MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Ask people why they like to read and often the answer is escapism. Science fiction can offer the ultimate literary escape, so here's an escape for you as part of our series You Must Read This. Today's recommendation comes from writer John Baxter.
JOHN BAXTER: Why aren't you outside on such a beautiful day, said my mother accusingly. Why are you sitting inside with your nose in a book?
Ah, but what a book.
The hero, Gully Foyle, was trapped in the ruins of Old St. Pat's in New York. The explosion that brought down the ancient church had also scrambled his brain. His senses were tangled. Sound registered as sight, colors became pain sensations, touch became taste and smell became touch.
Desperately, he accessed the hidden power of the human brain to teleport. In an instant, he appeared at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, an apparition in flaming clothes.
And my mother wanted me to leave this to play cricket?
The book was Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination," published in 1957. Bester wrote science fiction in the mode of Rafael Sabatini and of Alexander Dumas, from whom he - well, let's be kind and say adapted this story. It's none other than Dumas' biggie "The Count of Monte Cristo," restaged in the far future.
Gulliver Foyle, an uneducated brute, is left to die in a wrecked spaceship. He rescues himself, is put in prison, escapes, remakes himself as a flamboyant aristocrat and stalks his enemies through a society transformed by the discovery of teleportation.
I still have that ancient paperback. The paper is yellowed, the binding cracked, but the wonder is unimpaired.
Of course, I should be reading something bracingly innovative by one of the new young writers, but it consoles me that the best of them, like William Gibson, hold "The Stars My Destination" in the same esteem as myself.
After "Stars," Bester didn't write another novel for almost 20 years. There was more money in television and in editing the travel magazine Holiday. We met once, at a writers' conference in Dublin. I shamelessly buttonholed him to sign my copy. In the Royal Marine Hotel, he wrote firmly on the title page, waiting for a drink. It was no surprise to hear, when he died in 1987, that he left everything to his bartender. If a cocktail can make one write the way that he did, I wish I'd thought to ask him what it was he drank.
BLOCK: John Baxter with his appreciation of the writer Alfred Bester and his novel "The Stars My Destination." Baxter is the author of the book "The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris."