The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination
The Stars My Destination  
The Stars My Destination serialisation
Author(s) Alfred Bester
Original title Tiger! Tiger!
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) science fiction
Publisher Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication date 1956
Media type print (hardback)
Pages 232

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.


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's unique addition to this mix is 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. There is one overall absolute limit: no one can jaunte through outer space. 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.

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 Japanese submarines.[5]

Terminology and allusions

The title "The Stars My Destination" is derived from 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'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:[7] 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.


Gully Foyle is the last remaining survivor of the Nomad, a merchant spaceship attacked in the war between the Inner Planets and the Outer Satellites and left drifting in space. He blindly waits for over six months for a rescuer. Seeing a spacecraft named Vorga, he sets off signal flares and rejoices thinking he will be saved. The Vorga however passes him by, leaving him to die. This callousness triggers a consuming rage in Foyle that transforms him. Vengeance becomes his mission.

Improvising a repair to Nomad's engine, Foyle sends the ship into the asteroid belt, where it is captured and incorporated into the Sargasso asteroid, a body built of the wreckage of other crashed ships. The inhabitants, who call themselves the Scientific People, tattoo a mask reminiscent of tā moko onto Foyle's face, with the word "N♂MAD" across his forehead, and marry Foyle to one of their women. Once he revives from his ordeal he blasts out of the asteroid and is picked up by a ship from the Inner Planets. He does not know about his tattoo until one of the hands on the Navy ship gives him a mirror.

Disguised as a disabled jaunter, among others who are undergoing therapy for head injuries that have affected their ability, Foyle plans an attack on the Vorga. Before he can do this, he is discovered by his instructor, Robin Wednesbury, a telesend (a kind of telepath who can send thoughts to others, but not receive them). He blackmails her into helping him, but his attack on the Vorga fails and he is captured by security forces working for Presteign, the aristocratic head of the huge Presteign corporation (owner of the Vorga). They grill Foyle about Nomad but he refuses to talk, and Foyle is thrown into the Gouffre Martel, a complex of underground caves in the Pyrenees. These are used as a prison, where the inmates live in total darkness, unable to form a picture of their location in order to jaunte.

Foyle discovers that an acoustic quirk in the prison caves allows him to communicate with a fellow prisoner, a woman named Jisbella McQueen. They plot an escape, and McQueen arranges to have Foyle's tattoos removed, but the removal is not total. Although Foyle's face looks normal most of the time, when he becomes emotional or excited, the rush of blood to his face brings back the markings.

Dagenham raids the clandestine hospital where the tattoos are being expunged, but Foyle and Jisbella escape in a ship and head out to the Sargasso Asteroid where the Scientific People live. There they recover the ship's vault from the Nomad. Besides a fortune in platinum, it contains something else. As the vault is ejected into their ship, Dagenham's men arrive and capture Jisbella, while Foyle, still obsessed, abandons her and jets away. With his new fortune, Foyle intends to find the Captain of the Vorga, avenging himself on a person rather than the ship itself. He also realizes that he must learn self-control, as the manifestation of his facial markings will give him away.

SF Masterworks edition.
Current UK edition. Cover art by Chris Moore has been mirrored on the book for aesthetic reasons, but NOMAD tattooed on Foyle's forehead is clearly reversed.

Using the alias "Geoffrey Fourmyle of Ceres," Foyle re-emerges as a rich dandy who charms high society with his antics, leading a troupe of freaks called the Four Mile Circus. Foyle has extensively altered himself physically and rigorously educated himself. He seeks out Robin Wednesbury, now socially blacklisted due to her family connections with the Outer Satellites, and offers her a chance to reunite with her family if she will use her one-way telepathy to help him navigate high society. She reluctantly agrees.

During a society party, Foyle meets Jisbella McQueen again, now the lover of Saul Dagenham, the detective who interrogated Foyle. He learns the real reason Dagenham wanted the location of Nomad: the vault contained a sample of a substance called PyrE, which Foyle had himself found and been unable to determine what it was. Then, during a sudden nuclear attack by the Outer Satellites, Foyle is smitten with Presteign's daughter Olivia, who has been watching the attack with her altered sense of sight: she sees only infrared light, but not the normal visible spectrum. Foyle grabs her with intent to ravish her before they die, only to find out that she has deceived him. She tells Foyle that to have her, he must be as cruel and ruthless as she is.

