The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Read  June 2017
Recommended for classic sci-fi fans
★    ★    ★   ★    1/2

An excellent analysis of the Trump candidacy and events leading up to his election as #45. Uses both his perspective and that of the anonymous supporter to chilling effect. Guest appearance by Ivanka near the end.

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Forgive me my little joke; when I picked up the classic by Bester, I had no idea what I was in for, except a classic sci-fi–in space, with a rather appealing title.

The main character is Gully Foyle, a spacer with no real motivation in life. Content to be lazy, without purpose beyond existence, he’s a bit of a drifter, until a spaceship he is traveling on is destroyed. Gully discovers a will to live and manages to keep himself barely alive, leaving the tiny reinforced space he exists in to scavenge supplies five minutes at a time in his barely functional spacesuit. At last, he sees a ship passing close by. He sends up a signal flare. The ship slows, almost stops, and then turns away. From here, the story takes off, as Gully discovers the heat of revenge as the one thing that can give him purpose.

One might think that discovering a passion could connect Gully to humanity, and possibly even the reader, a previously amorphous blob of a human who was content to vegetate his way through life. But no, most certainly, absolutely no, because Gully is a psychopath. In his quest for revenge, he meets a woman, Robin, who teaches the previously head-blind the skill of jaunting or limited teleportation. She has the unfortunate distinction of being a one-way telepath, so those around her can hear her thoughts when she isn’t concentrating. Gully, it becomes clear, has a moment where he can understand what she is feeling/thinking, but doesn’t actually empathize, instead choosing to ignore her humanity in his fit of rage and frustration.

Throughout the rather short book, Gully goes through transformations, each a step on his goal, each transformation followed by a fall back into the depths. He is caught, he spends time in prison, he meets another woman and–dare we recognize it?–falls into his version of love. But as is everything with Gully, his love is the negative side of the emotion, and though it can offer salvation, it is obvious what his choice will be.

It is an inverse of the levels of hell; each reinvention has Gully reinventing himself to become more surfacely human, moving up the ladder of society into something that appears more socially acceptable but that remains rotten at the core. Depending on the reader’s point of view, he may become more accessible, but really he is the same single-minded psychopath, single-minded in pursuit of his goal and unable to recognize or empathize with others. At one point he thinks he ‘falls in love’ but as with everything, he’s fallen in love with an idea, an instant of emotion and not anything real.

It’s a brilliant book. Bester does an unbelievable job at getting at Gully’s emotion; I found myself taking a break at each transformation, needing to get a way from the miasma of hate for some untainted air. While Gully transforms, we’re offered commentary on each section of ‘society’ he encounters, from the parody of scientists on an asteroid to the ‘high’ society of the richest men in the universe and their cloistered women. It’s one of those amazing little stories that you understand as you read is offering up a scathing social indictment and yet wraps you up in its fast-paced plotting. I can’t remember the last book I read with a main character so filled with hate and rage, that ignores every opportunity for redemptive actions.

The ending was a little slap-dash and has me wondering if dropping acid at least once during a book was a basic requirement of some of the sci-fi boundary pushers (thinking of Zelazny and Philip K. Dick here). Well, no matter, but I think it would have been more powerful had Bester relied on words instead of word-pictures. The circular nature of the ending is asthetically pleasing, although someone pushing the rules of the book. No matter, it was powerful nonetheless.

We can all only hope that Trump will experience something similar.

 

 

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About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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