Imagine a reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo, told three centuries in the future. Add a mysterious, dangerous, hyperscientific MacGuffin called PyrE, a form of teletransportation called Jaunting, and a war between the inner planets of the solar system (Earth, Venus, Mars) and the Outer Satellites (the habitable moons of Jupiter.) Now add into the mix corporate greed, angry women, conflicting military and intelligence services, and the remnants of an older society. And finally, the main character, a sullen, illiterate predator named Gully Foyle, bent on ruinous revenge for having been left to die in space when the rescue ship Vorga passed him by.
This is the premise of Alfred Bester’s explosively terrific science-fiction novel, The Stars My Destination. I read in the introduction that the UK title to this book was Tiger! Tiger!, and I think that I actually prefer that one; Gully Foyle, as I said, is a predator, a hunter, a rapist and murderer — the tiger-stripes are at one point literally emblazoned on his face — and at first there is no sense that he can ever be anything else. But through the course of the book, as he moves from spaceship to prison to high society to hideout to space again, we see him learn control, educate himself, become first a thinking and then a moral creature. Around this pilgrim’s progress swirls his astonishing world: the crowds, the jaunts, the speed, the drugs, the industry and the sex, and of course the (I hate to sound clichéd, but it’s literally true) heart-pounding climax. But the heart of the book is the stalking of the Tiger. Little lamb, who made thee?
This is yet another of the books I’ve read on the recommendation of Michael Dirda, from his wonderful book Bound to Please. So far, I have not read one single book chosen from this collection of reviews that I have not been thrilled with. Bless that man. It’s rare enough to find a friend you share book tastes with, but an employed reviewer with such sunny and tantalizing skill in writing about reading pleasures? I’d have said it was impossible if I hadn’t already read so many of his recommendations. The Stars My Destination was another joy I owe to him, and I’m grateful.