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    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
        -William Blake, The Tyger

    Gully Foyle is my name
    And Terra is my nation.
    Deep space is my dwelling place,
    The stars my destination.
        -Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination

Just as he drew upon elements of Oedipus and Crime and Punishment for the plot of his Hugo Award-winning novel The Demolished Man (see Orrin's review), it is well understood that Alfred Bester modeled The Stars My Destination on The Count of Monte Cristo.  But what seems to have been missed is that the story is really Biblical in nature.  And though the narrative impetus of the story is provided by the revenge theme, it is the Bible parallel which gives the story it's lasting significance.

When the book opens, a lone man is adrift in space, trapped in the wreckage of the spaceship Nomad.  Merchant Marine records describe him as follows:

    FOYLE, GULLIVER ------ AS-128/127:006

        EDUCATION:                    NONE
        SKILLS:                             NONE
        MERITS:                            NONE


    A man of physical strength and intellectual potential stunted by lack of ambition.  Energizes at
    minimum.  The stereotype Common Man.  Some unexpected shock might possibly awaken him,
    but Psych cannot find the key.  Not recommended for promotion.  Has reached a dead end.

As if being marooned in space were not sufficient shock, Foyle is truly awakened when a passing ship, Vorga, intentionally ignores his distress signals and passes him by.  He is finally "rescued" by the Scientific People, reclusive practitioners of a badly bastardized form of scientific rationalism, who cannibalize any space wrecks they can get their hands on for the sake of their fetishistic technology worship. He manages to escape from their clutches, but not before they have horribly tattooed his face with the Maori-like marks they favor.  For the duration of the novel, Foyle devotes himself to wreaking vengeance upon the Captain and crew of Vorga.  In order to put himself in a position to realize this ambition, he is forced to educate himself, to amass a fortune, to don cultured airs, to invent new technologies and to tap unused mental faculties.  In the process, he discovers that Nomad was carrying twenty pounds of PyrE, a substance which is "the equivalent of the primordial protomatter which exploded into the Universe."  PyrE is supposed to only be capable of being triggered by Will and Idea, just as the creation of the Universe was triggered.  Eventually he determines that an aristocrat's daughter with whom he has subsequently fallen in love was responsible for his abandonment and he learns how to control PyrE.

Now you don't have to reach too far to see the parallels here.  Foyle is born out of the womblike Nomad at the start of the tale and is abandoned, left to his own devices.  Initially savage--he even wears the symbolic mark of Cain--he gradually becomes cultured, educated, proficient with technology and reaches some level of enlightenment about his own nature.  At this point he achieves the ability to wield PyrE; in essence, he has become God.

Not surprisingly for a 50 year old scifi novel, much of the scientific speculative material feels dated.  But the Monte Cristo flavored revenge plot propels the story at a fevered, breakneck speed and the seminal ideas about Man and God that Bester tapped into make the story timeless.  I continue to be amazed that Bester wrote two of the classic Science Fiction novels of all time and then virtually abandoned the profession.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Alfred Bester (2 books reviewed)
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Book-related and General Links:
    -"the iddividual"--An Alfred Bester Website
    -Authors : B : Alfred Bester (Steampunk)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: (Fantastic Fiction)
    -LINKS: Lycos Fiction Guide: Bester, Alfred
    -SYNOPSIS: Stars My Destination (Preliminary Script Treatment) by Alfred Bester (Synopsis by Claude Needham)
    -ETEXT: The Demolished Man
    -EXCERPT : An excerpt from The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester
    -BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY: Alfred Bester    (Ryan Farinha)
    -ESSAY: Alfred Bester   The Pi Man
    -REVIEW: of The Stars My Destination (Hemos, Slashdot)
    -REVIEW : of Stars My Destination (Jade Mountain)
    -REVIEW : of Stars My Destination (Ellen D. Micheletti, All About Romance)
    -REVIEWS : of Stars My Destination (Epinions)
    -REVIEW: of PSYCHOSHOP by Alfred Bester & Roger Zelazny (Steven Silver Reviews)

    -TIMELINE 1950-1960 (The Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide)