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.