The Stars My Destination: Tiger, tiger, burning bright, intent on revenge

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester science fiction book reviewsThe Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Much has been written about Alfred Bester’s classic 1956 SF novel The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger! in the United Kingdom). According to Wikipedia, it is considered one of the best SF books of all time by many authors such as Neil Gaiman, Joe Haldeman, Samuel. R. Delany, Robert Silverberg, and William Gibson. Predating cyberpunk by almost three decades (if you count from Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984), it features a fully-realized world of ruthless multinational corporations, cybernetic enhancements, and most importantly, the concept of “jaunting,” the ability to teleport instantly between two places if the jaunter knows the precise coordinates and has personally seen them before. This skill is available to almost everyone in society. As you might expect, jaunting created dramatic upheaval in global society and has completely transformed economies, transportation, and social behavior. For instance, due to the ability of people to jaunt into any known location, wealthy families create impenetrable labyrinths to protect themselves and women are confined to such places in many cases, giving rise to a Neo-Victorian society.

The Stars My Destination begins in very cinematic fashion with a lone crewman named Gully Foyle, who wakes up to find himself the sole survivor of an attack on a merchant spaceship called Nomad. He initially finds ways to survive but is not pushed into action until a passing ship, the Vorga, ignores the distress signals he has been sending out. This fuels an intense rage in him that will possess and transform him utterly into a single-minded beast driven by the desire for revenge on whomever controlled the Vorga. As it turns out, the Vorga is owned by the same ultra-wealthy and decadent Presteign clan that owns the Nomad. The further Gully pursues each link in the mystery behind the Vorga’s actions, the more convoluted the plot becomes, as he encounters a plethora of very unusual and intriguing characters. Along the way, he himself changes in dramatic ways and we also get a very detailed tour of this future world where teleportation dominates. There are even some telepaths (echoes of Bester’s previous novel The Demolished Man, which won the inaugural Hugo Award) in the story, a mysterious super-powerful substance called PyrE, a “jaunt-proof” high security prison, a primitive space-bound cargo cult, various assassins and secret societies, and a struggle between the Inner Planets and Outer Colonies, which is a theme that has been explored in the science fiction genre many times since, including most recently James S.A. Corey’s THE EXPANSE series.

Perhaps the biggest question for modern readers is, does this classic still hold up today, almost 60 years after initial publication? The answer is ABSOLUTELY! The Stars My Destination is fierce, cynical, lighting-paced, complex, philosophical, darkly humorous, and frankly doesn’t feel dated at all. It’s more exciting as cyberpunk than William Gibson, not as self-congratulatory as Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, and takes a far more skeptical of the future than Robert Heinlein’s SF novels. Stylistically, it runs circles around the pedestrian prose of contemporaries like Arthur C. Clarke (who I like) or Isaac Asimov (who I don’t). Considering how much impact Bester has had on the genre with only two major books, The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, I think every serious SF fan owes it to themself to give this book a try.


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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff since March 2015, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he has lived in Tokyo, Japan for the last 13 years with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart’s reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle’s 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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7 comments

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    STILL my favorite science fiction novel, after all these years….

  2. I have not read this yet. Shame on me. I will fix that soon.

  3. I’m a big Alfred Bester fan and I really enjoyed this novel but I actually liked The Demolished Man better.

    • Hi, Ray! Since that’s not an opinion one hears too often, I’d love to know why you prefer The Demolished Man more. :)

      • Hi, Jana! Whew, that’s a tough question. The answer is totally subjective, of course. For whatever reason, The Demolished Man just resonated with me more. The story kept me on the edge the entire time and I couldn’t read it fast enough. Of course, I read it probably 15 years or more ago, so I might find it different today, and maybe have problems with some of the issues that Stuart Starosta mentioned in his review recently.

        Even more than these novels, my favorite story by Bester is his short story, The Pi Man.

  4. Sandy Ferber /

    Kat, when you get around to reading this one, I would recommend an old-fashioned physical book with pages, as opposed to taking it in via audio book. The author uses various typefaces and fonts toward the end of his novel to make things VISUALLY impressive, and that would be lost in an audio book. The same is true for “The Demolished Man,” if memory serves….

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