Book Review: The Stars My Destination
Author: Alfred Bester ~ Length: 244 pp ~
Publisher: Gollancz ~ Originally Published: 1956
Reviewer: Saxon Bullock (aka @saxonb)
What’s it About?: Stranded in space and left for dead, Gully Foyle is a brutal, beast-like nobody – and when a spacecraft refuses to rescue him, suddenly he finds a new reason to live. Finding his way back to Earth, Foyle embarks on a quest for vengeance, but his murderous grudge is destined to have unforseen consequences for the whole human race…
The Story: Classics don’t always age well, and sometimes a highly-regarded genre novel can leave you scratching your head and wondering “Is that it?” – so it’s nice to have finally caught up with Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination and find that there’s a reason this is ranked as one of the great SF novels. Fifties-era science fiction can sometimes seem very clunky – even writers like Phillip K. Dick didn’t really get into the swing of things until the Sixties hit – and yet The Stars My Destination moves like a bullet, and aside from a handful of dated aspects, it could easily have been written last year. Vivid, colourful and packed full of life, Bester’s novel is SF as full-throttle entertainment and darkly literate character study, fitting more into its 240 pages than many modern-day sci-fi thrillers manage in 500 or above. Yes, Bester co-opts the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo into an SF setting, but instead of merely playing this as a smart pastiche, The Stars My Destination goes further, and it’s all thanks to the fascinatingly weird journey of Gully Foyle.
Going from brutish thuggery to morality and then onwards to a truly cosmic conclusion, Foyle isn’t ever completely sympathetic – he’s too filled with rage, and simply unstoppable, for that – and yet he’s a completely fascinating protagonist, and Bester uses him in such a wildly creative way that what could have been a simple SF revenge story ends up mind-bending, hopeful and profound. There are rough edges here and there, and opinions may sharply divide on the infamous section where Bester breaks out the typographical tricks (possibly influenced by his time working in comics) and the novel almost seems like it’s trying to escape from the page – but the sharp energy and focus of The Stars My Destination is something special. If you’re an SF fan and you haven’t read it yet – do yourself a favour, and correct that situation as quickly as possible.