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The Stars My Destination
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Previous BotM--DISCUSSIONS > The Stars My Destination -- Finished Reading ***SPOILERS!!!**

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Nick (doily) | 966 comments If you've finished reading The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, this is the place to share your thoughts with the group.

Caution: There will likely be **SPOILERS** in this thread.

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments No one else has bothered to start so thought I may as well.

A few random observations.

Why is classic science fiction always so clunky when it come to characters? Motivations are simple, personalities are one dimensional, desires one track. I find it annoying as this wasn't the birth of literature itself.

In the other thread someone mentioned this being hard science fiction. My response is no. While it is in the future and it does make use of technology, there is so reasoning behind any of it and could easily be replaced by magic without it altering the story. For example Jaunting. It tells a story of its first discovery, but never says what was found out. Only that it happened and that it requires knowledge of location and focus. What area of the brain is being used? What did the scientists eventually discover? How can they now teach it so easily? How was Jaunte able to focus while on fire? I doubt I would be able to do so. Why does it matter that you know precisely where you are?

Something I really enjoyed was the social and economical upheaval caused by the discovery of jaunting. If you think about it, this happens in one way or another with any major change in an industry and it was nice to see it portrayed so. I was especially fascinated with the lack of privacy aspect and how it affected society.

I also felt having a subculture of criminals, homeless, and similar who circle the globe following the night to be an interesting touch as well.

Bester gives us a future which is every bit as gritty as the present or the past and that feels more realistic to me. It's something that had annoyed me about a lot of classic SF. Everything is too new and shiny. Nothing is old or worn out and threats seem to come from outside, not within.

message 3: by Chris, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chris (heroncfr) | 513 comments Mod
I also find classic scifi a bit clunky, as you put it. I think that's due to its origin in magazines and pulp novels. Random, you raise an interesting point about scifi vs fantasy -- it's just as easy to think of jaunting as a magical system. But scifi often starts with "what if" and then proceeds from there. There's a lot of reimagining society when (nearly) everyone can jaunt, including imagining how it can be exploited for criminal purposes.

But then there's Gully Foyle, our unique protagonist who undergoes a HUGE character changing arc that seems separate from the "what if people can jaunt" story. Until, suddenly, the jaunt story becomes prominent again at the finish. I think this was a very well constructed story -- glad to have read it!

I did read the Gaiman introduction, and didn't think it was too spoilery except perhaps for his McGuffin comments. A McGuffin isn't a McGuffin if you know it's a McGuffin.....

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments Chris wrote: "Random, you raise an interesting point about scifi vs fantasy -- it's just as easy to think of jaunting as a magical system. But scifi often starts with "what if" and then proceeds from there. "

Hard science fiction is based upon known science (at least at the time of writing) with logical speculation on where that might lead into the future. While the what if is important to most forums of science fiction, it is the basis on which the what if is formed which is important.

This does not, however, make other types of science fiction lesser. They are just different.

Nick (doily) | 966 comments Random wrote: "Chris wrote: "Random, you raise an interesting point about scifi vs fantasy -- it's just as easy to think of jaunting as a magical system. But scifi often starts with "what if" and then proceeds fr..."

"Classic" sci-fi (1950s -- 60s?) was intended for investigation into hard science possibilities, as you point out. I think the target audience at that time was probably young (adolescent) boys -- and they did not want things like characterization to get in the way. This plus the tendency of "pulp" genres to keep things action oriented meant that oftentimes the story came out..."Clunky" as you call it.

In the 1970's, I remember the critics coming out with the "novel" idea that -- hey, this genre stuff just might have some quality characterization and social commentary going on along with it. I want to say that the "Thoughty" emergence of sci-fi films such as 2001/A Space Odyssey may have had something to do with it (not just your same old cheesy 1959s monsters from outer space stuff).

Rachel | 67 comments Another thing about old classic sci-fi is the little details that are jarring now at this time (I'm looking at you 'negro') some others aren't jarring so much as funny (I remember Woodward and lothrap aka 'woodies' as a kid!)

When I first was reading all I could think about was how nice jaunting would be as a mom with twin preschoolers- it would be life changing in such awesome ways!!!!

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments Rachel wrote: "Another thing about old classic sci-fi is the little details that are jarring now at this time (I'm looking at you 'negro') some others aren't jarring so much as funny (I remember Woodward and loth..."

What's interesting about some of the jarring aspects is that even though he used the word negro, she is also portrayed as an intelligent, professional, and beautiful woman. Which is a bit exceptional for the mid 1950s when this was released.

