Transformation, interstellar liberation and “a Randian hero run amok”: Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, the 1988 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To highlight the Prometheus Awards’ history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as notable pro-freedom or anti-authoritarian works, the Libertarian Futurist Society has been publishing an Appreciation series of all award-winners in chronological order by category. Here is an Appreciation of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, the 1988 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner for Best Classic Fiction.

Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination explores themes of transformation and liberation.

Set in our solar system in a distant future on the verge of interstellar travel and colonization and written in beautifully stylized and lyrical language, this classic 1956 novel revolves around a lazy, gutter-talking spaceman described by LFS Director Victoria Varga in her 1994 review for the Prometheus quarterly as “a Randian hero run amok.”

Adrift with no ambition, Gully Foyle is abandoned in space with his pleas for help ignored. Consumed by a burning passion for revenge, Foyle embarks on a quest that propels a raging torrent of events.

“In the process of transformation he awakens the people of the worlds, and gives them back the right to think, dream, grow, and take command of their own lives,” Varga wrote.

Bester, widely hailed as one of the great writers of the golden age of science fiction, was known for his vivid prose and strong characters.

From the Dickensian first paragraph of this novel, Bester paints an exhilarating portrait of humanity’s messy and contradictory future: “This was a Golden Age, a time of high adventure, rich living, and hard dying… but nobody thought so…. This was an age of extremes, a fascinating century of freaks… but nobody loved it… The solar system seethed with activity… fighting, feeding, and breeding, learning the new technologies that spewed forth almost before the old had been mastered, girding itself for the first exploration of the far stars in deep space.”

In the process, Bester’s novel conveys a plausible future about a human civilization exploding with energy and full of the possibilities of freedom – in which the authorities don’t appear to be able to control what people do, and an anarchistic socio-economic order emerges by default.

Thus, for libertarian futurists, this classic work offers an exhilarating experience imagining a free-er future of hope and promise, a future beyond the power of authorities (including what Varga calls “the twin monsters… of fascism and communism) to stop.

Note: Alfred Bester (1913-1987), hailed by sf writer Harry Harrison as “one of the handful of writers who invented modern science fiction,” also wrote The Demolished Man, winner of the inaugural Hugo Award in 1953.

Alfred Bester (Creative Commons license)

Bester, an American sf author and magazine editor who also wrote TV and radio scripts, comic strips and comic books, was named the ninth Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America shortly before his death. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted him in 2001.

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: An Appreciation of J. Neil Schulman’s Alongside Night, the 1989 winner of the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.

* Other Prometheus winners:   For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page  on the LFS website. (This page contains convenient direct clickable links to each Appreciation for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction, as they are published on the Prometheus blog.)

* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history that launched the series in 2019 with review-essays about more than 40 Best Novel winners and that continues most weeks in 2020 with appreciations of the more than 40 Best Classic Fiction winners in the Prometheus Hall of Fame. If you’ve ever wondered why some fiction is recognized with a Prometheus, this series will help you better understand what LFS members see as the libertarian and anti-authoritarian themes in each winner.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillette that highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society(LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans, and help nominate, judge and vote for the annual Prometheus Award winners. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing culture is as vital as politics in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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