The Stars My Destination

Alfred Bester
The Stars My Destination Cover

Jaunting with Gully Foyle


Gully Foyle makes for a great antihero. He starts out the novel abandoned aboard a derelict space freighter. He is an uneducated goon capable of nothing more that "gutter talk." but with a knack for survival and an insatiable taste for revenge. He is turned loose on a 24th century world where people have mastered the ability to "jaunte," instantly transporting themselves up to 1000 miles at a time. I admire Bester's nonchalance about incorporating this ability into his plot. Jaunting is accomplished basically just by thinking that you can do it, some training but no technology required. (Isn't this the way Prof. Harold Hill taught music in The Music Man?)

The plot Bester spins out for Foyle's return to earth includes political and industrial intrigue in a world where all the problems solved by jaunting have introduced new levels of wealth and injustice. The model here is clearly The Count of Monte Cristo, and there is even an enormous fortune at stake. Details of life in the 24th century are entertaining and ring true given the world Bester creates. He makes everything work until the more visionary moments at the conclusion. Here his dialogue loses its edge and things race to a conclusion as though he suddenly wanted the whole thing over with.

Samuel R. Delaney is among those who call this the greatest SF novel. I agree in the sense that among the mid-century sf I have been reading, this is the most adult book I have encountered. The characters are interesting and difficult, and the complex thriller plot keeps you turning pages. It's probably because I don't share Foyle's final "faith in humanity" that I find the ending less than satisfying and its optimism misplaced.