Gully Foyle is the twenty-sixth century’s definition of average. He has no particular talents, skills or strengths, so gets an unremarkable job on an unremarkable starship, which kickstarts a remarkable adventure. As the novel begins, Foyle is the sole survivor of the starship Nomad, floating in what remains of its wreck and only donning a spacesuit to leave his sealable air pocket to fetch more oxygen canisters. With his supply running low, Foyle prepares for death, but out of the abyss comes another ship, the Vorga. Foyle starts to prepare for salvation instead. Then the Vorga goes away again.
But Foyle survives, and manages to make it back to civilisation. He’s gone slightly mad in the process, and the rest of his story could be summed up by the suggestion: don’t get mad, get even. One by one Foyle tracks down the crewmembers of the Vorga to find out who ordered the ship to turn away instead of rescuing him, and wreaking a slice of vengeance on each one as he encounters them.
Foyle is a despicable character, detestable in every way, and not in the slightest bit charismatic with it. And so is pretty much every other character in the novel. They’re all self-serving backstabbing bastards of one shade or another, so one develops a certain fondness for Foyle as he knocks their heads together. The book reminded me a bit of some of Iain M Banks’ Culture novels in that regard.
At other times it reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut. The primary mode of non-interstellar travel in Alfred Bester’s imagined future is not cars or planes but the practice of ‘jaunting’ – people simply will themselves from place to place. Foyle also encounters a religious cult that has developed around science, so that scientific processes have become rituals, and scientific terminology has been turned into chants (such as ‘sufficient quantities’ becoming ‘Suff quant!’). The cult has divorced the words and actions from all meaning, and is as satirical a comment on the modern world as the book gets. Very Douglas Adams.
I’ve also been reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls on the side, but 70 pages in, Robert Jordan’s still hanging round the cave with the old republicans, the gypsies and the girl he fancies, and nobody seems particularly bothered about blowing up any bridges any more. A full review might follow, if the thing doesn’t lose me entirely before I get far enough to write one.