Home > books > the stars my destination by alfred bester

the stars my destination by alfred bester

this is one of those big science fiction books, one of the classics (for those of you who have already read it or know the premise, feel free to skip through my intro).

shipwrecked, for months gully foyle floats in space, alone, merely surviving until he sights another spaceship nearby. frantically he lets off numerous flares to attract its attention – it sees him, goes toward him and then, inexplicably, flies past.

galvanised by his rage at being left for dead foyle escapes from his predicament and with his newfound freedom single-mindedly focuses all his attention on one objective: revenge for being left to die.

at its heart the stars my destination is simply and purely a delightful revenge story. there is much to it but its for being a revenge story that i like it first and foremost.

my impression about these science fiction classics was always that they were quite high-brow and very sophisticated, and so I was always a little bit intimidated to read them. well, not intimidated, but, well, i thought i had to be ready to read them and all (if you know what i mean). however, the more of them i read the more i realise that a great many of them are just fun stories.

and stars is very much that – pure fun. and its told at a breakneck speed too, so there’s no time to get bored at any stage. in fact, i sometimes had to put the book down to get my breath back!

so what makes this book great? well, one of the big reasons i think this is a great book is that it has so many good things going for it – good characters, brilliant ideas, good storytelling and plot, and fantastic vision (that sounds like I’m cheating, like asking for more wishes with my one wish – but i’m sure you know what i mean!). where the reputation of some clearly relies on one element, stars is great because there is just so much there for the reader to enjoy!

also, there is just so much about it thats memorable. that was my biggest impression when i finished the book. more than any feeling or thought or opinion, i was left with so many mental images of fantastic moments. they were there, like photographs in my mind. and when that happens then i know i’ve enjoyed a book!

and as if that wasn’t enough, the book has one of the most memorable protagonists i’ve met in some time. from the moment you gully foyle you know that you’ll probably never forget him. some characters simply stand out and stay with you – they become an archetype which you use when trying to describe other characters.

the supporting cast are also very cool and surprisingly well fleshed out, given how much the story is driven by its main character. they are utterly believable and have such sumptuous personalities. there are some moments in the book that just leap of the page – they actually crystallize as they travel through the book and into our reality. one of them is the insistence of one character that he be called “presteign”, and not “mr. presteign”, so as to distinguish himself from all the other mr. presteigns – and also leave you in no doubt that he is a badass.

the baddies aren’t all what they seem to be either and it’s a real treat how bester fleshes them out and makes them quite complicated characters.

bester was also a visionary. his anticipation (in 1956!) of how corporations would run the world and infiltrate our lives was depressingly accurate. there are also lots and lots of science fiction concepts which first see light here and those which bester didn’t invent he puts his indelible mark on, so that you can see his unmistakable stamp on much which follows in this genre.

the only criticism i’d give the book is that there were a few too many twists towards the end, which makes the ending feel a bit rushed. but in a book that does so much right, that is small criticism indeed. especially if you consider that at the heart of it this is a good story well-told. in essence this is simply a very good revenge drama and if it didn’t have any of the other good stuff i would’ve still really enjoyed it.

there is one other thing that recommends the stars my destination and that is that intangible quality that good books have. i couldn’t even hope to say what it is but i know the effect good books have on me – they stick with me.

i sometimes can’t even verbalise what i loved about a book or am even aware that i loved a book, but when a book stays with me then i know i love it. sometimes, like with dracula, the process is slow and sneaky – where months later i found myself thinking about it all the time! other times, like with stars, i know it the moment i turn the last page.

Categories: books
  1. April 6, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    I really liked it as well and handed it over to my husband who usually doesn’t read sci/fi. He gave it a thumbs up.

  2. April 7, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    “i thought i had to be ready to read them and all (if you know what i mean). however, the more of them i read the more i realise that a great many of them are just fun stories.”

    I know just what you mean and I’ve found the same thing happen every time I’ve picked up one of these ‘classics’. They survived because they are mostly damn fun stories.

    I am so glad that you enjoyed it. It is by far one of my favorite science fiction novels. And you are right, it does stick with you. That is why I had to read it again this year. Two years after the first time I read it I just couldn’t stop occasionally thinking about it and wanting to read it again. Very good stuff.
    Bester definitely tells a memorable story and a gripping one too.

