The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination

1957 edition (final/revised text)
Author Alfred Bester
Cover artist Richard Powers
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre science fiction
Publisher Signet Books
Publication date
Media type print (paperback)
Pages 197
The first installment of The Stars My Destination was cover-featured on the October 1956 issue of Galaxy

The Stars My Destination is a science fiction novel by Alfred Bester. Originally serialized in Galaxy magazine in four parts beginning with the October 1956 issue,[1] it first appeared in book form in the United Kingdom as Tiger! Tiger! – after William Blake's poem "The Tyger", the first verse of which is printed as the first page of the novel[2] – and the book remains widely known under that title in markets where this edition was circulated. A working title for the novel was Hell's My Destination,[3] and it was also associated with the name The Burning Spear.


In the 25th century, "jaunting" personal teleportation has so upset the social and economic balance that the Inner Planets are at war with the Outer Satellites. Gully Foyle of the Presteign-owned merchant spaceship Nomad an uneducated, unskilled, unambitious man whose life is at a dead end is marooned in space when the ship is attacked and he alone survives. After six months of his waiting for rescue, a passing spaceship, the Vorga, also owned by the powerful Presteign industrial clan, ignores his signal and abandons him. Foyle is enraged and is transformed into a man consumed by revenge, the first of many transformations.

Foyle repairs the ship, but is captured by a cargo cult in the Asteroid Belt which tattoos a hideous mask of a tiger on his face. He manages to escape and is returned to Terra. His attempt to blow up the Vorga fails, and he is captured by Presteign. Unknown to him, the Nomad was carrying "PyrE", a new material which could make the difference between victory and defeat in the war. Presteign hires Saul Dagenham to interrogate Foyle and find the ship and PyrE.

Protected by his own revenge fixation, Foyle cannot be broken, and he is put into a jaunte-proof prison. There he meets Jisbella McQueen, who teaches him to think clearly, and tells him he should find out who gave the order not to rescue him. Together they escape and get his tattoos removed but not with total success: the subcutaneous scars become visible when Foyle becomes too emotional. They travel to the Nomad, where they recover not only PyrE, but also a fortune in platinum. Jisbella is captured by Dagenham, but Foyle escapes.

Some time later, Foyle re-emerges as "Geoffrey Fourmyle," a nouveau riche dandy. Foyle has rigorously educated himself and had his body altered to become a killing machine. Through yoga he has achieved the emotional self-control necessary to prevent his stigmata from showing. He seeks out Robin Wednesbury, a one-way telepath, whom he had raped earlier in the novel, and persuades her to help him charm his way through high society.

Foyle tracks down the crew of the Vorga to learn the identity of the ship's captain, but each is implanted with a death-reflex and dies when questioned. Each time, Foyle is tormented by the appearance of "The Burning Man", an image of himself on fire.

At a society party, Foyle is smitten with Presteign's daughter Olivia. He also meets Jisabella again now Dagenham's lover who chooses not to reveal Foyle's identity, although Dagenham has realized it anyway (Foyle's alias was implanted in his subconscious mind during Dagenham's interrogation). During a nuclear attack by the Outer Satellites, Foyle goes to Olivia to save her. She tells him that to have her, he must be as cruel and ruthless as she is.

Robin, traumatized by the attacks, tries to buy her way out of her arrangement with Foyle with the name of another Vorga crew member. Foyle agrees, but immediately reneges. In response, Robin goes to Central Intelligence to betray him. Bester once wrote that he used playful narraration at one point to grab the readers attention.

Foyle learns that the captain of the Vorga joined a cult on Mars and has had all her sensory nerves disabled, making her immune to conventional torture. Foyle kidnaps a telepath to interrogate the captain, and learns that the ship did not rescue him because it was picking up refugees, taking their belongings, and scuttling them into space. He also learns that Olivia Presteign was the person in charge. Olivia rescues him from Martian commandos, as she sees in Foyle someone who can match her hatred and need to destroy.

