Volume 2, Number 3, July 1984

The Stars My Destination

By Alfred Bester

New American Library, 1956
Reviewed by Victoria Varga
July 1984

This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying…but nobody thought so. This was a future of fortune and theft, pillage and rapine, culture and vice … but nobody admitted it. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks…but nobody loved it.

All the habitable worlds of the solar system were occupied. Three planets and eight satellites and eleven million million people swarmed in one of the most exciting ages ever known, yet minds still yearned for other times, as always. The solar system seethed with activity…fighting, feeding, and breeding, learning the new technologies that spewed forth almost before the old had been mastered, girding itself for the first exploration of the far stars in deep space, but —

From the prologue


"I give you the stars." —Gully Foyle, The Stars My Destination (formerly titled Tiger, Tiger), Alfred Bester, Berkley, 1956, 234 pg. From the Dickensian first paragraphs of its prologue, The Stars My Destination proves itself to be one of the best SF books ever published. It's fast-paced, funny, entertaining, horrifying, with hardly a word out of place.

The book's first chapter is one of the most personally terrifying "marooned in space" scenes that I've ever read. Bester also does a brilliant job of extrapolating the consequences of a scientific and psychological discovery—teleportation ("jaunting" it is called)—on the societies of the solar system. In fact, if Spielberg and Lucas ever want to get off their asses and make a more intelligent movie, Stars… would give them a lot more to play with than mere special effects (though there would be plenty of those as well).

Gully Foyle is a lethargic, gutter-talking spaceman who is transformed by hatred and a need for revenge into an educated but infernally possessed maniac. Like a Randian hero run amok, it is not until his impossible quest is almost completed that he is transformed again into something greater than human. In the process of transformation he awakens the people of the worlds, and gives them back the right to think, dream, grow, and take command of their own lives.

But what Bester gives us in Stars… is more than a story of the liberation of a man and his society. Here is a marvelous example of what we all read science fiction for: a civilization exploding with energy, full of possibilities. It's the cultural antithesis of 1984's monochromatic horror. To the degree that it is anarchist, it is less through philosophy than by default—the authorities don't seem to be able to control what people do. The breakdown of the effectiveness of the authorities is, by the way, a common Bester theme, which is explored more thoroughly in Golem 100 (1980). Golem is, unfortunately, a flawed novel.

In other words Bester gives us something very rare. A future in which there is hope and promise. A future in which the reader might even believe s/he could live, without the dreary clones marching to the inevitable wars between the twin monsters, fascism and communism. A future.

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