    Great review, JP. I certainly recommend reading The Demolished Man at some point in the future. Stars is better, but I found it to be a very enjoyable book and one that also just stuck with me.

  3. April 9, 2009 at 5:10 am

    I mean to read this someday. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet! It looks really good, though. Good post!

  4. April 9, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Sounds great. I’ve read very few of the old classics. Maybe one day I will 🙂 One day.

  5. Jeff S.
    April 12, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Fun! That is a great way to describe this ” classic ” scifi novel. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have found that classic scifi has a lot more fun in the stories than modern scifi tales. I read Stars My Desintation last year early in 2008 and I think it still has stuck with me. Gully Foyle was such a great anti hero. I see some Han Solo and Stainless Steel Rat in him. If they made a movie I would love to see Russell Crowe in the role.

    In the last year I have read a number of Robert Heinlein early juvenile novels and they are a lot of fun as well.

    As for Bester’s other classic tale ” The Demolished Man ” it is good as well but not on the same level as Stars. It’s just not as ” fun “. Great post JP!

  6. jean pierre
    April 15, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    i’m pleased that many of you also had the same experience with stars! 😀


    i’m glad you and your husband liked it too! 😀


    i’ll definitely be trying “the demolished man”. i’m not expecting it to be as good, but i don’t mind. i just love the fun tone that “stars” had!


    as i said in the post. this is by no means one of those serious must-reads. you don’t need to be ready for it or need to appreciate it or anything. its just fun!


    like i said to kailana – this is by no means one of those pressure classics. its just fun!


    good to see you again! yeah, there’s definitely something of han solo about him (although han is more of the lovable rogue stereotype). i have yet to read “the stainless steel rat” and am so lookinf forward to when i finally get around to it!

    hmmm… russell crowe is a very very good call!

    i totally agree with you about heinlein. have you read “the door into summer”? i don’t know if i ever got around to blogging about it…? that is one of my favourites of his. its just so innocent and fun! such a feel-good story (for boys 😉 ).

  7. Fiona
    April 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    This is almost worth reading for the title alone… I say almost since, as you know, I’m not really a huge sci-fi fan. Title-wise, it’s up there with A Scanner Darkly, which may be the only sci-fi novel I have truly enjoyed…

  8. April 15, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I personally liked Demolished Man as much as this one…the experience of reading both for the first time was amazing…but from a critical standpoint I don’t think it is as good. Darn close though.

    And I agree with Fiona, The Stars My Destination, while not the original title, is one of my favorite book titles of all the titles I have ever heard. Love it!

    JP, I am reading Fever Pitch right now and am thinking of you all the time!

  9. Fiona
    April 16, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Carl, now you have me wondering what the original title is… Hope you are enjoying Fever Pitch. If you haven’t read High Fidelity yet, it’s even better.

    Hey JP, hope you don’t mind me using your blog like this! 😀

  10. April 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    The original title was Tiger! Tiger! based on a poem by William Blake called Tyger. I am enjoying Fever Pitch and have a library copy of High Fidelity sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read as well.

  11. Jeff S.
    April 17, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Hey JP! I’m truely sorry I’ve haven’t been around for quite some time.

    Thanks for the Heinlein recommendation. I have added to my search list to look for when I’m used book shopping. If I can’t find it soon I will also try my local library.

    I’m hoping to read the book Fever Pitch one day as well by Hornby. I have to say I’m really looking forward to the World Cup next year. I can’t wait to talk football/soccer with you then. 🙂

  12. jean pierre
    April 22, 2009 at 12:59 pm


    i’m glad you like the look of it! and i also love the title. the title comes from a little rhyme in the book that makes it even cooler once you’ve read it!

    and i love it seeing people having discussions on my blog!



    thats me with a big smile at the thought of you thinking of me while reading “fever pitch”! i’m touched.


    no worries! i hope you like “the door into summer” as much as i do!

    oh, and the world cup is going to be very cool. if nothing else it’ll certainly be interesting. its always a very different tournament when its outside of europe. sometimes its not as cool because a lot of the european sides often struggle – and if you take them out of the equation then there aren’t that many other good teams to watch!

    i have half a mind to go to the tournament actually. i should at least try, i guess – i am south african after all! 😀

    (an anglo-centric south african with french heritage…! deary me, what a hotch-potch.)

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