Monday, August 5, 2013

The Stars My Destination

The Stars My DestinationThe Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After being abandoned to die in space, Gulliver Foyle seeks his monstrous revenge on the people who wronged him.

Gully Foyle is a man of no talents and little worth to those around him: "Of all brutes in the world he was among the least valuable alive and most likely to survive." The actions of the Vorga, a ship that receives his distress signal but passes him by, give his life new meaning. He transforms himself into an instrument of revenge, driven only by a bottomless bloodlust.

The world Foyle inhabits is classic science fiction, vivid and strange: the galaxy is heavily populated, full of human half-telepaths and grotesques. Most of the population has a limited ability to teleport from place to place using psychic power (this is called "jaunting"), a leap in technology that has radically shifted culture and the economy. Women are considered property, values are Victorian, and organized religion is an outlawed perversion. There is war between Earth and the Outer Satellites.

In the tradition of sci-fi, the woman are gorgeous and often prey to instalove with the aggressive anti-hero (though they are still fuller characters than what you'll find in, say, Larry Nivens' Ringworld). There is Jisbella McQueen, a rebel that Foyle meets in a pitch-black prison designed to foil jaunting. Then there is Robin Wednesbury, an unfortunate 'telesend' (a half-telepath: she can only broadcast her thoughts, not receive those of others) who Foyle brutally misuses. And Lady Olivia Presteign, the blind daughter of a business tycoon who can only see the infrared spectrum of light.

Add to this an insane traveling circus, the atavistic 'Scientific People', a tigerish facial tattoo, a mysterious element known as PyrE, and weird visions of a burning man, and you have a perfect example of golden age science fiction at its wildest. It's got the retro appeal of the most outlandish original Star Trek episodes, and the reforged Foyle could easily be a rough-edged version of the irresistible Captain Kirk.
Just like this.
Bester is also known for his novel The Demolished Man (1953), the first-ever winner of the Hugo Award, but I think The Stars Our Destination is a better book. The Demolished Man relies too heavily on Freudian pseudo-psychology, though its story about an impossible murder committed in a society of "Peepers" (more telepaths!), has a great starting premise with plenty of noir appeal. (Some silliness with a love interest who undergoes an infant regression knocked The Demolished Man down from a loved-it to a shaky liked-it for me.)

There is a definite connection to be made between The Stars Our Destination and Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Both feature men on a quest for revenge who happen into large fortunes and a bit of reeducation.

For more excellent old-school sci-fi, don't miss The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. After a mysterious meteor strikes everyone on Earth blind, giant man-eating plants engineered by the Soviets start taking over the world. It's a zombie apocalypse with walking asparagus. But awesome.

"He was Gully Foyle, the oiler, wiper, bunkerman; too easy for trouble, too slow for fun, too empty for friendship, too lazy for love." - 18

"Olivia Presteign was a glorious albino. Her hair was white silk, her skin was white satin, her nails, her lips, and her eyes were coral. She was beautiful and blind in a wonderful way, for she could see in the infrared only, from 7,500 angstroms to one millimeter wavelengths. She saw heat waves, magnetic fields, radio waves, radar, sonar, and electromagnetic fields." - 42

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