Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Review: Alfred Bester : The stars my destination (aka Tiger! Tiger!)

This book (In its old incarnation as "Tiger Tiger" ) has been a favourite of mine for a long time.

Stuffed with Big SF Concepts and moving at a cracking pace, it leaves the reader dizzy as the resolution of Gully's Revenge unfolds.

The 24th Century world "an age of extremes", is laid out in technicolor, with centre stage being given to the cultural and economic effects of Jaunting, ranging from the de-emancipation of women to the ludicrous anachronistic jaunt-free transportation of the very rich.

Gully, brutish lower-decks spacehand, abandoned to die in space, driven by hatred and pure survival instincts, manages to jury-rig the Nomad and flies her into the arms of The Scientific People, where he acquires his tiger tattoos, a very temporary wife, and even more reason to hate.

Returned to Earth, Gully single-mindedly begins his quest for revenge, beginning with rape and blackmail.

Gully Foyle is a monster, one of the least likeable protagonists in fiction, a “remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain” : but somehow the reader still stays with him against the corporate and political enemies who stand in his way.

From here, Bester’s debt to “The Count of Monte Cristo” is obvious, as, after escaping from an escape-proof prison, Gully uses the limitless resources he recovered from the Nomad to become the super-rich playboy fop, Fourmyle of Ceres.

Tracking down the surviving crew of his nemesis, Vorga-T, Gully uncovers the deadly secret that caused his abandonment, and in a twist worthy of “The Revenger’s Tragedy” discovers that the fatal order was given by Olivia Presteign, the ice-queen heiress he has come to love.

He also discovers the nature and limitless destructive potential of the Nomad’s most valuable cargo, PyrE.

As Foyle pursued his revenge, he had been haunted, aided, and saved, by the apparition of himself, burning, tiger-masked, out of control.

Trapped in a burning cellar, seemingly unable to escape, Gully takes the next leap in his (and human) evolution : time-jaunting.

The burning man comes back from a future which has survived the cataclysmic war which has been going on in the background of Foyle’s personal vendetta, to guide and rescue his present-self.

The crossed senses of his striving are perhaps the closest print equivalent to the latter half of 2001 : astonishing for the late 50’s.

At the ending, as throughout the book, this headlong adventure still makes big and important philosophical points :

Does evolution only occur in the presence of deadly threat or overwhelming emotion? Is mankind as a whole or as a collection of individuals able to control its tendency to destruction?
Does wealth and power always corrupt? Can the most brutish of men become, by chance, or will, a saviour?

All this from a high concept headlong rattling yarn, which at the same time is one of the best revenge sagas since the ancient Greeks:
Quant Suff!

1 comment:

HawkPunk7 said...

I too have been a great admirer of Alfred Bester and his brilliant novel, The Stars My Destination. I remember seeing the cover by Emshwiller on the Galaxy serialization in a drugstore as a child. (I later acquired the original issues which contained this amazing Work of Art). Your review really caught the essence of this Literature. Bester and his creation, Gully Foyle, have remained heroes throughout my life.
"Quant. Suff!"

HawkPunk (Chicago . 2007)