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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, it first appeared in book form as Tiger! Tiger! (after William Blake's poem "The Tyger", the first verse of which is printed as the first page of the novel). This publication was in Britain, and the book remains widely known under that title in markets where this edition was circulated. Other titles are Hell's My Destination and The Burning Spear. A radio adaptation by Ivan Benbrook was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 14, 1991 and repeated on August 16, 1993.

Plot introduction

The Stars My Destination is, in one sense, a science-fiction adaption of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. It is the study of a man completely lacking in imagination or ambition, Gulliver Foyle. Fate transforms "Gully" Foyle in an instant; shipwrecked in space, then abandoned by a passing luxury liner, 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 Stars My Destination anticipated many of the staples of the later cyberpunk movement—the megacorporations as powerful as the governments, a dark overall vision of the future, the cybernetic enhancement of the body. To this it added the standard "one weird idea" of science fiction — that human beings could learn to teleport, or "jaunte" from point to point, with various personal limitations but one overall absolute limit: no one can jaunte through outer space. On the surface of a planet, the jaunte rules supreme; off it, 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 protagonist, Gully Foyle, is introduced as "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.

The scenario of the shipwrecked man ignored by passing ships came from a National Geographic Magazine story that Bester had read. During World War II, a shipwrecked sailor had survived four months on a raft in the Pacific, 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.

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 Englandmarker and the United Statesmarker 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). 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: Gulliver Foylemarker (and his pseudonym, Fourmyle of Ceresmarker), Robin Wednesburymarker, the Presteignmarker clan, Regis Sheffieldmarker, Y'ang-Yeovilmarker, Saul Dagenhammarker, Sam Quattmarker, Rodger Kempseymarker, the Bo'nessmarker and Uig shipyard.

Charles Fort Jaunte, the discoverer of jaunting, is named after Charles Hoy Fort, the American journalist and author who coined the word teleportation.

Plot summary

Gully Foyle is the last remaining survivor of the Nomad, a merchant spaceship attacked in the war with the Outer Satellites and left drifting in space. Foyle is a living zombie, a man who has not bothered to explore more than the minimum potential of his abilities. Trapped on Nomad, he blindly waits 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.

Jerry-rigging a repair to Nomad's engine, Foyle sends the ship into the asteroid belt where it is captured and incorporated into the Sargassomarker asteroid, a body built with the wreckage of other crashed ships. This is inhabited by the remnants of a shipwrecked crew of scientists who have regressed into superstition. These odd descendants, dubbed the Scientific People, all have tattooed faces. They tattoo a mask reminiscent of tā moko onto Foyle's face, with the word "N♂MAD" across his forehead. They "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).

Foyle has already researched Robin, and he blackmails her into helping him. Since her family had lived on the Outer Satellites, with whom the Inner Planets are at war, she is technically an "alien belligerent", subject to internment, or even imprisonment and torture as a spy. For good measure, he also rapes her.

The attack against the Vorga fails, and he is captured by security forces working for Presteign, the aristocratic head of the huge Presteign corporation, which owns the Vorga. Presteign has already set his agents looking for Foyle, as he is the only survivor of the Nomad. Desperate to find the Nomad and its mysterious cargo, he hires Saul Dagenham, head of an investigative agency. Dagenham is a brilliant scientist who became radioactive from an accident with a nuclear reactor. He is only allowed to spend a few minutes in the presence of normal people. Dagenham's agency subjects Foyle to disorientation techniques and deceptions, but Foyle's obsession prevents him revealing anything about the location of Nomad. Dagenham and Presteign have him thrown into the Gouffre Martel, a complex of underground caves in the Pyreneesmarker. 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. Through long hours of conversation, during which they fall in love, she educates Foyle and teaches him how to pursue his revenge in more subtle ways. Dagenham arrives to question Foyle, who realizes from the questioning that a vast treasure remains on the hulk of the Nomad. Attacking and subduing Dagenham, he smashes his way out of the room, into the women's section of the prison, and locates Jisbella. They escape through uncharted caverns and emerge at night in a river flowing out of the mountains. Although they finally consummate their passion, Jisbella is repelled by Foyle's appearance when the day dawns and she sees his face. Nevertheless, she takes him to her criminal friends and arranges for the tattoos on his face to be removed. The removal is not total. Although Foyle's face looks normal most of the time, when he is aroused 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.

