Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Solitary Renegade

The Stars My Destination
The Stars My Destination 

Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
- William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience

I was spurred to reread this book through participation in a Science Fiction reading group that started as an offshoot of a class I took last year. This book is one of the best that the group has read yet and it remains one of my favorites for a varity of reasons. The first of these reasons is the source material for the plot, since Bester adapted Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. This is also one of my favorite novels from my early years of reading and the revenge aspect of the Bester's novel rivals that of Dumas' romance. However, it is his imagination that soars and surprises the reader at every turn of the The Stars My Destination.
The opening section depicting the discovery of "jaunting", a form of teleportation, is brilliant both in imagination and execution of the idea. It is followed by the elements of what would become, more than a decade later, known as "cyberpunk", along with mythic references, sensational satire, and a touch of synesthesia for extra effect. The hero Gully Foyle, at the beginning ("Education: None. Skills: None. Merits: None. Recommendations: None." on his Merchant Marine Card) is unremarkable in almost every aspect. His growth, however, is made interesting and more than exciting by both his exploits and his interplanetary travels. The characters he meets from "The Scientific People" to the exotic Jisbella McQueen, "hot-tempered, independent, intelligent" and someone who liked to "smash all the rules"(p 74), are further demonstration of the imaginative heft of the story.
Reading this book reminded me why I enjoy science fiction. Whether it is "the greatest single SF novel", as Samuel Delaney claimed (he modestly excluded his own Dahlgren which could be considered a contender for the title), it is certainly a magnificent representative of the genre.  I will end with the motto of Gully Foyle, or is it his epitaph?

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation.
Deep space is my dwelling place,
The stars my destination.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Vintage Books, 1996 (1956)

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