The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester „You leave me die, Vorga... Vorga-T:1339. No. I get out of here, me. I follow you, Vorga. I find you, Vorga. I pay you back, me. I rot you. I kill you, Vorga. I kill you filthy.“

tiger-tiger

Alfred Bester takes The Count of Monte Cristo, transfers it into space, condenses the story to 250 pages, and turns it into a high-octane Sci-fi Noir.

Instead of Edmond Dantes he gives us Gully Foyle. After 170 days dying in space, the spaceship Vorga passes him by, leaving him to rot. Gully swears vengeance, survives, and sets out to destroy Vorga.

I don't like revenge stories. Revenge's stupid, short-sighted and contra-productive. And while Dantes was compelling and inspiring sympathy, even empathy, Gully Foyle is nothing of that kind. He's the proverbial tiger, in appearance and behaviour; the primeval, primitive single-mindedness of a predator – ready to pounce, to destroy, and to devour. He's a rapist, a murderer, someone who shakes babies: a brute. There's no redeeming factor here. None. Yes, Gully's up against people who are worse, but his deeds are inexcusable nonetheless. Considering this, I found it distressingly easy to root for him. When I should have been disgusted, I was intrigued. Gully Foyle sets out as the ultimate Id, the primitive in us. A tall, dark, brooding menace, smiling in the night.
There's this part in me that wants to meet a tiger. That wants to battle with brute force. Gully Foyle is perfect fodder for this part.

After writing some short stories, Bester joined DC Comics and worked on some of their superheroes like Batman and Superman. This training shows. He paints The Stars My Destination in bright primal colours, with characters who're at the same time larger and flatter than life, conning and deceiving during an interstellar war that might be the war to end it all. The dialogue is on the point, Bester writes some magnificent one-liners, and invents a strangely compelling gutter tongue – see the quote above. He does interesting things with fonts, too, creating a look and feel that has more in common with 1970's delirium than with 1950's Golden Age.

Yes, the book is dated. It's from 1956, after all. The science doesn't hold up, and the racial politics are cringe-worthy. But Bester writes with such imagination that his story still seems fresh today.

Above I called The Stars My Destination Sci-Fi Noir. It's a direct predecessor of Cyberpunk, with proto-cyborgs – and just like Cyberpunk, Bester plays with Noir tropes. Like the otherwordly beautiful women, who all fall for our charming rapist brute, for no apparent reason whatsoever. You either like this or you don't, I guess. I happen to like these particular tropes.

So, do I agree with the many, who apparently consider this book to be the greatest single SF novel (is it just me, or does this endorsement sound like kind of a backhanded compliment?)? Nah, not really. But it is friggin' good.

"Pigs, you! All right, God damn you! I challenge you, me. Die or live and be great. Blow yourself to Christ or come and find me, Gully Foyle, and I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars."