The Centauri Device

M. John Harrison
The Centauri Device Cover



Several things I read about Harrison's book described it as proto-cyberpunk. I thought of it as sf noir, which come to think of it maybe makes it proto-cyberpunk. The future Harrison describes is one dark place. Escalations of the Arab/Israeli conflict has divided the Earth, which is no longer hardly worth visiting, between the two forces. Other planets offer their own special hells, often little more than spaceports and port cities filled with junkies and prostitutes. John Truck, our hero, has given up peddling amphetamines, and now looks for whatever long distance hauls he can pick up. But he finds himself the most sought after drifter in the galaxy, wanted by both Israelis and Arabs because he is the bastard son of one of the last, purebred Centaurians, a race wiped out in a genocide a century or so ago. In the ruins of Centauri, an archeologist as discovered a"device." Everyone assumes it is a weapon, but one that can only be operated by a person bearing Centaurian genes.

This is hard-boiled space opera with the body count and colorful characters you would expect to go with it. Genreral Gaw, female leader of the IWG (Israeli World Government), is a squat, tough broad given to calling everbody "duckie," The leader of the UASR (United Arab something-or-other) has the prescient name Kadaffi. There is a femme fatale, one Angina Seng, but the most fascinating characters are members of a religious sect known as Openers. They replace more and more of their epidermis with plastic in a effort to achieve total transparency. John Truck falls victim to one of their non-elective surgeries.

From 1968 to 1975, Harrison was literary editor of the British sf magazine New Wave. So along with J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Thomas Disch, and others he oversaw a genuine transformation in the literary style and subject matter of the genre. His leftist political stance delivers a good solid bitch slap to Margaret Thatcher's England and is a message worth keeping in circulation.