The Stars My Destination

the-stars-my-destination Tiger!  Tiger!  burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

~William Blake

Gully Folye is unremarkable.  His Merchant Marine card tells that world that he has “Education:  none.  Skills:  none.  Merits:  none.  Recommendations:  none.” and Gully has no real desire to change that.  But then something miraculous happens:  Gully manages to survive in the dead of space for 170 days and escape back to Terra with a grudge the size of Jupiter.  And while he doesn’t know it, he also processes a secret that could change the world.

Suddenly, Gully Foyle has some very interesting motivations for action and some very important people should be on their guard…

*****

It’s always fun to read a sci-fi book that was written a long time ago:  Alfred Bester wrote this one in 1956 and it holds up pretty well.  His futuristic ideas aren’t the typical “flying cars and talking computers” variety (although we’re already at the talking computer part… where’s my flying car?!) and are more along the lines of mankind beginning to understand more about the mind and human abilities.  But, if you’re looking for hard science, you’ll be disappointed in this one.

This is more the story of drive and revenge and what it makes a person rather than “ooh, look at the shiny gadgets I made up” tale.  Bester does a great job of pulling us along for a pretty hectic ride… Gully doesn’t have much down time and either do we.  This is a character that you get to watch change pretty dramatically over the course of the novel and I honestly spent part of the book hating him.  But then you start to think about his motivation and you begin to put yourself in his shoes and realize that his slight psychosis is probably justified.  Probably.

The version that I picked up has an introduction by Neil Gaiman which is pretty good – but read it last because it’s got spoilers.  And I really hate that… I think that they should make these afterwards or warn you.  On the other hand, I should know better.  In all actuality, I think I only picked up one small one before I realized what I was doing and moved on to the real story.

One last note on the Blake poem:  the original name of this book was “Tiger! Tiger!” and if you read the book you’ll better understand the reference.  I’m leaving it at that because I think this is worth picking up or borrowing if you’re interested in a quick moving story of survival and retribution (with a possible side of salvation?) set amongst a future where low tech protects the high powered and the world has been changed by the power of the human mind.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, 258 pages

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Published in: on February 13, 2009 at 11:06 am  Comments (3)  
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The Maltese Falcon

maltese-falcon1

Introducing Sam Spade – a chain smoking private detective with at least one too many problems on his hands.

It’s just another typical day for Spade and his partner Miles Archer.  It all starts with a simple case – a womens sister has run away with an unscrupulous man and she needs to be found and brought home.  But when Miles ends up dead, it’s up to Sam to sort through the lies and find the truth behind a ring of thieves, a fantastic and legendary tale, and a very special and coveted bird statue.

*****

I should fess up… I’ve never seen the movie they made from his book.  You know, that really famous one with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre?  In fact, the whole reason I bought the book can be blamed on Adam Savage of the Mythbusters.  I was watching a lecture online where he was talking about creating a perfect replica of the falcon from the movie and it got me interested in the story.  So, here we are… me having finally read one of the quintessential detective stories of our time.

Everyone knows the character of Sam Spade, even if you haven’t read the story or seen the movie.  I’m sure when you hear the name you get a mental picture of the smoking private eye in the shady office, leering over some poor damsel in distress who comes with hat in hand.  There’s a reason it’s cliche – this book started it, really.  Part of what paints such a clear and understandable picture is that Dashiell Hammett is a great “describer”.  When we first meet Sam, we learn that he’s made up of a series of V’s, from his chin to his hairline.  In fact, the last line of the first paragraph of the book is “He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan.”  In that one line, Hammett tells almost everything important about Sam.

I’m not a huge fan of detective novels.  Generally, I find them either too convoluted and contrived I can’t understand them or so predictable I don’t even care to see how they end.  I do like Sherlock Holmes though, and this book reminds me of the same type of story.  At times the language is a bit dated – the book is from 1929 so you’d hardly expect it to be completely contemporary – but it holds up nicely and doesn’t distract.  Also, the women are women and the men are men in these types of books… and while he’s written women who can hold their own, there are set gender trait assignments that evident.

The story itself is really great, and with the imagery that Hammett conjures,  I liked it enough to look up his other books and order an anthology that has a couple of more stories from the same time period.   I think that, at the least, The Maltese Falcon should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the detective/mystery genre or who wants to create a library of influential American literature.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, 213 pages

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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