23 March 2006
Alfred Bester's "The Stars, My Destination" is regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time--and it's definitely on my top ten list of absolute favorite books, along with his other beloved classic, "The Demolished Man". Bester (1913-1987) did it all: writing for pulps (Astounding, Galaxy), DC Comics (Superman, Green Lantern--Bester is believed to have created GL's oath), radio ("The Shadow", "Charlie Chan"), and eventually, travel (he edited "Holiday" magazine for nearly two decades). He never worked in film, but was on the short list to write the 1978 "Superman" movie until Puzo got the gig.
"Stars" was inspired by a true account of a shipwrecked WW II sailor who drifted in the Pacific for days because passing ships thought his raft was a lure to bring them within range of the enemy . Bester created Gulliver Foyle, a simple and often hateful man driven by rage against those who abandoned him after he becomes stranded in space and left behind by another spacecraft, "The Volga". Foyle makes it to an asteroid populated by the offspring of the marooned crews, who tattoo a Maori-style mask onto his face (with the word "N♂mad" across his forehead). In a series of exciting adventures across several worlds, Foyle closes in on his target, the Volga's captain, and reinvents himself under several personas, before the whole thing comes to a surreal, spiritual climax that prefigures "2001". It's also the book that gave us "jaunting"--teleportation that would eventually become a genre staple. The novel contains echoes of "The Count Of Monte Cristo" and Joseph Campbell's "monomyth". It's amazing to consider that a story so prophetic, profound, and experimental was first published in a pulp mag in 1956, and has taken so long to shake off the undying stigma of genre fiction.
John Carpenter had planned a film version back in the 80s, and even had Lorenzo Semple Jr. pen a draft. Over the years, the property has passed through the hands of Walter Hill, Paul W.S. Anderson, Stephen Sommers, and now, as reported this week, Universal Pictures and Lorenzo Di Bonaventura are set to take a swing. It'll be a challenging adaptation--Foyle's not the most likeable of characters, the scope is massive, and the ending "outre" to say the least. As for casting--Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis, and Jason Statham are obvious choices, but I think it'd be cool if they went with someone more like Javier Bardem or Temuera Morrison.
In the meantime, I'd love to be able to get a copy of the 1991 BBC Radio adaptation, and wish someone would reprint Howard Chaykin's two-part graphic novel from the early 80s.