Monday, 26 September 2011

The Centauri Device

The Centauri Device - M John Harrison

This is a strange and interesting novel. Written in a style which seems to try to meld Chandler and Burroughs it has a dreamlike ambiance while telling a straightforward enough Pirate tale full of ships, bo'suns and ports; albeit in space, and on the 400th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

John Truck is the son of the last pureblooded Centaurian, and as such he is the only one who can operate the Centauri device of the title. This device has been discovered by Grishkin, the leader of the major religion of the time, the Openers, who have windows in their bodies to reveal their innards. The device is also wanted by the Israeli's (IWG) and the Arabs (UASR), the conflict between whom has led to what's left of Earth being split between them, their conflict continuing amoung the stars.
Despite the story spanning the galaxy and beyond, the limited number of characters and they way they keep meeting again and again makes this feel like a dreamscape; or a trip. Truck's best friend is the 24th century Hendrix, playing a four hundred year old strat - "His sound was long-line and hairy; slow and grinding, full of inexplicable little runs and complications. He stalked the Denebian bass through the harmonics; he made sounds like breaking glass and exploding quasars, like dead ships and orbital confrontations and eras of geological upheaval; he made sounds like God."

Truck is basically a disreputable hippy type who's tried his hand at anything that might help make things meet. However, as an archetypical hard boiled hero he has a strong (if non conventional) moral core: "underneath his leather hat and funny clothes lived a puritan. He wouldn't sell anything he didn't believe in taking himself." Like Marlowe or Spade he also has a tough chin and has to get up and shake himself off after multiple beatings from all parties.

While trusting no -one Truck has to play one side against the other in order to try to survive. It looks like he is stuck in an unending downward spiral, and in this future all downward spirals lead to Egerton Port, an extraterrestrial version of Hammett's Personville/Poisonville or Marlowe's LA - "while its streets were cinders and its buildings sour corrugated plastic, its heart was as rotten as Earth's." Really we are in a dystopic Milky Way where the rot at the heart of homo-sapiens has turned into galaxywide gangrene.

But it's not all despair. There are intimations of something beyond our comprehension that may be an agent of change. Perhaps the doors of perception can be opened. Or perhaps not.....

Some space rock from 2367....

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