Bester, Alfred. The Stars My Destination.

NY: Bantam, 1956.

I’ve been a science fiction junky a long time and I first read this one in high school, only a couple of years after it was published. (It was serialized first as “Tiger, Tiger” in Galaxy, but I missed that.) I had bought it in paperback with my allowance and absolutely loved it. And I still have it — that very copy. This is probably my eighth or tenth reread over the years. I even used “Gully Foyle” as my Usenet handle when I first went online a quarter-century ago. It’s that kind of book. And it always appears on “Greatest SF Novels of All Time” lists, so I’m not alone in my admiration.

It’s the 25th century and Gulliver Foyle is an uneducated, poorly-skilled commercial spaceman, the equivalent of a swabbie on a tramp steamer when Bester was writing. His ship, Nomad, was attacked by forces unknown — a warship from the Outer Planets, he figures, since the conflict between them and the Inner System is picking up steam — and Gully is the only survivor, hiding out in an airtight tool locker and making panicky forays into the remaining pieces of the wreck for supplies and oxygen. And then, after 170 days of bare survival, another ship — the Vorga, according to the name on its hull — happens by. He’s saved! But, no — the other ship comes close, looks him over, then ignores his unmissable signals, and leaves again. Now there’s only one thing driving Gully Foyle and that’s the white heat of revenge.

But there’s an important bit of background to the main story and that’s the discovery a couple of centuries before of “jaunting” — teleportation by the force of one’s mind. With a little training, almost everyone can do it, though with varying levels of skill. No surprise that this has utterly changed the world in terms not only of transportation but of politics, international relations, racial mixing (this book was written in the 1950s, remember), and customs regarding gender and privacy. Moreover, you have to have the coordinates of the location you’re jaunting to firmly fixed in your mind, so you can’t just teleport randomly. (That’s a “blue jaunte” and it’s lethal.) And no one has ever been able to exceed a thousand miles in a single jaunte, so you’re limited to the Earth’s surface.

So Gully finally gets himself rescued, his thirst for vengeance having brought him out of his lethargy. And his first fumbled attempt at getting even lands him in a deep always-dark prison under the mountains of France. (At this point, the reader will naturally begin to notice similarities to the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, which are entirely deliberate.) Foyle is down but he’s far from beaten, and he knows now that there was a secret treasure on Nomad. And that’s going to finance his quest, no matter who gets in the way. Gully is going to become a very dangerous man.

Bester was not a prolific novelist (and he’s been gone for fifty years now) but this book is still a favorite of a great many older readers. And what he did write was of very high quality. (His first novel, The Demolished Man, won the first-ever Hugo in 1953.) He’s widely regarded as one of the progenitors of cyberpunk and his Roman-candle style is echoed in the work of Cordwainer Smith and William Gibson. His vision of a corporately-ruled society often sounds very much of our time. Younger readers, those with no memory of what Bester’s own world was like, may look askance at some of the more naïve cultural remnants surviving in Gully’s version of the future, but there are surprisingly few of those. This is a novel that will never be outdated, either by subject matter or narrative style, and I recommend it very, very highly.


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