The Stars My Destination

Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination Cover

The Stars My Destination -- Is it a Dark Comedy?

Tar Daddoo

What is the Science Fiction Premise?

The Stars My Destination takes place in a future in which humans have colonized the solar system. It is full of Science Fiction ideas, including robots, telepathy, and whatever is needed to move between and survive on Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Most of these ideas are simply assumed with little attention to their theory or practice. The main exception is that of jaunting, a human ability to telekinetically transport oneself from one location to another. This is the Science Fiction premise at the heart of the novel.

Is the science of the premise explored?

The author does not give much of an explanation of the theory behind jaunting. It is a latent human ability that was only discovered under extreme duress that permitted the right conditions for jaunting to be revealed and then repeated. There is, however, much discussion of the limits and requirements of the skill. For example:

Is the impact of the premise on an individual explored?

By the time the story begins, jaunting has completely permeated the society. No one is really changed by jaunting because it is now taken for granted. That said, we are offered a great many scenarios in which jaunting plays a role and we can see how that serves or harms the people involved. We are also told about some ways in which those who do not jaunt accommodate to a society dominated by jaunting.

Is the impact of the premise on society explored?

The Stars My Destination does a very good job of portraying how the ability to jaunt has completely changed society. Transportation is completely changed, with special landing stages established in major cities to facilitate departures and arrivals. It is no longer necessary to live anywhere near where one works. Securing a facility against unwanted intrusion is much more difficult. And, building a jail that cannot be escaped is a serious challenge. All of these aspects of the new society are revealed through the eyes of many characters; some are wealthy, some are criminals, and some are just regular folks.

How well written is the story?

The story is easy to read.

Probably the most challenging thing about reading the book is that the person we follow most closely, Gully Foyle, is not very likable. In his introduction to the iPicturebooks publication, Neil Gaiman writes that he prefers the original 1956 British title, Tiger! Tiger!, to the now familiar title. He feels that it better captures the predatory and dangerous nature of the main character. I think I agree.

Gully Foyle is not a sophisticated or nuanced antihero. He is rather ignorant, brutish, and largely unconcerned about the well-being of others. He does change, however, often more slowly than one might wish. I was well into the novel and wondering whether the author could possibly bring the story to a satisfying conclusion, when he did. I was very glad I stuck with it.

A different more enjoyable aspect of the The Stars My Destination is that some aspects of it are quite funny. I wasn't always sure that the author intended them to be humorous. Nevertheless, the initial account of how jaunting is discovered, the portrayal of the wealthy at play, the Asteroid cult, and a lot more brought a smile to my face. I am still wondering a bit whether the story was intended as a Dark Comedy (more often called a Black Comedy, but I find this ambiguous) and that I was too serious or too thick to get it.

Can I recommend the book?

Through much of The Stars My Destination I was not sure whether I should recommend it. I was flipping back and forth between my dislike of the main character and my interest in the jaunting society. In the end the book won me over. If you prefer hard Science Fiction, you might be a bit put off. If you enjoy a weird, vaguely cynical tale, that is well executed, give it a try.

Tar Daddoo