Driven by a guilty conscience, Foyle tries to give himself up, but is captured by Presteign's lawyer Regis Sheffield, who turns out to be a spy for the Outer Satellites. Sheffield tells Foyle that when the Nomad was attacked, Foyle was taken off the ship, transported 600,000 miles away, and set adrift in a spacesuit to be a decoy to attract ships to be ambushed. Instead, Foyle space-jaunted a previously unknown possibility back to the Nomad. Now, the Outer Satellites not only want PyrE, they want Foyle as well, to learn the secret of space-jaunting.

Meanwhile, Presteign reveals that PyrE is activated by telepathy, and Robin is enlisted to trigger it to flush out Foyle. Bits of PyrE left exposed by Foyle's tests into its purpose cause destruction worldwide, but primarily at Foyle's abandoned encampment in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Sheffield has brought him. The church partially collapses, killing Sheffield and trapping Foyle, unconscious but alive, over a pit of flame. Suffering from synesthesia brought on by the explosion affecting his neurological implants, Foyle jauntes through space and time as The Burning Man. Finally he lands in the future, where Robin telepathically tells him how to escape from the collapsing cathedral.

Back in the present, Foyle is pressured to surrender the rest of the PyrE, which was protected from exploding by its Inert Lead Isotope container, and to teach mankind how to space-jaunte. He leads them to where the rest of the PyrE is hidden, but makes off with it and jauntes across the globe, throwing slugs of PyrE into the crowd at each stop. He asks humanity to choose: either destroy itself or follow him into space.

Foyle now realizes the key to space-jaunting is faith: not the certainty of an answer, but the conviction that somewhere an answer exists. He jauntes from one nearby star to another, finding new worlds suitable for colonization, but reachable only if he shares the secret of space-jaunting. He comes to rest back with the cargo cult, where the people see him as a holy man and await his revelation.

Background and influences

The Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement, for instance the megacorporations as powerful as governments, a dark overall vision of the future and the cybernetic enhancement of the body. Bester added to this mix the concept that human beings could learn to teleport, or "jaunte" from point to point, provided they know the exact locations of their departure and arrival and have physically seen the destination, similar to A. E. van Vogt's Gilbert Gosseyn in the 1948 novel The World of Null-A. There is one overall absolute limit: no one can jaunte through outer space. (A jaunte of 1,000 miles is the maximum any jaunter is able to achieve, and even that is extremely rare.) On the surface of a planet, the jaunte rules supreme; otherwise, mankind is still restricted to machinery. In this world, telepathy is extremely rare, but does exist. One important character is able to send thoughts but not receive them. There are fewer than half a dozen full telepaths in all the worlds of the solar system.

The novel can be seen as a science-fiction adaption of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo.[4] It is the study of a man completely lacking in imagination or ambition, Gulliver Foyle, who is introduced with "He was one hundred and seventy days dying and not yet dead...". Foyle is a cipher, a man with potential but no motivation, who is suddenly marooned in space. Even this is not enough to galvanize him beyond trying to find air and food on the wreck. But all changes when an apparent rescue ship deliberately passes him by, stirring him irrevocably out of his passivity. Foyle becomes a monomaniacal and sophisticated monster bent upon revenge. Wearing many masks, learning many skills, this "worthless" man pursues his goals relentlessly; no price is too high to pay.

Like Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, Foyle is thrown into prison, the supposedly jaunte-proof "Gouffre Martel" located in caverns. He establishes a clandestine connection to another prisoner, Jizbella McQueen, and through her he is educated to the point where he can conceive a plan to escape and exact his revenge. Escaping with her and locating the wreck of the Nomad, he uses its treasure, as Dantès did, to re-invent himself as Geoffrey Fourmyle.

The scenario of the shipwrecked man ignored by passing ships came from a National Geographic Magazine story that Bester had read, about the shipwrecked sailor Poon Lim who had survived four months on a raft in the South Atlantic during World War II, and ships had passed him without picking him up, because their captains were afraid that the raft was a decoy to lure them into torpedo range of German submarines.[5]

Terminology and allusions

The title "The Stars My Destination" appears in a quatrain quoted by Foyle twice during the book. The first time, while he is trapped in outer space, he states:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
And death's my destination.

