Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination

The Songs My Destination – how music can supercharge our stories

If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to start playing this tune as you read this post (headphones recommended):

Has it started? – Then I’ll begin…

The music

The pace of this song is slow. It’s a sombre track, concealing a brooding baseline that thumps quietly in the background, like the rhythmic beating heart of a gigantic whale.

Do you hear that? 

Echoes and reverberation give a glimpse of vast spaces, through which you begin to drift, floating on its waves, as high-pitched piano keys tease a simple melody from the spaces in between.

As wobbling synths loom, increasing in volume and distortion, these ominous tones prelude a short, clashing fill that hints of things to come; and, finally, a voice rises to carry us through. A voice weary, lamenting – yet soulful.

I was listening to this track on the London Underground last year on my commute home from work. At the time, I was reading Alfred Bester’s 1956 novel The Stars My Destination, a classic science fiction retelling of The Count of Monte Christo.

The book

Set in a world in which mankind has evolved the ability to “jaunte” (that is: teleport anywhere simply by thinking), The Stars My Destination explores a universe altered by this single concept.

Laws of economics are thrown into disarray: traditional logistics, telecoms, transport and security are rendered obsolete. Why make a phone call when you can speak face-to-face in an instant? Why pay for a taxi? Why pay to go on holiday?

Why not teleport into the vault of a bank and escape with all the cash before anyone knew you were there?

This social and economic turmoil throws the colonised galaxy into a state of war between the inner planets and the outer satellites, which threatens every living human with impending massacre on a planetary scale.

All this science fiction drama forms the world, but the story nevertheless retains the classical overtones of Alexandre Dumas’ magnum opus – the protagonist is a man who conceals his burning hatred behind a mask of class, until the time is right to strike.

You’ll notice the song, too, merges the old with the new, with traditional piano chords piercing a blanket of bass too synthetic to emanate from any analogue instrument.

And, if you read at the same pace as me; there… trumpets, low and menacing, offsetting electronic pulses and shifts in tempo, anchoring the piece in the classical, while venturing into the future.

The plot

The story tells of Gully Foyle; a man adrift in space, without the ambition, cunning or wit to bother attempting to save himself. And yet, when a spacecraft approaches and neglects to rescue him, he is consumed with rage. He swears an oath to make the captain of that ship suffer.

His thirst for revenge transforms him.

You can sense this anger throughout the narrative, his vengeful thoughts even manifesting in visible scars scored indelibly into his face.

And the song you’re listening to now was playing as I read on, as Gully’s rage was burning over his body like hellfire.

You see, Gully goes through a number of transformations through the novel:

  • Hopeless fool;
  • Vengeful monster;
  • Affluent schemer;
  • Evolutionary marvel.

It’s a remarkable tale of hate – of unconquerable, yet inspirational, fury – that drives a man through so many metamorphoses; his character is almost entirely altered.

Only one thing remains in the heart of Gully Foyle – his addiction to vengeance.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to understand what was happening in my brain. A scene was about to unfold to a musical score seemingly hand-picked by the author, specifically for me, in that single undefinable moment – by sheer coincidence.

The odds of that happening are astronomical.

It was with this song – So Bright by Pretty Lights – and with this book – The Stars My Destination – that I encountered the intoxicating realm of fiction-music synchronicity.

I was listening to the track, the one you’re listening to now, as all of existence was folding in on itself.

The scene

Gully Foyle discovers he has the ability to jaunte through outer space, a hitherto implausible feat. But, he is lured into a trap –a collapsing cathedral – set aflame by forces intent on capturing him and his newfound talent.

He is trapped, crushed under fallen beams.

He’s burning.

His mind awash with pain, he struggles to escape.

Gully tries to jaunte.

But his pain is so intense, he pushes his body through the tunnels of space-time – the very universe starts to fold in on itself. It tears the fabric of matter apart and deposits his consciousness onto a plane imperceivably outside of time.

Mind-splitting clouds of synaesthesia twist his senses.

His form transcends beyond the scope of human comprehension. He merges with the universe on a sub-atomic level. An explosion of inhuman stimuli.

Burning.

Forever burning.

Forever burning hatred.

A cathedral of pain.

Time immaterial.

Space bends.

Existence swells.

Dimensions warp.

Perception mutates.

U    S    F    A

N    P    A    P

T    A    L    A

I     C    L    R

L    E    S    T

On that packed tube home from work, commuters all around, I sat there going out of my tiny little mind.

It was amazing.

The experience

Both the song and the book suddenly became a personal favourite in their respective media, such was the bond I forged in that sensory furnace.

Hopefully, I’ve managed to syncronise that musical break with my escalating excitement, but who knows? I can’t tell how fast you read.

Why did I post this now?

I recently heard news about a music-fiction syncing service called Booktrack, which this week secured $5m in funding from venture backers.

Booktrack produces soundtracks for e-books, supposedly creating music that syncs with the scenes that you’re reading, adapting the score to the reading pace of each person.

That’s fantastic! – if it works.

I love the idea, because the effect I experienced (an appropriate musical score to a static reading experience) was entirely down to luck. But Booktrack claims it can engineer that luck.

That’s very exciting (albeit, for e-book readers – I’m yet to buy one, as you know).

Tell me if you’ve ever had a similar experience, as I’m yet to find anyone who has…

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Songs My Destination – how music can supercharge our stories”

  1. I’ve certainly had music that can trigger memories of reading a book (usually in a particular place). Often those song/book associations can’t be readily called to mind but are triggered on hearing the song in a different context. I asked in reply to your comment on my blog post ( https://oldrope.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/hildegard-of-bingen-unruly-mystic/ ) but do you think it’s something you could recreate through choice with a new book (essentially do you buy into Booktrack’s claims), or is it really down to the whims of the cosmos 😉

    Like

    1. Oops, replied already on your post.

      Essentially, yes, I think it can work, as long as their ambitious enough. I don’t want just ambient sound effects (crickets in a field, traffic in the street) – I want music that builds from page to page, seamlessly mixed from one track to the next, building to some mighty crescendo on the climactic page, and softening thereafter. I think that’s possible, and with the right talent composing it, you could have a winner on your hands.

      You’ll start to see author/composer collaborations, who work together in tandem. And they’ll market it as “Another hair-raising epic of story and sound from acclaimed author/composer combo Blah and Blah”.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s