Book Review: “The Stars My Desination” (Alfred Bester) (5 Stars)

09 Jul

Pure drive. Raw Emotion. Hate-fueled revenge. A widget caught in a cog. The stick jammed into the spokes of a bike being peddled at a furious pace. Gully Foyle is the consummate anti-hero.

The prologue reads like a 1930’s era carnival barker explaining the physics of self-teleportation (“jaunting” as its called here), which settles you in for a decent piece of golden age science fiction. Ok fine. Good, in fact.

However (as others have noted), you won’t be prepared for the opening twist (spoiler warning) or the main character and his gutter speak and impetuous personality. Gully Foyle is the “id”. An arrow of emotion shooting through the cosmos, belligerent and beautiful (in a way) We find this out very quickly. His character is fully realized with all its quirks, weight and lurid faults (which he is certainly not without).

Foyle was traveling on a spaceship that got shipwrecked in outer space. Everyone is dead save him. His ship is pocked full of holes so that he must eek out a miserable survival locked in a closet taking only occasional and dangerous ventures out into the hull to gather supplies before his oxygen (and food) runs out.

Then it happens. He spots a passing ship and signals for rescue. The other ship circles in for a closer look, and then inexplicably jets. Gully is abandoned. And that’s where everything changes. The book is not about surviving in the vastness of space. No. Instead it turns into a fast-paced, high-stakes adventure story centering on revenge. Gully Foyle dedicates his entire existence to finding the ship which abandoned him to suffer in outer space (and any associated with it).

Here Foyle dons a figurative superhero persona and blasts off after his opus magnus. In many ways he reminds me of Robert Howard’s Conan or Kull, in that Foyle is strength beyond strength–and his sheer strength of will helps him to manage to best those with far greater intellect and resources then he has.

Suffice to say, I cannot do the book justice in a simple review. And perhaps it may be a little too much for casual readers of the genre (although the science is not overwrought) the time shifting and mental state of the main character provide adept twists and turns. Indeed even the words themselves bend out of time on the page (which is my only real criticism cause it felt a bit gimmicky–and yet given the subject matter it is forgivable).

Others have commented that the characters in this book are mostly one dimensional, yet there are some very interesting almost comic-book like characters (the author did write comic books after all). However, I would counter that the characters do enough interesting things, and are invested in the plot in enough interesting ways, that they are not single beat notes there simply to counter the protagonist.

Foyle’s rage tangles him into cool and interesting plots. It also serves to drive him off-track and give him every-increasing perspective at what he is doing. And each time he is knocked off the rails of revenge and resets, he sets the stakes higher and grander. He turns a personal vendetta into an everyman war.

One last point I’ll make is that this book paints some great visuals without overdoing the verbiage. I kept picturing this set in a stylized color saturated film of ultra real visuals. When Gully is running across the landscape, beating his feet furiously after his revenge quest — you feel it. Even through the eyes of other characters. You just feel the emotion driving him. Its compelling.

Do yourself a favor and check out this book. It’s the kind you put down and then say “wow”.


Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Book Reviews


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5 responses to “Book Review: “The Stars My Desination” (Alfred Bester) (5 Stars)

  1. Joachim Boaz

    July 10, 2014 at 6:21 am

    I’d recommend tracking down Bester’s short stories as well — and his other famous novel, The Demolished Man.

    • Ryan Sean O'Reilly

      July 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      I’ve heard of The Demolished Man, but I can’t remember what it’s about. I’ll have to check it out. I imagine his short stories might be a little more difficult to track down, but probably worth it. This book was very worth reading! If you have any favorite short stories by him let me know the titles.


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