Toward the end of the book, after he has returned to human life and become something of a hero, he states:

Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination

Both quatrains are based on a poetic form that was popular in England and the United States during the 18th-to-mid-20th centuries, in which a person stated their name, country, city or town, and a religious homily (often, "Heaven's my destination") within the rhyming four-line structure (see book rhyme).[6] This literary device had been previously used by James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Bester may have come across his title expression in the writings of John Whiteside Parsons, one of the fathers of modern rocketry, who was also a science fiction fan and occultist. In 1943, Parsons wrote: "Rocketry may not be my True Will, but it's one hell of a powerful drive. With Thelema as my goal and the stars my destination and my home, I have set my eyes on high."[7]

Bester's initial work on the book began in England, and he took the names for his characters from an English telephone directory. As a result, many of the characters are named after British towns or other features:[2] Gulliver Foyle (and his pseudonym, Fourmyle of Ceres), Robin Wednesbury, the Presteign clan, Regis Sheffield, Y'ang-Yeovil, Saul Dagenham, Sam Quatt, Rodger Kempsey, the Bo'ness and Uig shipyard.


Speculative science

The novel included some notable early descriptions of proto-science and fictional technology, among them Bester's portrayal of psionics,[8] including the phenomenon of "jaunting", named after the scientist (Charles Fort Jaunte) who discovered it. Jaunting is the instantaneous teleportation of one's body (and anything one is wearing or carrying). One is able to move up to a thousand miles by just thinking. This suddenly revealed and near-universal ability totally disrupts the economic balance between the Inner Planets (Venus, Earth, Mars, and the Moon) and the Outer Satellites (various moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune), eventually leading to a war between the two. Jaunting has other effects on the social fabric of the novel's world, and these are examined in true science-fictional fashion. Women of the upper classes are locked away in jaunte-proof rooms "for their protection", the treatment of criminals of necessity goes back to the Victorian "separate system", and freaks and monsters abound.

The second significant technology in the novel is the rare substance known as "PyrE", a weapon powerful enough to win an interplanetary war.

Bester's description of synesthesia is the first popular account in the English language. It is also quite accurate.[9]

Reception and influence

Initially, reviews of the novel were mixed. The well-regarded science fiction writer and critic Damon Knight, in In Search of Wonder (1956),[10] wrote of the novel's "bad taste, inconsistency, irrationality, and downright factual errors", but called the ending of the book "grotesquely moving". In a profile of Bester for Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature (2005), critic Steven H. Gale cited the novel as a reflection of the author's maturation, addressing as it does "the continued evolution of humankind as a species", a grander theme than those treated with in his earlier work.[1] Gale furthermore declared the novel to be Bester's most stylistically ambitious work, citing the use of disparate fonts to evoke synaesthesia, the progressively intelligent language accorded to the maturing protagonist, and the framing of the narrative between the variations on Blake's quatrain.[1]

More recently, the book has received high praise from several science fiction writers. By 1987, when the author died, "It was apparent that the 1980s genre [cyberpunk] owed an enormous debt to Bester – and to this book in particular," Neil Gaiman wrote in the introduction to a 1999 edition of the book. "The Stars My Destination is, after all, the perfect cyberpunk novel: it contains such cheerfully protocyber elements as multinational corporate intrigue; a dangerous, mysterious, hyperscientific MacGuffin (PyrE); an amoral hero; a supercool thief-woman ..."[2] James Lovegrove called it "the very best of Bester",[11] and Thomas M. Disch identified it as "one of the great sf novels of the 1950s".[11] "Our field has produced only a few works of actual genius, and this is one of them," wrote Joe Haldeman.[11] who added that he reads the novel "every two or three years and it still evokes a sense of wonder." According to Samuel R. Delany, the book is "considered by many to be the greatest single SF novel".[11] while Robert Silverberg wrote that it is "on everybody's list of the ten greatest SF novels".[2] Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock praised it as "a wonderful adventure story" that embodies truly libertarian principles.[12] Ty Franck, co-author of The Expanse series, said "I don’t remember any of the other stories in [A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume Two; an anthology of science fiction stories], and I read that book a dozen times. The only story that sticks out in my mind is The Stars My Destination.” [13]

