Gully Foyle, spaceship crewman, is stranded on his broken ship for months, certain he is already dead. Another ship passes by but ignores his signals. Gully goes a bit crazy. He is rescued by a strange tribe of space habitat dwellers, and their antics drive him more crazy. Finally, he makes it back to Earth and civilization. He starts an obsessive quest for revenge against the crew and owners of the ship that did not rescue him. He makes a fortune through shady means and changes his name in order to infiltrate the rich strata of society in the service of his quest.
Human society is not as we know it, but profoundly changed by the discovery of the innate human ability to “jaunte”, or teleport, with the power of the mind. Physical layers of security such as walls have little meaning unless the entrances are defended with “jaunte-proof” labyrinths designed to be impossible to memorize.
This science fiction classic is in many ways an adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. Foyle’s obsession is apparent throughout the book. He certainly is not a likeable character, but very interesting. He uses any means necessary to achieve his goal, despite the suffering that this causes in others.
Despite the fascinating aspects of a changed society and the quite engaging story, I found the second half of the book to be hopelessly dull. Mr. Bester changes the rules to fit the plot, with new strange characters that have just the right abilities that Foyle can use appearing just at the right time. The book also jumps from scene to scene in quite a jarring fashion, with less than the necessary introduction. The whole thing felt quite disjointed in fact. I really tried but finally gave up about four fifths of the way through.
Humanity has discovered Collapsium and Wellstone, substances that have made possible immensely powerful computers, teleportation and even immortality. “Faxes” allow the creation of any conceivable thing, from food to servitor robots to spaceship components. “Fax gates” allow teleportation and even duplication of people. The inventor of said substances, Bruno de Tovaji, is now living in self-imposed exile on his own asteroid in the Oort Cloud. Here he conducts experiments aimed at “seeing” the end of time. One day he receives a visitor, the Queen of the Solar System, who is also his former lover. Apparently there is trouble in paradise. A grandiose ring around the sun, aimed at reducing communication lag among disparate locations, is under construction. But it is slowly falling into the sun. This starts a long series of adventures aimed at putting an end to what turns out to be the scheming of a mad saboteur.
I had high hopes for this book after the first fifty or a hundred pages. Interesting universe, grand designs, all the stuff you could find in a good Larry Niven yarn. Unfortunately it all became very tedious as the story went on. And on. And on. I kept waiting for the really interesting stuff to start but it was all a bit petty and small. Yawn.
This is hard science fiction. Very hard. The science content is all in there. And yet I often felt as if the author was plucking solutions to his problems out of thin air. One of the basic principles of science fiction is that and author must stay within constraints that he creates within his universe. Unfortunately, McCarthy keeps coming up with new ideas that neatly solved the posed problems. McCarthy also completely misses the opportunity to explain his society or give a decent guided tour of something apart from deep space structures. What is London like nowadays anyway? Surely a page or two exploring these things would have served the story well, and made it a bit less sterile. And that’s the main gripe I have with this book. It is all a bit sterile and bland. Mankind’s achievements are falling apart around him and de Towaji is pondering his love life. Seriously…