From Beast to Human


SmDestinationNote: There are mild spoilers in this book review.

Alfred Bester’s novel The Stars My Destination is multilayered. On the surface, it’s a sci-fi and myth. Gulliver–or Gully–Foyle (Perhaps named after Swift’s Gulliver?) is an unfortunate adventurer motivated by a burning revenge. What he believes will quench this fire is the destruction of a spaceship.

Stranded on another merchant spaceship Nomad in space and surviving on his animal and human cunning within a large locker, Gully plots his revenge: Get off the wrecked ship, find Vorga (a ship that did not rescue him), and blow it up.

Gully’s burning desire for destruction and revenge is all-consuming. Gully is nothing more than a beast. And this beast-like quality is reflected in a poem that he repeats to himself while stranded on the wrecked Nomad:

Gully Foyle is my name

And Terra is my nation

Deep space is my dwelling place

And death’s my destination.

The deck is stacked against Gully, yet he succeeds reaching his goals, again and again. Fighting the dangers of open space, cults, prison, entrenched corporation clans, and colluding governments, he succeeds through drive, cunning, innate skills, and an underlying intelligence that develops over the story. And as Gully’s intelligence begins to shine, as his understanding of himself and the world grows, Gully becomes more human.

It is Gully’s humanity and final wisdom that are his true destination. His desire to commit an act of revenge evolves from the simple act of blowing up a ship to the desire to murder the ship’s captain, to absolution, to introspection, and to a cosmic insight of where and who Gully is within the universe. When Gully finally returns “home” to the Nomad’s space locker, he recites this poem to himself:

Gully Foyle is my name

And Terra is my nation

Deep space is my dwelling place

The stars my destination

By today’s reading expectations, there are a few problems with the book. Bester wrote it in the 1950s so a number of corporate players are no longer recognizable to younger readers. And the dialogue and slang is a bit dated.

But that should not prevent you from reading this wonderful book. It’s the reading destination that counts, and The Stars My Destination takes us there unlike many sci-fi stories that can’t–in a human way. For all of us, the stars are our destination.

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