and Bester were lost. Powerful parties are trying to locate and retrieve the PyrE just as Foyle tries to find and exact revenge against whoever left him, and the PyrE, drifting in space.
Much of science fiction from the 1950s is good reading just for its nostalgia or historical value -- this one stands on its own as just a good story. If you like the dark turn given to science fiction by William Gibson, you'll like this. Gibson wasn't the first noirish science fiction writer. And I don't think Bester is the only ancestor of that turn -- Philip Dick certainly belongs in that club -- but this book is one of the best. I think it stands up to anything Gibson or other more recent writers have turned out.
I also have to mention something I found surprising in the story. PyrE's explosive power is unleashed by mind, in particular by "Will and Idea" -- it's hard not to connect PyrE's nature as both explosive and creative force with Schopenhauer's metaphysics of "will and representation". "Representation" and "Idea" are very distinct concepts for Schopenhauer, but nevertheless it seems odd to suppose that Bester used such an unusual phrase completely out of the blue. I have no idea if the connection is coincidence, or if Bester meant to echo Schopenhauer's metaphysics in his conception of PyrE. "World and Idea" are no more than hints in the story at the nature of PyrE.