The Stars My Destination: Or, The Count of Monte Cristo as a space odyssey

The Stars My Destination - Alfred Bester

I doubt I have anything to say about this book that hasn't already been said in a far more astute and well researched manner. That said, this wasn't a book I wanted to skip reviewing - this wasn't the sort of read that just made me shrug and move on. Despite my ultimate lack of enjoyment, it was chewy.


This book pulls strongly from The Count of Monte Cristo, to the point where I feel I may have been missing some parallels and references (I have not read the original Dumas). What stood out was how Bester took this classic and pushed it into a neo-victorian space faring sci-fi setting. The book is bursting with interesting ideas and sci-fi concepts, like teleportation, wired reflexes, science cults, low gravity beams, disease fetishization, absolute darkness prisons, and much much more. It came together feeling very pro to-cyberpunk to me, and it was surprising how well a lot of the sci-fi tropes and science had aged. Unfortunately what didn't age well was the characters.


If there's one issue that repeatedly pops up when I'm reading classic sci-fi it is the problematic treatment of women, and this book falls into that trap. The female characters are...not good. They are a parade of standard 50s tropes, and the way they are used within the story is pretty despicable. For example: one woman is raped, and then later in the story she willing helps her rapist, and even seems smitten with him. Gross and not okay. Yes, I do understand that these tropes are a product of their time, but that doesn't mean I have to enjoy them. These sorts of depictions of women, as well as the main character being a deplorable rapist, didn't endear me to the story being told nor the characters. (And as I've said before, character is a big deal for me when it comes to my enjoyment of a story.) And don't even get me started on the fact that this book tried to shoehorn in a poorly executed love story, with the worst example of insta-love I've read in quite some time. Yikes.


All that said, this wasn't a terrible read. The pages turned, the language wasn't bad, and the ideas were interesting. I could feel this story's influence, especially in the beginning, echoing through other books I have read, like Jack Glass. And the Inner versus Outer Solar System war reminded me so much of James Corey's Expanse series I found myself wondering if this book helped plant the seeds for that world. All in all I'm glad I read this book, as I feel like it laid some important groundwork in the genre. I'm just glad that the things being built upon that groundwork are more inclusive and less problematic.