Monday, 20 January 2014

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Gully Foyle is not a likeable man. But he is a compelling one. And in The Stars My Destination Alfred Bester wrote one of his best. (I do like The Demolished Man a little bit more.)

Stranded in space, running out of air, Gully Foyle watches as a ship that could save him passes him by. This changes something in him, turning him into a monster bent on revenge (comparisons to The Count of Monte Cristo do not go amiss.) Although he gains sophistication and self-control throughout the book, he remains a tiger, burning his way through the lives of those he encounters.

The world through which he moves is drastically different from our own. The primary mode of transportation is jaunting - teleporting in relatively short hops, up to 1000 miles - and the world has adapted itself to this technique. Jaunting has had profound effects on living arrangements, population distribution, and the status of women.

Wealthy women are kept separate, sequestered, in windowless wings, where jaunting is impossible. Even those without resources find their possibilities strictly proscribed.

The Inner and Outer Planets are on the verge of war, and through this strides Foyle, caring for neither side, unaware he possesses the most powerful weapon either side has yet conceived.

The world Bester creates is vivid and complex, the characters intriguing, Foyle's mission compelling. He takes this strongly unpleasant character and yet makes him interesting, and his mission urgent. Who holds the fate of the world in their hands? Who should? Gully Foyle's answer to that question is simply staggering.

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