The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester


 I feel I don’t need to do a review on this book. There are so many excellent reviews by people this story has gripped throughout the web, that my small review would be a very small pathetic thing in comparison (check out here or here).

And then I think, What Would Gully Do?

Let’s face it, Gully Foyle is a animal of a human being. A wretch whose gutter talk is a symptom of a life he’s never tried to improve. And then circumstances lead him to spend 170 days, ‘…dying and not yet dead..’, alone in space. It’s here that his desires are honed to one point, survival, five minutes at a time. He doesn’t stir from this accidental prison until a passing ship ignores his distress beacon.

Instead of empty animal instinct, a passion for revenge burns in Gully. It propels him to save himself, remake his life in amazing in dramatic ways and eventually become a type of saviour to all of humanity when he hands “… life and death back to the people who do the living and the dying”.

The Stars my Destination is more than just a transformation of an individual, the story is a portrait of a civilization under the influence of space colonisation and instantaneous travel. I think this is why the book is still fresh and undated. Unlike many science fiction novels that spend a lot of time on justifying their scientific assumptions, this book just tells us the story of people. What one man would do placed in an impossible situation and makes you wonder what would a whole civilization do under similar circumstances?

Gully makes a speech to the people of the Earth near the end in the gutter speak that he starts the story with:

“You pigs, you. You rut like pigs, is all. You got the most in you, and you use the least. You hear me, you? Got a million in you and spend pennies. Got a genius in you and think crazies. Got a heart in you and feel empties. All a you. Every you… …Take a war to make you spend. Take a jam to make you think. Take a challenge to make you great. Rest of the time you sit around lazy, you. Pigs, you! All right, God damn you! I challenge you, me. Die or live and be great. Blow yourselves to Christ gone or come and find me, Gully Foyle, and I make you men. I make you great. I give you the stars.”

Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

This speech is what the story is about for me. Making the most of your life. We’re given so much but most of us do so little. Gully who starts the story with nothing, eventually would do astounding (awful) things that would change his society. Good or bad? Well that’s up to those who live isn’t it?

The main gateways for this story is undoubtedly character but there is a clever use of language as well that shows the quality of Bester’s storytelling. At the beginning the storytelling is brief, striped of description. As Gully learns and develops so does the writing. I don’t usually feel compelled to give books to people to read but this is one I’ve already handed on.

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