The Stars My Destination

From Academic Kids

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Galaxy magazine cover from October 1956

The Stars My Destination (also called Tiger! Tiger!) is a science fiction novel by Alfred Bester, first published in Galaxy magazine in October 1956.

The Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement -- the megacorporations as powerful as the governments, body and mind redesign to specs, the dark overall nature of the world, even the cybernetic enhancement of the body. To this it added the standard "one weird idea" of science fiction -- that human beings could learn to teleport, or "jaunte" from point to point, with various personal limitations but one overall absolute limit: no one could bridge the gap between a planet and anywhere in outer space. On the surface of a planet, the jaunte ruled supreme; off of it, mankind was still restricted to machinery.

In this future world -- extrapolated with convincing and sometimes frightening detail by Bester -- we are introduced to the protagonist, Gulliver ("Gully") Foyle: "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead..." Foyle is a cipher, a man who had lots of potential but no motivation, completely lazy, who is suddenly marooned in space with no escape. Even this isn't enough to galvanise him beyond trying to find air and food on the wreck. But all changes when an apparent rescue ship deliberately passes him by...

Gully Foyle is the lowest of the low. Gutter trash, a murderer, a rapist, a lunatic, a driven man, a tiger. The book is in a sense his journey towards humanity and beyond... He destroys and kills everything he touches, driven by the simple idea of his revenge. But things are not as simple as he thinks...

In a sense, The Stars My Destination is simply a SF rewrite of a far older classic, The Count of Monte Cristo. It's the study of a capable, vengeance-driven man who escapes from an apparently impossible situation (twice, in Foyle's case) and returns as an utterly different man to wreak the vengeance that he was denied under his old name. Unlike many other Monte Cristo homages, however, Bester's is written with language fully as evocative as the original's, and with added intricate plot threads that make Gully Foyle's odyssey unique.

The novel also conforms to what Joseph Campbell, in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces, calls "the monomyth": "The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation--initiation--return...which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth." As he summarizes it, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men."

There are two major technologies here. The first, and most significant, is "jaunting"; named after the scientist (Jaunte) who discovered it, it is instantaneous telepathic teleportation. One is able to move up to a thousand miles by just thinking. This technology totally destroys the economic balance between the inner planets (Venus, Earth, Mars, and the Moon) and the outer planets (various moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune), eventually starting a war between the two. It effectively takes the whole social fabric of the world and gives it a good shake, forming shapes at once both familiar and unknown, to be examined in true science-fictional fashion. Women get locked up "for their protection", the treatment of criminals of necessity goes back the the Victorian "Separate System", and freaks and monsters abound. It is to this world that a driven man comes, and the consequences are explosive...

The second technology is "Pyre", a weapon powerful enough to win an interplanetary war.

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