Nick, very true about genre stuff at the time. Its just a pity that it was that way.

message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Mcclanahan (clovis-man) | 480 comments Originally published in 1956, the novel likely predates the term "hard science fiction". Some authors of the time would try to be "scientific" depending on the slant of the story. But even then they would be mired in the era within which they wrote. I just read one of the old Winston science fiction novels for YA (another term that had not emerged at the time) readers from 1954, The Secret of Saturn's Rings by Donald Wollheim. The author tried mightily to be rigorously accurate regarding the science of the time. But now 63 years later, it seems pretty comical. Yet the main point was to tell a good story about how Saturn's rings were formed and include lots of excitement and intrigue in the process.

So, good story, bad science. But when reading these old chestnuts, one must be forgiving and employ a high quotient of "willing suspension of disbelief".

message 9: by Chris, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chris (heroncfr) | 513 comments Mod
I was recently discussing Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee with another group, and we got into the "magic vs science" discussion. That book uses mathematical and logical concepts as weaponry (calendrical swords, reinforcing formations, even an antonym dictionary!) but otherwise has the trappings of "hard" science fiction. There's been a trend to use the term "speculative fiction" to replace "science fiction" -- maybe that's more and more accurate.

I also wonder -- if we called in teleporting instead of Jaunting, would we be more comfortable with it as a science-y concept?

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments No, changing the name wouldn't make any difference, because its not the name that determines whether or not its hard Science Fiction. It is instead dependent upon how its explained and described. (And please note I stress "hard" science fiction. This does not apply to all science fiction.)

For this to have fallen into hard science fiction, there would have been discussion on exactly how jaunting works. What areas of the brain are involved? Not only what are the rules around it, but why those rules apply to begin with?

What this book has is handwavium. A vague gesture to imply there is something detailed when there is not.

Now, I want to stress, this does not imply that because it isn't hard science fiction that this book is inferior. But I do have issues with this specific term being used poorly.

Hard Science Fiction is based upon scientific knowledge as is known at the time of writing. And then speculation is added to take it further, how it might be used in the future, how it might apply to every day life, and similar.

When there's a battle in space and ships and zipping around each other, that is not hard science fiction. When there is a battle in space and its slow and methodical, and things like momentum, orbital mechanics, and similar come into play, that is.

If there's faster than light travel, there should be an explanation on how that is possible using our current knowledge (at the time of writing) and building on that to speculate on how it might work.

BTW - unless there was another magic technology in the story in regards to ship propulsion, that ship should never have even been able to have stopped to rescue Gully. By the time they got close enough to see his signals, they wouldn't have been able to stop. And realize, in the vastness of space, at a distance where there is next to no external light sources, Gully would never have been able to see that ship with his eyes let alone be close enough to read its name off its hull.

Technology does not equal Hard Science Fiction. What's the difference between a light saber and a magic wand? Not a whole heck of a lot, because Star Wars is not Hard Science Fiction, though I'm sure we will all agree there is a ton of tech involved.

Some examples of hard science fiction I can pull off the top of my head

The Martian

Anathem and I've heard his book Seveneves though I haven't read it myself.

Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire books. Yes, a very weird mix of genres, but its definitely hard science fiction.

Actually I believe some people have referred to the Expanse books as Hard Science fiction. Of what I've remember of the first book, I can't disagree. I will have to pay closer attention to it as we read the series.

In regards to Speculative Fiction, this is actually a blanket term that covers more than just science fiction, but can also cover fantasy, horror, alt history, and similar.

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments Actually, a nice article on the subject by Ben Bova.

message 12: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 57 comments I was the guy who brought up the hard SF question. I was intrigued by the descriptions of Foyle surviving in the locker. It seemed that attention had been paid to air pressure and mass in explaining how he got his air and supplies. Aside from that, yes, the book is definitely not hard science. Hard SF might be the only genre it doesn't fit!

I don't know if "hard science fiction" was a label in use at the time, but it was a known option. Hal Clement had been writing for ten years by this point, so Bester could have chosen that route if he'd wanted to.

message 13: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 57 comments I did not find Gully Foyle a clunky character. I thought he was fascinating, and he had an interesting arc. Some of the other characters, like Dagenham and Presteign, are maybe not three dimensional, but they are a lot of fun, and they move the plot well.

The female characters are controversial, so I'll think on that before I comment further.

Random (rand0m1s) | 819 comments Actually, this does share one common element of hard science fiction. That of exploring the impact of science and technology on society.

While Bester may not have gone into this in great detail, he does indeed cover Jaunting's affect on society.

Something he didn't address, but is hanging there, is what kind of affect will it have on the war once much longer distance Jaunting is available.

Can you imagine, enemy operatives popping into existence right into the middle of a heavily populated area, drop a bomb, and jaunting right back out before they go off? How could you stop such a thing? Every public location could be at risk.

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