Thursday, April 4, 2019

The Stars My Destination

The Stars My DestinationThe Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stamped on the inside front cover of this used book is the following:

William Howell
620 N. Oakhill
Janesville, WI


Who was this? He owned and likely read this book 8 years before I was born. He might be older than my father, if he's still alive. Is he? My daughter and grandson live in Janesville. Do they ever walk past that address? Does he still live there? Is any of this relevant to the book? Maybe . . . maybe . . . in the end. But I’m not giving away the end. No, you need to work for it.

I suppose the mystery engendered by this name and address put me in the proper frame of mind to explore the personality of Gulliver Foyle, the anti-hero of the book. Gully is driven by vengeance, driven by himself – and I mean this in a very literal, physical sense. But you won’t know why I mean that until the end. Like William Howell, he is an enigma. Even an enigma to himself, which we grow to learn as we explore the interstices of Foyle’s near-animal brain.

This book must be read straight through. Don’t set it aside. This book is . . . sudden. It takes sudden, unexpected turns. Yes, it starts out with an infodump. And normally I hate infodumps. But this one is critical to the story. When you get to the end . . . again, don’t stop till you get there . . . you will see how the infodump at the beginning was totally necessary to the success of the entire story. Bester has ensured that all the necessary loose ends are tied up. “Necessary,” because there are plenty of loose ends left at the end. But they make sense, in the context of the story. This is a tight biome for your brain, but it leaves room for . . . “growth” is the word that comes to mind.

Now, you might want to cheat and head straight to the end and read it. But I guarantee the story will make no sense whatsoever to you if you do that. This is as much an experience as it is a piece of writing. It envelops the reader’s brain while the reader’s brain simultaneously envelops it. It’s as close as one can get to some of the deeper mysteries of quantum mechanics by merely reading words on a page. And it causes the reader to reflect on their own inner being, a sort of science-fiction Rorshach test.

It took me by surprise. Though I had heard for many years just how “good” it was, I don’t think that any words (other than the words of the book itself) can convey the way that Bester grabs the attention of the reader and immerses them in the tale. As one finally starts to come up for water, one realizes just how deeply enmeshed they are in the story. Love or hate him, we are all, in some way, Gully Foyle.

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  1. First time here. Saw your link on MeWe. Thumbs up, bro!

  2. "The Demolished Man" is equally fast-paced and riveting. It isn't as high-concept (there-are-SOME-psychics vs EVERYONE-can-teleport) and probably isn't as famous. I like them both though.

    By any chance, do you know a recent-ish (probably last 10 years) experimental/avant-garde novel about a team of explorers or mountain climbers in a kind of ambiguous setting? I believe that over the course of the novel, you're supposed to start questioning where they are, what time period it is, and if they're human or some kind of post-human descendants of ours.

    I ask because you're the only person I know who talks about reading books in that vein. I feel like it might show up on your Amazon recommended list even if you've never read it.

    1. I've read Bester's short stories, but haven't read "The Demolished Man" yet.

      While elements of the novel you reference sound familiar, I don't know of any one that contains all of them. Belden's _Land of the Snow Men_ probably comes closest. I'd love to know the title of the book, if you can remember it!

    2. I'll definitely let you know if I find it. I'm sure it showed up in Amazon's "Our customer's also read..." list for something else I was looking at. I don't know why I didn't save it at the time. It must have grown in importance in my head somehow.

      How did you like Bester's stories? I found them kind of hit-and-miss. "Demolished Man" is definitely his other great work. I liked "Psychoshop" pretty well too - it was actually my first exposure to the guy. Beyond that, though, I recommend against his other novels.