Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: The Stars, My Destination

Having read a great deal of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, I was quite taken aback by the very different style and tone of Alfred Bester. It was harsh, dirty, and his characters were more than a little mean. He provides a sharp contrast to Bradbury and Asimov, that much is certain. While he's close in action style to Heinlein, Bester's protagonist, Gulliver Foyle, seems absolutely unpredictable and terrifying--something I cannot really say about a Heinlein hero, anti-hero, or villain.

We start by finding our man Foyle near-death in a starship that has been cast adrift in space. As this not-too-bright crewman struggles to survive, a ship approaches that could help him. However, it doesn't. Instead, it flies away. The rest of the book consists of Foyle's angry, obsessed quest to get revenge upon that ship and the people who own it. We encounter telepathy and "jaunting" (instantaneous travel through the power of the mind--a mixture of telepathy with a Star Trek transporter). We find robber barons, three-ring circuses, violence. Bester does not apologize for the violence in his story (unlike some fiction today), he is writing a straight adventure story, with all the pitfalls and danger and violence that come with it. This is "guys' sci-fi" writ large. If the ending had been resolved a little more realistically, it would have been perfect. That said, buy it anyway.

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