So yesterday my gift to you was the best movie ever made- Citizen Kane. Today the second of my beloved media that had a pinnacle that lasted for decades was Science Fiction. For years the best SF novel ever written was also a creation from a relative newcomer. He didn’t write that many books but the mark he made on the genre was immense. Early in his career he wrote comic books. In fact he wrote the Green Lantern oath. And it looks like this may be his most lasting accomplishment, in spite of penning the novel considered for so many years to be the best SF novel ever written. You all know it. “In brightest day, in blackest night; no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who follow evil’s light beware my power- GREEN LANTERN’S LIGHT!”
He was also editor for Holiday magazine for many years. He was also offered the editor position for a magazine named “Status” and tells the story that the publisher told him that if you don’t say “state-us” you’ll never have “stat-us”.
But the two novels he wrote that cemented his status as a science fiction great were written 50 years ago. The first was a detective novel set in a world where telepathy was a quantifiable talent. A businessman kills his main rival and simultaneously falls in love his that rival’s daughter. How does he conceal his crime and woo the object of his heart’s desire at the same time while being pursued by a telepathic detective on the case? The novel was full of graphic representations of telepathic conversations, an ingenious way of establishing a psychic shield out of the art of advertising, and a way to kill someone with a firearm that leaves no forensic evidence that could be traced back to the gun used in the murder. These are just a few of the devices and situations that this complex novel includes. . A complex murder mystery using science fiction devices yet completely plausible to the layman. A single novel that would make the author’s name so associated with the idea of telepathy that over 40 years later Babylon 5 would name their most infamous Psi-Cop after him- Alfred Bester. Such was the intelligence of the author
But that isn’t the novel we are going to discuss today. That isn’t the best SF novel ever written, as numerous polls have named it. That novel was based on the accounts of Japanese soldiers stranded on Pacific Islands long after WWII. Soldiers who didn’t know the war was over and continued to fight.
THE STARS MY DESTINATION starts with a major change in human society. What if personal teleportation was possible as a simple act of will? No transporter ala STAR TREK required. What if some scientific researcher (in this case with the apt name of Jaunt) was to teleport in front of witnesses who were trained to observe scientific phenomena? What if the Outer Satellites were at war with the Inner Planets? What if there were specific limits on how far and under what conditions a person could teleport (Jaunt, the eponymous obvious)? What if a common man was placed into uncommon circumstances and had to unlock the inner greatness that was inside him to survive?
What if that common man found himself the sole survivor of an attack in space and survived in a single pressurized locker the size of a coffin for over six months? What if he saw his rescue only to have that hope snatched away. What if he somehow managed to save himself? What if after doing that he found himself in numerous circumstances that took him (1) to a degenerate sect that considered the scientific method to be a religion, (2) to being a terrorist against no government but instead against the most powerful economic interest in the world as he knew it, (3) to being a prisoner in the Geoffre Martel, the most elaborate prison in the solar system, one designed to keep prisoners in a world where most people could think themselves somewhere else, (4) to being a fugitive with a tiger tattoo on his face, (5) to being at the mercy of a sadistic doctor who keeps a zoo of the most hideous genetic anomalies in the known universe, (6) to being the richest man in the solar system, (7) to being a commando with his nervous system enhanced with the most advanced implants available for any amount of money, (8) to chasing the most advanced weapon ever designed by human beings, (9) to finding out that, in fact, he was the most advanced weapon that humans had ever created, (10) to winding up as the next step in human evolution who negates the war and changes the balance of power as much as the ability to teleport changed transportation.
I hope I’m not giving too much away but the novel is so chock full of unique ideas and exciting situations that its hard to begin to explain it. The first paragraphs pay homage to A Tale of Two Cities, the middle third is evocative of The Man in the Iron Mask, the ending is set in a Star Chamber where all is turned on its figurative head. The novel is pure excitement from start to finish, with rich ideas and excellent writing. Perhaps it isn’t the best SF novel ever written but it would have to rival Foundation, Dune, Neuromancer, Childhood’s End, or any other book for the title.
Why had this novel never been made into a movie? It is the ultimate science fiction adventure. It is full of strange ideas and locations. In many ways it could be the Citizen Kane of SF movies (the two stories are strangely evocative of each other with their tales of obsessed men).
Nah, better to leave it just the book. That way we wouldn’t get some Hollywood lobotomy scar to turn it into a cop drama with car chases like they did with I, Robot.