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The Stars My Destination Paperback – June 30, 2011
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I had not realized there was ... well ... so much, and it would be a shame to over-reveal if you haven't read it. There was The Count of Monte Cristo. Freedom from imposed views of reality. Absolutely laser-sharp insights into how a couple simple technological changes would upset everything. A world which defies the trap of future history not aging well. Cadence and prose poetry guiding the experience of reading the book. Gog, Og, and Magog personified as the Norns. How a man becomes not exactly a god (too much baggage that word) by way of being a monster.
They come almost too fast because he moves the story in a way that keeps you turning pages without stopping at critical junctures and then trips you up and implies volumes with just the right words or punctuation at the right time such as casually fusing Skoptcism with Stoicism in a way which invites dangerous philosophical boundary-breaking or....
' "the three Inner Planets (and the Moon) had lived in delicate economic balance with the seven inhabited Outer Satellites: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto of Jupiter; Rhea and Titan of Saturn; and Lassell of Neptune." '
[And Heinlein's best work gets swallowed up years before it was actually written]
' Peter and Saul are here. They say au revoir and good luck. And Jiz Dagenham too. Good luck, Gully dear...”
“The past? This is the future?”
“Am I here? Is…Olivia—?” And then he was tumbling down, down, down the space time lines back into the dreadful pit of Now. '
“Because you’re alive, sir. You might as well ask: Why is life? Don’t ask about it. Live it.”
[Uttered by a malfunctioning robot waiter]
The novel is in two distinct parts: the first is the isolation and creation of the monster Foyle, who becomes consumed with the need to revenge himself on a ship that abandoned him when he gave out a distress beacon. As with the age-old maritime custom, a ship passing a marooned voyager must offer assistance. Foyle was left to drift in a derelict spaceship. He does survive and like The Count of Monte Cristo, all of his subsequent actions are to revenge himself against the ship that left him to die. Later, there is a prison reminiscent of The Chateau D'If (totally dark--and the guards use infrared goggles to see. The prisoners are left blind. Amazing.) It's this combination of the classic elements of literature and the twists of science fiction technology that make this such a great book.
The second half of the book is a transformed Foyle, so transformed that it is amazing, yet the thread of revenge is there. However the plot is deeper, much deeper.
I loved the science fiction technology of this book--"jaunting" which is teleportation based on genetic ability and training and telepathy, which in some cases can be unidirectional (you broadcast your thoughts, but you can't receive them.) Bester's modern society is also interesting; the elite shun technology and flaunt their wealth by avoiding the technological mode of travel and using the most antique such as horse and carriage or bicycle to demonstrate their independent wealth. That was clever--and visually stunning.
I can't believe I waited all these years of loving classic science fiction to find Alfred Bester, who was a Science Fiction Grand Master. His work is beloved of other great science fiction authors, who borrowed from his work. Robert Silverberg pays homage to him in "Sailing to Byzantium" by using a minor character Y'Ang Yeovil in one scene, and so does Stephen King.
While Foyle deals with growth past his hatred for the people who'd abandoned him to die he must also cope with a form of mutilation which made him appear to be a tiger-faced freak at the least loss of self control. He has to learn how to love, despite learning that the love of his life is more evil than he'd been at his lowest. All while society crumbles.
Some years ago I walked out of a college world literature class. I'd enjoyed the class up to that point, making good grades on the tests, but during class discussion one day a student had asked the teacher what he thought of modern science fiction. Teacher replied that science fiction wasn't literature. With a statement like that I realized that if he were not a bold faced liar he'd never read Homer, Mary Shelley, Poe, Wells nor Irving so there was nothing he could teach me. Obviously he'd never read Bester.