The Stars My Destination is one of the more memorable books I’ve read in recent years, as well as one of my favorites. Written by Hugo winner Alfred Bester in the mid-1950s, the short novel, stays away from the technobabble and neologisms that might date it and as a result it retains potency decades after publication. As Neil Gaiman says in a foreword to the edition I read, many sci-fi novels are out-of-date within a few years, but this one manages to be relevant today and will for many years.
That said, it’s not for everyone.
The story opens on anti-hero Gully Foyle marooned in space, far from Earth or any other planet from whence rescue might come, and the action quickly rises as Foyle discovers powers almost magical in nature hiding within him, but released by the stress and strain of likely death.
Gravelly, violent, and raw, the plot is in your face and wastes no time with excess story or meandering character development, to say nothing of description. Bester tells you exactly what Gully is, and Gully is as predictable as intended. The rest of the characters tend to be paper thin, but the point of the story is the story, not the characters.
Though violent, there is a point to Bester’s prescient tale, and it makes the The Stars My Destination worth the reading, even as bleak Bester paints the future world. Gully, the desperate, violent, and vengeful every-man discovers and uncovers a simple truth, a truth of power, of corruption, and the danger of unparalleled weapons in the hands of the few, rather that of the many. Perhaps it was due to the zeitgeist of the 1950s, an era that saw the proliferatoin of nuclear weapons and the start of the superpower arms race. Reading The Stars My Destination and considering the ’50s, one is reminded of comments often attributed to Albert Einstein. When asked about the future of a nuclear armed world, he said “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” Around this same time, J.R.R. Tolkien was publishing his “The Lord of the Rings,” also a story that has been noted for its analogical relationship to nuclear weapons.
That power corrupts has become a truism, but that power unfettered can destroy us completely is perhaps a lesson we can remember more aptly. Bester wrote science fiction, but like Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein, his real subject was human nature. As Daniel Abraham has observed, the solar system of Gully Foyle is populated with real people, not the steely eye rocketmen classic science fiction is perhaps famous for. “With all of their greed, and racism, and pettiness intact. Gully is the extreme of all of that, but none of the other characters that appear are without their flaws. They don’t see themselves as the brave pioneers of the future. They are worried about money, and sex, and power.”
Parent’s guide: This is a book that would be great for discussion by a high school or college level class, but the content is gritty and mature.
- Sex: Discussion of sex
- Violence: This is a violent book, albeit in no way gratuitously.
- Language: none
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