The Centauri Device is a classic science fiction tale told by M John Harrison.
Picking up another classic from the SF Masterworks series, by an author which was a total unknown to me. It's kind of a high risk gamble, it could open my eyes to something completely new and it could be a complete waste of time. The Centauri Device is to put it bluntly mostly a waste of time.
The first rule when reading classics is to check out the first publish date – The Centauri Device is from 1975, which means that it's at the moment 28 years old. Which certainly isn't any much of an age for a book, lots of books manage to stay current and fresh well into their hundreds (some would say thousands, but that's another topic). The Centauri Device isn't one of those books. First of all there's the excessive flirting with drugs and sex, it's not that much drugs are taken or that there's any sex in the story, it's just mentioned all the time. Then there's the main characters appearance – there's no doubt that, the main character, Truck is a bloody hippie.
Anyway, being so seventies is actually the only thing about The Centauri device that is interesting. The main theme of the story is that ideologies can be misused. That it's easy to get so carried away by your ideological correct opinion that you, end up ignoring reality and destroy what you where trying to save. Think ideological morons why free a farm full of small furry rodents, so that they can be free, when all it gets them are a couple of thousand small furry animals starving to death, because they never learned to hunt. Or the Simpsons episode where Marge gets Itchy and Scratchy banned.
I very much doubt that this was new in the seventies, but if there was a time where it needed to be said it was in the seventies. Good show. Only today it's kind of stale, but it's interesting to hold it against our current society where we are nearly totally without ideologies. Where “might makes right” and where “money talks and bullshit walks”. Think about the latest Iraq war – yes, the Americans did say that they did it to “save the Iraqis” from their dictator, but that came kind of late in all the “axis of evil” and “he tried to kill my daddy” talk and nobody really believed it. It was very much half hearted, because it wasn't needed – an ideological reason wasn't needed to go and attack another country. Nobody cared - nobody who mattered anyway.
The writing in The Centauri Device is another point of either interest or as I would have it annoyance. There can't be much doubt that John M. Harrison is a pretentious show-off. He is kind of the Anti-Asimov when it comes to writing style. A long word seems to be preferred to a short one and a twisted sentence is always better than a straight forward one. It takes some getting used to. All in all I'm not really sure it's worth the bother – go watch the Simpsons episode instead (Itchy and Scratchy and Marge), it makes the same point, only it does it better.
Written on 7th July 2003 by TC.
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