The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

by hetzer

Education: None.
Skills: None.
Merits: None.
Recommendations: None.

So reads the personnel dossier of one Gulliver Foyle, protagonist (not hero) of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.  Gully Foyle is a nobody, a brute, Mechanic’s Mate 3rd Class aboard the spaceship “Nomad” with no prospects for promotion, cursing the gods in his thick gutter dialect as he ticks off his 171st day marooned alone in space.

The future is a weird place.  Mankind has, purely by accident, learned to teleport (or “jaunte”).  All of the habitable planets and moons are inhabited, and there is a tense economic war/standoff between the Inner and Outer planets.  Corporations have mutated into noble families overseeing their chains of shops, their daughters and valuables shut away inside cunning labyrinths to protect them from jaunting intruders.  Society is undergoing the kinds of wholesale changes that leave it “trembling on the verge of a human explosion that would transform man and make him the master of the universe.”  And Gully Foyle couldn’t care less about that, or about anything else.  He’s been in space, alone, for 171 days in pure survival mode to the point where, seeing a passing spaceship, he can’t believe his salvation…or that the spaceship, the S.S. “Vorga”, after slowing and looking him over, accelerates away and leaves him to die.  It is this insult that snaps him out of his lifelong funk and finally gives him a reason to live: in his words, “Vorga, I kill you filthy!”.

There are few wholly original stories, and this is not one of them.  You can think of it as The Count of Monte Cristo in space, if you like, but there’s much more to it than that.  Foyle is one of the most anti anti-heroes I’ve read, at least in recent memory; single-minded, savagely violent, and despicably amoral, he nevertheless elicits grudging admiration for the sheer volume of energy he expends as his he tortures, rapes and murders his way along his search for the “Vorga” and her crew.  Meanwhile, a planet-wide search is ongoing for him as the last survivor of the “Nomad,” which was carrying the only supplies of an experimental superweapon that could turn the tide of the solar war for good.  Both hunter and hunted, Foyle is an embodiment of pure seething rage and determination, making for a truly memorable character, and his sheer bloody-mindedness propels the story at breakneck pace toward a synesthetic finale of literally cosmic scale.

Clocking in at less than 200 pages (in my copy, anyway), this book is tightly written and plotted and simply barrels along from the first page to the last, with many touches familiar from Bester’s other work: gutter dialects, dialog with no indication of who is speaking (sure there’s a word for this), synesthesia represented by switching to illustration and odd typefaces, and of course rape.  Not nearly as much of an acid trip as Golem100, this is generally regarded as Bester’s finest work and is often mentioned as one of the best science-fiction novels ever written.  I’m not sure that I quite go that far, but it is definitely a classic of the genre and a must-read for any fan thereof.