Alfred Bester,
The Stars My Destination
(Orion, 1956; Vintage, 1996)

Some books just don't deserve their fate. They get forgotten, consigned to poor libraries and second-hand bookstores. The Stars My Destination is one of those books.

It's one of the most influential novels of the 1950s, but how many people have really heard of it? I don't know, but I'm guessing not a lot.

The plot is pretty straight forward, and if you know the storyline for The Count of Monte Cristo, you'll have no trouble with it at all. Gulliver Foyle, an everyman of the 2400s, survives the bombing of the starship on which he is a low-grade mechanic. After about five and a half months of borderline survival, another ship, the Vorga, passes but, when he sends them an SOS, they don't answer and cruise right by. So Foyle is galvanized into action, escapes from the wreck and swears vegeance on the ship that passed him by. After a lengthy stay in prison, where he was educated by a young woman with a criminal history, he escapes and proceeds to visit his wrath on every member of the Vorga he can find.

But it's not really the plot that makes The Stars My Destination; it's the execution. From the title, one would expect some kind of Heinlein-ish jaunt through space, probably with some cool aliens and philosophical speculation along the way. Trust me, this you will not find. The novel to which it bore the most resemblance, in my mind, was Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep? -- it could almost be described as cyberpunk, although it seems ludicrous to describe it as such when it was written before "punk" meant people with green hair. It bears all the marks of a modern, or at least post-1970, science fiction novel. It's dark, it's violent and where the government ends and big business begins is unclear at best. And where many science fiction novels have become dated, this one remains remarkably fresh. Even its gutter slang -- something that never seems to wear well -- seems at least plausible.

If you are a science-fiction junkie, read this book. If you are a conspiracy theorist, read this book. If you're into dystopias, read this book. If you think Philip K. Dick is God, read this book. If you don't agree with any of these statements, you probably won't like The Stars My Destination much at all. But if good plotting, fast and scary action and disenchanted visions of a technological future really get you, then buy yourself a copy. And make sure you have some time to read it. You will not be able to put it down.

by Theo deRoth
8 April 2006

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