#BookReview: The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison

the centauri device

John Truck was to outward appearances just another lowlife spaceship captain. He peddled drugs when they were available, carried cargo when they weren’t. But he was also the last of the Centaurans – or at least, half of him was – which meant that he was the only person who could operate the Centauri Device, a sentient bomb which might hold the key to settling a vicious space war.

Paper Copy from my bookgroup. First published in 1974, this copy was printed in 2000.

This is not the clean, sanitized version of the future presented by Star Trek and Andromeda (the latter being darker than the former, but ultimately still …. you felt they’d washed recently). You come out of each session with this book feeling the grime and dirt, where it even feels dirty to breath, no matter what planet you’re on.  Truck has been identified as the offspring of the last pure-bred Centauri and is being chased across the universe by various Earth based factions wanting to use him to control “the device”, which every one assumes to be a weapon of some sort.

The Openers are a religious sect, who believe that their worship of their deity is best done by replacing more and more of their skin with see through plastic, so that you can see their insides. One of their number (Grishkin) is in fact an archaeologist, and it is his team that have come closest to the Device.

Truck is first approached (kidnapped) by General Gaw, female leader of the Israeli World Government, a squat, one-eyed, sexually provocative woman, who attempts to get Truck to retrieve the device. Truck manages to escapes her clutches, only to land in the arms of the Openers, who manage to make him “invisible” (albeit briefly) by performing unexpected and unwanted surgery. Finally  he lands in with an offshoot of the UASR  led by Gadaffi ben Barka (and therefore Gaw’s opposite number), who in turn tries to convert him to the cause.  During his running and hiding, Truck spends a few days with his wife in their/her hovel, and tries to hide out at the never-ending party held by the King of the Moment (which comes to an end – finally – after a massive drugs raid). He also gets involved in some interstellar dog-fights with some of the most cutting edge and stolen spacecraft.  Finally he gets delivered to Earth and gets the device, setting things in motion that noone really could have predicted.

It is definitely a pulp fiction form of SciFi….it’s sleazy andscummy, where the lead is a drifter and a coward who lets stuff happen to him rather than take control. He knows he’s a pawn and is being played by everyone with a slight interest but doesn’t have the will or the wherewithal to get away completely.  It’s a hard book to read, with so much dirt, grime, and an anti-hero that you can’t tune to because of everything.

About the Author

M. John Harrison has a still-active blog. He has subsequently declared that he doesn’t particularly like or care for this book, as referenced on the blog

 

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