The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
by İnci German
In "Classics of Science Fiction" we will present you Science Fiction's cream of the crop; books that shaped and defined the genre and that we think every fan should have read at least once. It could also serve as a little guide for beginners.
I chose to start with Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination because it's one of the greatest novels you will ever read. It's awesome. Trust me.
Revenge is a topic I'm especially fond of in fiction.
It's not only about violence justified, a hall pass to baseness, to cruelty even to perfidy, it's above all about Phoenix rising from the ashes, finding fresh destructive energy and undergoing personal changes, rising above yourself. Still, we can't dismiss the sense of justification; whatever the protagonist does, however horrible a person they become, the reader will always keep in mind that the other ones started it and they somehow deserve it. The sympathy is with the avenger.
Now, suppose that there's no way you can feel for him: He's a rapist, an unskilled, lowbrow, unlikable brute. Suppose that, even though he changes, you still can't relate to him. Confusing, right?
And yet this puzzlement is exactly why Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, the intriguing tale of Gully Foyle, an unlikely survivor of a wrecked spaceship becoming a sort of awesome god, is among my top five favorites of all times.
It is the 25th century and although the teleportation mode “jaunting” has opened new horizons to people in the solar system, it has also disturbed the economical and social balance causing a war between the Inner Planets and the Outer Satellites.
Meanwhile Gulliver Foyle is literally lost in space: He's the only survivor of the Presteign-owned merchant spaceship Nomad that is drifting somewhere between Mars and Jupiter after an attack and he endures his days (one hundred and seventy to be exact) in a claustrophobic tool locker, since it's impossible to jaunt in space. During a desperate attempt to find help, he witnesses that Vorga, a passing spaceship also owned by the wealthy corporate business clan Presteign, obviously ignores his signal. This is Foyle’s turning point – from now on he's burning with revenge!
After a succession of head-turning adventures he finds himself with his whole face tattooed in a spooky tiger mask and imprisoned by Presteign in a jaunt-proof cell. What he didn’t know is that the Nomad carried PyrE, a mystery material that can help win the war. In prison he meets Jiz McQueen who teaches him to control his thoughts through meditation. Together they escape and bleach out his tattoos, which will from now on only appear when Foyle gets too emotional.
With a new, powerful approach to life he concentrates on educating himself vigorously and training his body energetically so he can have his Count-of-Monte-Cristo-moment: He now is Geoffrey Fourmyle – a sophisticated, nouveau riche, high society killing machine and he’s back baby!
From now on he will not only discover astonishing stuff about Olivia, Presteign’s mysterious albino daughter, but will also hold the key to space jaunting and the fate of humanity in his very own hands.
As in every good science fiction novel, it's the nova that hit the mark here. Both jaunting and PyrE are extremely interesting in the way they trigger life-altering changes: PyrE is a thermonuclear explosive weapon that can be activated by sheer THOUGHT (and is thus powerful enough to win an interplanetary war) and jaunting ruins the balance between planets and satellites and causes war. On the social scale it brings obvious advantages such as freedom of movement but on the other hand upper class women, for instance, are being locked away in jaunte-proof rooms for their own "protection".
Both of these novelties stress the importance of individual responsibility; after all, it is a huge thing to be able to be anywhere anytime and to trigger a humongous explosive by only wanting to do so.
Bester didn't only shape the cyberpunk movement/genre by depicting corporations that are equally powerful to governments and cybernetic enhancement of the human body, he also heavily influenced SF in general with the early use of themes such as telepathy and teleportation/jaunting. Note that this book was published in 1956!
On a last note: This book is in parts outright funny! Just take the time to read the prologue which made me laugh out loud (nope, no spoilers here!), you will see what I mean. And once you've read the prologue, I'm quite sure that you won't be able to stop reading anyway.