Originally published in 1957, The Stars My Destination is a sci-fi novel by Hugo Award-winner Alfred Bester. It’s adapted from The Count of Monte Cristo (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo), an 1884 adventure novel by the famous French novelist Alexandre Dumas. The latter was initially titled, Tiger! Tiger!, which itself is based on William Blake’s 1794 poem “Tyger”.
Bester’s The Stars My Destination narrates the grueling yet inspirational tale of a directionless and unambitious mechanic named Gulliver Foyle who finds himself abandoned in a wrecked spaceship. And through a raft of mishaps and his own rage, he installs himself as an aristocrat in a world damaged by the discovery of teleportation. He’s on a mission to stalk and mete out his revenge on crewmates who did him wrong.
Meet Gulliver Foyle, aka Mechanic’s Mate 3rd Class. He has no feasible skills, no merits, no education, and more disturbing, no one to rely on. The story picks off with his abandonment in a wrecked spaceship, in a galaxy in which teleportation has caused havoc, with outer and inner planets in constant war with one another.
Before the attack that caused the spaceship wreck, Gulliver was one of the employees on the merchant ship belonging to a powerful industrial tribe called Presteign. He’s currently the only survivor on the spacecraft and is drifting aimlessly in space. When another spaceship named Vorga passes by, Gulliver knows that his prayers have been answered, only for the vessel to ignore his distress calls and sail by.
This riles up Gulliver and turns him into a seething, vengeful man. After 170 days of loneliness and despair in deep space, he finally finds refuge on the Sargasso Asteroid where he works out his way back to Earth, albeit after suffering in the hands of the cargo ship crews and owners. He must now find and execute his murderous revenge on the crew members of Vorga who refused to rescue him.
To exact his revenge for being betrayed, he tries to blow up the spaceship that ignored him. However, his vengeful attempt is foiled and, instead, he’s captured and imprisoned by Presteign, the owner of the Vorga. During his prison stint, he unearths a secret that his former ship was shipping PyrE, a precious material that Presteign wanted to use to wage the interplanetary war.
In prison, Gulliver meets Jisabella McQueen, who decides to help him zero in on the people who ignored his distress flares. Together, the two find their way to the wreckage of Nomad, from which they steal precious material and a vast quantity of platinum. Unfortunately, Jisabella is recaptured by Dagenham, Presteign’s right-hand man, and interrogator.
Gulliver reinvents himself and returns under the new moniker Geoffrey Fourmyle. He’s now a highly educated, skilled, and rich aristocrat. But deep down, he still wants revenge on the Vorga crew. In one of the series of dinners held by Presteign, he falls in love with Olivia, the daughter of his imprisoner, whom he later found was in charge of Vorga during the fateful day.
To add insult to injury, he finds out that Jisabella has taken Dagenham as her lover and partner. It soon dawns on Gulliver that the best way to save humankind is to use his newfound space-jaunting skills and give PyrE to everyone, so they can all head to the “void of space.” With the survival of the human race at his mercy, how will Gulliver fare?
When first published, The Stars My Destination was greeted with so-so reviews from both readers and critics. Over the years, however, it has become one of the reader’s favorite novels in the science fiction aisle. The novel is a classic example of the pioneers of cyberpunk literature that criticized war-mongering, excesses of industrialization, and corporate power.
The Stars My Destination delivers Bester’s critical writing style at its best, which is why it gives off the appeal of post-apocalyptic fiction. The author uses inspirational characters, stunning ideas, and illustrative savagery to create a masterpiece of sci-fi. Gulliver’s murderous revenge is brilliantly executed with adrenaline-charging scenes, powerful imagery, and well-defined legendary characters. It’s no wonder the book was included in the American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s.
This is one of Bester’s early sci-fi works but he has total control of his style and story. As a reader, the novel will deliver a multi-prong, dizzying, and dazzling stabbing on all of your senses, leaving you forever changed and possibly breathless. It’s a no-brainer recommendation for any fan of Jan Turk Petrie’s Running Behind Time or Django Wexler’s Ashes of the Sun.