Foyle continues his hunt for the Vorga's captain, only to find that each of the crew has been given a kind of implanted death-reflex to prevent mention of the ship. Throughout these episodes, Foyle is tormented by the appearance of the "Burning Man", an image of himself on fire. He finally closes in on the Captain, now a neo-Skoptsy[8] (a person with all sensory nerves disabled) living on Mars, and therefore immune to conventional torture. Foyle kidnaps a telepath, interrogates the Captain in her crypt, and finds that Olivia Presteign was the commander of the Vorga -- moments before commando soldiers storm the crypt.

Foyle is rescued by Olivia. She had been transporting refugees for cash, only to murder them all by throwing them out into space. Her victims included Robin's family. She now sees a kindred spirit in Foyle, a freak who cannot live with "normal" humans, someone who can match her urges to destroy and conquer.

Foyle, driven by rage, remorse, and self-pity, tries to give himself up to the authorities. He unwittingly turns himself over to a lawyer, Regis Sheffield, who turns out to be a double agent working for the Outer Satellites. They are interested in him because apparently Foyle holds the holy grail of jaunting: space travel. He had been planted as a decoy to draw Inner Planets ships towards the wreck of the Nomad, but had jaunted back into the wreck of the ship from hundreds of thousands of miles away.

After Presteign learns of Olivia and Foyle being in cahoots, he suffers an epileptic seizure and babbles that PyrE is the most powerful explosive ever created. It is activated by telepathy, and so Robin (now having turned herself in to the authorities as well) is enlisted to activate it. The PyrE explodes, causing many incidents of destruction worldwide, but mostly at the HQ of the Fourmyle Circus in St. Patrick's Cathedral, where Foyle and Sheffield are holed up. The explosion partially collapses the building, killing Sheffield and trapping Foyle, unconscious but alive, over a pit of flame.

In the wreckage and confusion of the detonation, suffering from synesthesia brought on by the effects of the explosion on his neurological implants, Foyle once again jauntes through space and time, revisiting key moments of his journey to this point. Some of the synesthesia is conveyed to the reader visually, through graphic renditions of the text created by the noted illustrator Jack Gaughan.[9][10] As The Burning Man, he appears to himself during the quest, as well as in other times and places, such as during his escape from the Gouffre Martel, when he distracts the guards enabling him and Jisbella to break out, and in space when Foyle was aboard the Nomad. Finally he jauntes to some unknown location in the future, where Robin telepathically gives him instructions (relayed from himself) for the exact route he needs — allowing for his confused senses — to escape the collapsing cathedral.

On returning to the present, Foyle is pressured from all sides to surrender the rest of the PyrE, or to let mankind benefit from his ability to space-jaunte. To Foyle's ears, this sounds like a no-win situation: to unleash a deadly weapon on the human race, or to let humanity spread like a disease by space-jaunting. He finally leads them to the vault where he has the rest of the PyrE stored, but steals it and teleports across the globe, throwing one slug of PyrE after another into the crowds and insisting the people be told what it is. "I've given life and death back to the people who do the living and dying," he says. He delivers one last speech, where he asks humanity to choose either to destroy itself or follow him into space.

At this point he realizes the key to space-jaunting. It is faith: not the certainty of an answer, but the conviction that somewhere an answer exists. He then jauntes from one nearby star to another. In the course of his star-hopping, Foyle locates the answer for the future: new worlds suitable for colonization reachable only if he can share the gift of space-jaunting. Finally he comes to rest in the locker on Nomad, where he spent his time before being reborn the first time. The Scientific People now see him as a holy man, and take up vigil to await his revelation.