In a 2011 survey asking leading science fiction writers to name their favourite work of the genre, The Stars My Destination was the choice of William Gibson and Moorcock. Gibson remarked that the book was "perfectly surefooted, elegantly pulpy," and "dizzying in its pace and sweep", and a "talisman" for him in undertaking his first novel. Moorcock hailed Bester's novel as a reminder of "why the best science fiction still contains, as in Ballard, vivid imagery and powerful prose coupled to a strong moral vision".[14]

In 2012, the novel was included in the Library of America two-volume boxed set American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe.[15]


Howard Chaykin and Byron Preiss created a graphic adaptation the first half of which was published in 1979 by Baronet Publishing and the complete version delayed due to Baronet's bankruptcy after releasing the original version by Marvel Entertainment's Epic imprint in 1992.[16]

A dramatisation titled Tiger! Tiger! was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 14, 1991 and repeated on August 16, 1993. It was scripted by Ivan Benbrook and directed by Andy Jordan. Alun Armstrong played Gully Foyle, Miranda Richardson was Olivia, Siobhan Redmond was Robin Wednesbury and Lesley Manville was Jisbella McQueen.[17]

Various film adaptations of the book have been scripted but none has yet made it to the screen.[18] While the novel has long been considered an "unfilmable" science fiction work,[19] the screen rights were acquired by Universal Pictures in 2006[20] and by Paramount Pictures in 2015.[21]



  1. 1 2 3 Gale, Steven H. (2003). "Bester, Alfred". In Serafin, Steven; Bendixen, Alfred. The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature. London: Continuum. pp. 93–95. ISBN 0-8264-1777-9.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Gaiman, Neil (1999). "Introduction". The Stars My Destination. SF Masterworks. London: Orion Publishing. ISBN 978-1-85798-814-7.
  3. Kelleghan, Fiona (November 1994). "Hell's My Destination: Imprisonment in the Works of Alfred Bester". Science Fiction Studies. 21, part 3 (64). Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  4. Booker, Keith (2001). Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946–1964. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-31873-3. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  5. Bester, Alfred. "My Affair with Science Fiction", in Hell's Cartographers ed. by Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss, 1975. A similar scenario appears in the novel The Cruel Sea.
  6. "Origins: 'Johnson Johnson is my name' A MYSTERY!". Mudcat Café. Mudcat Café Music Foundation. Retrieved October 18, 2009.
  7. Pendle, George. Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons (Orlando, Florida: Mariner Book, 2006). p.169. ISBN 0-15-603179-5
  8. Clareson, Thomas (1992). "Science Fiction: The 1950s". Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. p. 74. ISBN 0-87249-870-0.
  9. Giannini, A.J.; Slaby, A.E.; Giannini, M.C. (1982). Handbook of Overdose and Detoxification Emergencies. New Hyde Park, NY: Medical Examination Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 0-87488-182-X.
  10. Knight, Damon (1956). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. p. 306.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Bester, Alfred (1999). The Stars My Destination. London: Gollancz. ISBN 978-1-85798-814-7.
  12. Moorcock, Michael. "Starship Stormtroopers Archived December 24, 2002, at the Wayback Machine.". Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, 1978.
  14. "The stars of modern SF pick the best science fiction". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. May 14, 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  15. Itzkoff, Dave (July 13, 2012). "Classic Sci-Fi Novels Get Futuristic Enhancements from Library of America". New York Times. Arts Beat: The Culture at Large blog. Retrieved January 9, 2013.
  16. 'The Complete Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination' by Howard Chaykin and Byron Preiss
  17. "The Shape of Things To Come Episode 8 Tiger! Tiger!". Miranda Richardson Radio Appearances. Retrieved 2009-01-02.
  18. "Destination: Development Hell: How Alfred Bester's 'The Stars My Destination' Took a Jaunt to Hollywood" in David Hughes, The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. Chicago IL: A Capella Books, 2001, pp. 8-17
  19. Ambrose, Tom (November 14, 2008). "Asimov's The End Of Eternity Is Coming". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. Retrieved May 14, 2011.
  20. "U has 'Stars' in its eyes" Variety (March 21, 2006)
  21. Busch, Anita (February 27, 2015). "Paramount In Talks To Acquire Rights To Sci-Fi Classic 'The Stars My Destination'". Retrieved March 1, 2015.


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