Author: Alfred Bester
Publisher: Library of America
Format: e-Galley of American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950’s
Every so often I come across a novel that catches me by surprise. With a genre like science fiction that is often focused on the near future, novels can quickly become antiquated. This is not the case with The Stars My Destination. Originally published in 1956, as a serialized story in Galaxy Magazine, Bester’s proto-cyberpunk classic transcends time.
The plot is essentially a science fiction version of The Count of Monte Cristo — the revenge tale of Gully Foyle. In the midst of an interplanetary war, Foyle is left drifting through space aboard the Nomad. When a passing ship, the Vorga, fails to rescue him Foyle sets out to exact revenge.
The story takes place in the distant future, when humans have learned to jaunte (teleport) using only their mind. There are also a sprinkling of people with telepathic powers. Governments are largely controlled by megacorporations and despite man’s adaptation of a god-like power, the future is bleak and there is little faith in humanity.
Gully Foyle does not start out as a likable character. He is cynical and thirsty for revenge. His face is tattooed like a tiger with the word “N♂MAD” etched on his forehead. He has no recollection how he was stranded or where he was going and instead of looking for answers, he focuses solely on finding the captain of the Vorga to murder him. Through Foyle’s inquisition, he discovers that the Nomad carried a substance so valuable it could end the war. Despite its value, there is something even more precious that the authorities are after — Foyle himself.
I found Bester’s story to be somewhat comparable to the works of Philip K Dick, an author who I hold with high regard. The Stars My Destination has elements of mystery, adventure, speculation, and intrigue. The writing is artistic, but very readable and as a reader I shared in the self-loathing of Foyle only to gain empathy for his pursuits. Foyle’s character is beautifully complex and the people he meets are also interesting. There’s Jisbella McQueen, a fellow prisoner who helps Foyle escape and remove his strange tattoos; Robin Wednesbury, a telesender who has only the less-useful ability of transmitting her thoughts, but not receiving others; Presteign, the megalomaniac corporate mogul in charge of Presteign corporation and owner of the Vorga; and Dagneham, a detective with special skills in interrogation.
Frankly speaking, I really have no criticisms of the novel. The pacing is good, the mystery keeps unfolding like layers of an onion that draw me in to the next scene, the characters are intertwined and well-developed, and the story is completely satisfying. The Stars My Destination epitomizes everything I love about science fiction. It is filled with wonders and ideas and is upheld with its literary merit. I can’t recommend this novel strongly enough.