Speculative science

The novel included some notable early descriptions of proto-science and fictional technology, among them Bester's portrayal of psionics.[11] The phenomenon of "jaunting", named after the scientist (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.[12]

Reception and influence

Reviews of the novel have been mixed. The well-regarded science fiction writer and critic Damon Knight, in In Search of Wonder (1956),[13] 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 McGuffin (PyrE); an amoral hero; a supercool thief-woman ..."[7] James Lovegrove called the it "the very best of Bester",[14] and Thomas M. Disch identified it as "one of the great sf novels of the 1950s".[14] "Our field has produced only a few works of actual genius, and this is one of them," wrote Joe Haldeman.[14] 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".[14] while Robert Silverberg wrote that it is "on everybody's list of the ten greatest SF novels".[7] Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock praised it as "a wonderful adventure story" that embodies truly libertarian principles.[15] 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 "[p]erfectly 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".[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] Although the novel has long been considered an "unfilmable" science fiction work,[18] the screen rights were reported in 2006 to have been acquired by Universal Pictures.[19]

In popular culture

Stephen King references The Stars My Destination in several works. In Lisey's Story (2006), the title character recalls it as her deceased husband's favorite novel. The short story "The Jaunt" (1981) takes its title from the book, and explicitly names and references it at several points. Gully Foyle makes a cameo appearance as an agent for the Jurisfiction organisation in the BookWorld of author Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. Another novel in the series, The Well of Lost Plots, uses Stars My Destination as the title of a tabloid newspaper in the fictional universe of Emperor Zhark.

The novel inspired the song "Tiger! Tiger!" by the heavy metal band Slough Feg which appeared on their 2007 album Hardworlder, the cover of which depicts Gully Foyle. "The Stars Our Destination" is the name of a song on the 1994 Stereolab album Mars Audiac Quintet.

The British TV Series The Tomorrow People uses Jaunting to refer to teleportation.


  1. ^ a b c Gale, Steven H. (2003). "Bester, Alfred". In Serafin, Steven; Bendixen, Alfred. The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature. London: Continuum. pp. 93–95. ISBN 0826417779. 
  2. ^ "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester, introduction by Neil Gaiman, Orion Publishing, 1999
  3. ^ Kelleghan, Fiona (November 1994). "Hell's My Destination: Imprisonment in the Works of Alfred Bester". Science Fiction Studies 21, part 3 (64). Retrieved 14 May 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 9780313318733. Retrieved January 17, 2009. 
  5. ^ From the essay "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. [unreliable source?]
  7. ^ a b c Gaiman, Neil (1999). "Introduction". The Stars My Destination. SF Masterworks. London: Orion Publishing. ISBN 9781857988147. 
  8. ^ The novel uses the name Sklotzky in some editions.
  9. ^ Review by Tal Cohen, dated 02 June 1999. Accessed 2011-08-20.
  10. ^ American Buddha Online Library "Special calligraphy and ideographs in Chapter 15 created by Jack Gaughan." Accessed 2011-08-20.
  11. ^ Clareson, Thomas (1992). "Science Fiction: The 1950s". Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. p. 74. ISBN 0872498700. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Knight, Damon (1956). In Search of Wonder. Chicago: Advent. pp. 306. 
  14. ^ a b c d Bester, Alfred (1999). The Stars My Destination. London: Gollancz. ISBN 9781857988147. 
  15. ^ Moorcock, Michael. "Starship Stormtroopers". Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review, 1978.
  16. ^ "The stars of modern SF pick the best science fiction". The Guardian (Guardian Media Group). 14 May 2011. Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "The Shape of Things To Come Episode 8 Tiger! Tiger!". Miranda Richardson Radio Appearances. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  18. ^ Ambrose, Tom (14 November 2008). "Asimov's The End Of Eternity Is Coming". Empire (Bauer Consumer Media). Retrieved 14 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "U has 'Stars' in its eyes" Variety (March 21, 2006)
  • Boucher, Anthony, ed (1959). "The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester". A Treasury of Great Science Fiction (Volume Two ed.). Garden City, New York: Doubleday. pp. 361–522; color reference p.465. 
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pp. 43. ISBN 0-911682-20-1. 

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