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. His nervous system has been enhanced with secret military technology to allow him to function at superhuman speeds. He seeks out Robin Wednesbury, who has retreated into an almost catatonic state from his previous torture of her. She does not recognize him at first, as he offers her the job of his personal assistant and social secretary, but a noise startles him enough to cause his tattoo to reappear. Horrified, she tries to escape until he offers her something she cannot turn down: the chance to be reunited with her family, who escaped to the Inner Planets as refugees. By this time the war between the Inner Planets and the Outer Satellites, brought about by the economic dislocations caused by mass jaunting, is heating up.

Foyle makes his grand entrance on New Year's Eve, when aristocrats jaunte from one party to another around the world. He meets Presteign, the owner of the Vorga, and falls in love with Presteign's daughter, Olivia, an albino who is blind to the visible spectrum but can see infrared and radio waves. He also runs into Jisbella McQueen, the only person who can expose him. She surprises him by not doing so, telling him that she is now Dagenham's lover, and that the real reason Dagenham wanted the location of Nomad was because the vault contained a sample of a substance called PyrE. She believes this is such a menace that she does not want Dagenham to succeed. Foyle admits that he also realized that the odd little container he found was the true target, and that he had been experimenting to find out what it was.

During the party at Presteign's mansion in New York City, the Earth is subject to nuclear bombardment. Olivia dodges her father's security and stands outside, watching the attack with her strange senses. She describes the infrared colors of the exploding bombs as tang and burn. Foyle comes out and declares his passion for her, at which point she tells him a bomb is heading right for them. 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. Foyle finds several ex-crewmembers of the Vorga, who all perish from some kind of implanted death-reflex at the mention of the ship. Finally he captures one, performs surgery on him to prevent him from immediately dying, and tortures him to reveal the Captain's name, only to discover that the Captain has become a neo-Skoptsy (a person with all sensory nerves disabled) living on Mars. Such a person would be immune to the kind of torture and torment Foyle wants to inflict.

Throughout these episodes, Foyle is tormented by the appearance of the "Burning Man", an image of himself on fire. This figure appears at each location where he tries to find one of the crew of the Vorga. Robin declares the vision is of him burning in Hell. After he tells her that he is in love with Olivia Presteign, she turns on him in her rage and leaves him. She attempts to surrender to the Inner Planets Intelligence services, run by a man named Peter Y'ang-Yeovil, who had previously tried to prise Foyle away from Presteign in order to locate the Nomad.

Foyle travels to Mars, where he kidnaps its only telepath, a seventy-year-old child, to torture the captain of the Vorga through his mind. The telepath can barely stand to look into the Captain's twisted mind, but then the Burning Man appears and speaks. He reveals that the true culprit on board the Vorga was actually Olivia Presteign. Foyle emerges from the catacombs where the Skoptsies lie on slabs. He runs into commandos from Inner Planets Security forces, all of whom are augmented as he is. Then Mars itself is subject to bombardment from the Outer Satellites. Escaping in the confusion, his ship spirals out of control. He blacks out and wakes aboard the Vorga.

Once more Olivia has taken her father's ship out without his knowledge. Before she was transporting refugees for cash, only to murder them all by throwing them out into space. Her victims included Robin's family. Now she has come to find Foyle. She sees a kindred spirit in him, a freak who cannot live with "normal" humans, someone who can match her urges to destroy and conquer. Foyle however has seen too much horror. He tells her to put him off the ship on Earth.

Driven by rage, remorse, and self-pity, he tries to give himself up to the authorities, who are frantically hunting him. He approaches a lawyer, Regis Sheffield, who turns out to be a double agent working for the Outer Satellites. Foyle is told that, while the authorities are most interested in the sample of isotope "PyrE" (that was in the Nomad's safe), the Outer Satellites are more interested in Foyle himself. When the O.S. attacked Foyle's ship, Nomad, he was captured and cast adrift in empty space with a radio beacon to lure other ships into a trap. Instead he was seen to vanish. When he reappeared on Earth, apparently having lived on the Nomad, it became apparent that he had jaunted himself across space. This is something no one had ever done before and something Foyle himself did not know he could do. Foyle holds the holy grail of jaunting: space travel.

While this is happening, Y'ang-Yeovil and Dagenham combine forces against Presteign during a conference. Presteign suffers an epileptic seizure and while recovering babbles that PyrE is the most powerful nuclear explosive ever created. It is activated by telepathy. Y'ang-Yeovil and Dagenham decide to flush out Foyle by detonating the tiny amount of PyrE outside its protective box. They enlist Robin, who has become Y'ang-Yeovil's lover, to send the command.

