It starts, “He was 170 days dying but not yet dead.”
Samuel R. Delaney called this book the best science fiction book of all time. Before reading the book I thought his claim was wild syllogism. After reading the book I think that his claim might be hard to argue against.
Written in 1956 The Stars My Destination has an almost eerie ability to feel modern even fifty-four years later. The prose is slick and precise, razor sharp and moves along quickly.
Alfred Bester’s abilities are not wholly what make this book so great, however.
The greatness of the book comes from the fact that nearly every science fiction book since has tried to emulate the elements that Alfred Bester employed with such power. Some scenes are lifted straight from this 250-page novel and pasted into movies, television shows and books. Authors from Joss Whedon, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson to Neill Gaiman, John Scalzi, Samuel R. Delaney, Isaac Asimov (his later stuff), Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert owe much to Alfred Bester’s book.
As a transformative work, it stands above all others. As a piece of fiction it just might reformat your brain. Alfred Bester raises questions about morality, politics, revenge, justice, mercy, punishment, power, money, strength, time and perception. He twists space and story, tying the reader’s brain into a knot that takes days to unravel.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Not everybody will. The protagonist is hateful, violent and unkind. He changes, toward the end, as a result of the culmination of all his actions but most people won’t get that far.