My friend EJ recently passed along the science fiction classic by Bester, The Stars My Destination, shortly after I finished Mists of Avalon. This is my first foray into Bester's work, at least as far as memory serves, and I find his work to be very invigorating. I haven't read much straight sci-fi recently - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and A Clockwork Orange were the most recent - though I've always been a big fan of the genre being familiar with work by Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, etc. The Stars My Destination helped me remember what I enjoyed about the genre, so immediately following the quick finish of the book (3 days) I went on to the huge World Treasury of Science Fiction immediately after to keep the flow going.
Bester began his writing career with short story appearances in pulp magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories. He's done script work for such comics, radio and television characters Superman, Batman, the Shadow and Charlie Chan. His previous novel, The Demolished Man, won a Hugo Award for Best Novel. He spent time with other magazines thereafter and then came back to science fiction with novels such as The Deceivers and The Computer Connection. To crown his career, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America awarded Alfred Bester with a Grandmaster Award.
Originally called Tiger, Tiger (and yes, with mind to the Blake poem), The Stars My Destination is a fast paced novel with futuristic components and a space-drama feel. You'll find references to some of the best ideas sci-fi has to offer; space travel, time travel, teleportation, planet colonization, cyborg transplants. Yet it concentrates on neither of these, just filtering them into the course of the story without making anything other than the characters and intrigue the main force and objective. Originally, the prime diabolical mastermind of the novel, one Gulliver Foyle, is pretty much an imbecile. Hellbent on the destruction of a ship that passed him by in the opening paragraphs of the book while he was stranded in space aboard the S.S. Nomad, Gully Foyle is driven only by anger.
From about midpoint on, you are engulfed in the drama that takes place as pieces of a puzzle are drawn together filament by filament and thread by thread as it's discovered that Gully holds not one, but two keys that could save the system from destruction via interplanetary war between the inner and outer rings of planets and colonies. Split-second escapes add to the space-drama (a la Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) feel of the novel. The ending is nothing short of spectacular and the dialogue of the closing chapter even steps into theology and sociology posturing. Wonderful!
Bester's techno-bantering isn't well thought out and is rather loose in explanation, but it is done so with aplomb. Much of it is used only as a backdrop element, only minimal explanations are necessary in the first place. Characters are rather well defined thought not studied, and all have their interesting gimmick or personality trait that make them very distinguishable. It was a slick read as well, moving quickly to the climactic end. Bester's The Stars My Destination is a must have for any serious science fiction fan.
"The Stars My Destination"
by Alfred Bester
Introduction by Neil Gaiman
Published by Vintage Books
Copyright © 1956 by Alfred Bester