Sheffield arrives with the disabled Foyle at the HQ of the Fourmyle Circus in St. Patrick's Cathedralmarker, hoping that the authorities will assume that Foyle would not return there. As he is questioning Foyle, the command goes out from Robin to detonate the PyrE. 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. 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. In this future Robin has married Y'ang-Yeovil and Jisbella has married Dagenham. Foyle asks "Am I here? Is Olivia?" but receives no answer. During this section of the novel Bester returns to the unconventional typography he employed in his previous novel, The Demolished Man. Here he uses it to suggest how the world looks to Foyle's distorted senses, where motion triggers sound, pain triggers taste, and sound appears as light.

Presteign holds court in his Star Chamber, a room filled with automata simulating human servants. Present are Y'ang-Yeovil, Dagenham, Robin and Jisbella, along with Presteign himself and Foyle. The men all try to pressure Foyle in different ways to reveal where he has hidden the rest of the PyrE. Foyle responds that he wants to be punished for what he did, even as the men protest that he is too valuable to be killed. Foyle points out that the alternatives for him are worse: to unleash a deadly weapon on the human race, or let humanity spread like a disease through space-jaunting.

One of the androids in the room, disrupted by Dagenham's radioactivity, begins talking to the humans. They are all Tiger men, it declares, unable to help what they do and predestined to re-make the future. They have no choice, and no right to decide what that future might be. Then it collapses.

Foyle reconsiders after this and leads the group to the hiding place of the PyrE in Old St. Patrick's. Abruptly he begins jaunting from one crowded place on Earth to another, barely ahead of his pursuers, tossing away a slug of the deadly substance into the crowds at each place. He exhorts them with the words "PyrE! Make them tell you what it is!" While dispensing the PyrE, Foyle berates the people for not living up to their potential. Once he is sure that some of the samples will never be found by the authorities, he allows himself to be captured momentarily, before gathering his energies and space-jaunting.

Finding himself in nothingness at first, he must discover the secret inside himself. Eventually he realizes that 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 recognize that he is now a holy man, and take up vigil to await his Revelation.

Speculative science

There are two major technologies in the book. The first is "jaunting", a phenomenon 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 technology is based upon the rare substance known as "PyrE", a weapon powerful enough to win an interplanetary war.

His description of synesthesia is the first popular account in the English language. It is also quite accurate. Synesthesia is often experienced with higher dosages of LSD.

Reception and legacy

Reception of the novel has been mixed. The well-regarded science fiction writer and critic Damon Knight, in In Search of Wonder (1956), wrote of the novel's "bad taste, inconsistency, irrationality, and downright factual errors", but called the ending of the book "grotesquely moving".

More recently, the book has received high praise from several science fiction writers. James Lovegrove called the it "the best very of Bester", and Thomas M. Disch identified it as "one of the great sf novels of the 1950s". "Our field has produced only a few works of actual genius, and this is one of them," wrote Joe Haldeman. 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". while Robert Silverberg wrote that it is "on everybody's list of the ten greatest SF novels".

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 soopercool thief-woman ..."


A dramatisation (titled Tiger! Tiger!) was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 14, 1991. 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.

Cultural references to the book

  • 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.
  • In the 1992 novel Jumper by Steven Gould, the protagonist, David Rice, briefly mentions The Stars My Destination as he is fantasizing about teleportation.
  • A song on the 1994 Stereolab album Mars Audiac Quintet is named "The Stars Our Destination".
  • 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 Emporer Zhark.
  • The song "Tiger! Tiger!" by the heavy metal band Slough Feg was inspired by The Stars My Destination. This song is the second track on the band's 2007 album Hardworlder, the cover of which depicts Gully Foyle.
  • A science fiction/fantasy bookstore named The Stars Our Destination was located in Evanston, Illinoismarker.
  • Drum'n'bass duo Sonic & Silver, under the name The Accidental Heroes, entitled their first album The Stars Our Destination on Infrared Records in 2002.
  • In Deus Ex, in the Hilton Hotel, there is a datacube that lists occupants. One of the occupants listed is "Gully Foyle".


  1. "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester, introduction by Neil Gaiman, Orion Publishing, 1999
  2. AJ Giannini, AE Slaby, MC Giannini. Handbook of Overdose and Detoxification Emergencies. New Hyde Park,NY. Medical Examination Publishing Co.,1982, pg. 164. ISBN 0-87488-182-X.
  3. 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.
  4. The novel uses the name Sklotzky in some editions.


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