The Centauri Device
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The Centauri Device

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  731 ratings  ·  40 reviews
John Truck was to outward appearances just another lowlife spaceship captain. 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. M. John Harrison's classic novel turns the conventions of space ope...more
Paperback, 212 pages
Published 1980 by Bantam (first published November 1974)
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A book of such concentrated grittiness and scuzziness you feel you missed a bath reading it. A proto-cyberpunk, Bester inspired space opera that Harrison turns into a prose poem and a long shriek of despair. Bizarre and dark, this is not one of his best but fans of his and of Banks and Reynolds will find it worth a look.

This is a SF Masterwork?

An odd thing happened during the first few hours in Stomach. John Truck was later to regard it as symbolical (to the extent that he could regard anything in so astract a way - it came in the end to little more than an itch down among the sordid experiential and intellectual gleanings of a spacer's skull), but at the time it filled him with a peculiar horror.

The florid, overwritten, prose with its snide contemptuous sub-clauses completely fails to disguise the almost total...more
I don't know exactly what it is that draws me to Harrison's writing so strongly. I think it's a mix of his prose and his take on the nature of mankind.

As with Viriconium, Light, and Nova Swing this sci-fi Materworks novel has an excessively dark and some would say depressing, yet entirely compelling, take on the nature of man. Harrison paints a somewhat sympathetic picture of the lower class- which he always portrays as hopelessly disposable, in their own eyes and the eyes of those in power, an...more
Bryan Alexander
The Centauri Device is a bitter anti-space opera and a vital precursor to cyberpunk. Important reading for anyone interested in sf.

The plot concerns the voyages of Captain Truck as he shambles around the galaxy being pursued by military superpowers. The latter convince the former to help find the title's ancient superdevice. In the end (view spoiler).

There's a lot going on in Centa...more
Gritty, acerbic, and blancmange are all words that come to mind as I think back over this book. Although that last one's probably because I haven't had any coffee yet today.

An alien device is found on a planet whose inhabitants were almost entirely wiped out in a war with humanity, and the leaders of the two world superpowers believe it to be the key to their side gaining dominance. Unfortunately for them it can only be controlled by someone with the alien genetic code. Enter John Truck, the onl...more
Darran Mclaughlin
A decent but flawed science fiction novel. I thought it was worth reading but not especially remarkable. The Centauri Device is a classic McGuffin used to drive the seemingly arbitrary plot involving the everyman protagonist John Truck and a lot of paper thin characters. There are influences from decadent literature and William Burroughs and affinities with his friend Michael Moorcock. There are some great images and some great flourishes of prose. I thought the Openers religious sect was quite...more
William Gerke
One of Harrison's early science fiction works, you can see glimpses here of what he accomplishes in Light. Includes one of my top 10 favorite opening lines of all time:

"It was St. Crisipn's ve on Sad al Bari IV when Captain John Truck, impelled by something he was forced to describe to himself as 'sentiment,' decided to visit the Spacer's Rave, on the cornoer of Proton Alley and Circuit (that chilly junction where the higher class of port lady goes to find her customers)."
Peter Dunn
I can see why people are incredibly torn when reviewing this book. It’s by a renowned new wave author that we would all like to cut some slack as the rest of his work has been well received. It’s now in the SF Masterwork imprint so someone authoritative must rate it.

It also has some promising interesting elements. For instance it’s got a drug pushing, former killer, and possible domestic abuser anti hero as the main protagonist. That is a novel brave, choice, at least for 1975 when it was writt...more
On the face of it, this is a science fiction novel about the legacy of an alien device discovered after they had been wiped out by the forces of earth.

Underlying that is a story of a man caught up in a whirlwind of conflicting ideologies and grasps for power.

I found the writing style quite disengaging and abrasive. I was annoyed by the use of psudo intellectual metaphores. But it picked up a bit towards the end and all in all, wasn't a bad book.
This is an interesting book, because it's about a man who thinks of himself as a failure who gets his hands on a device... that is made by a race of failures. An entire species that thinks it fucked things up enough that it committed suicide. No-one knows why. Or how.

The writing's hard to get through, but that's kind of the point. It's not an easy book. It's a book that hates you and doesn't want you to read it.
Rob Thompson
The Centauri Device is the third novel by English authorM. John Harrison.

I got halfway through this book and lost interest.

The main protagonist, John Truck, flops his way around the universe before being dragged into a conflict between the Earth's superpowers, Anarchists, a religious cult and several other groups. Written in the mid 1970s Truck comes across as the archetypical hippie. Drugs and mentioned throughout and this becomes extremely tiresome.

I'll not spoil the reason why all these group...more
Anarchist take on space opera. Awesome
Roddy Williams
Captain Truck, son of Annie Truck, is the last of the Centaurans; a humanoid race whom humanity mostly exterminated during a terrible war. What was left of the race fled into the galaxy and intermingled, sometimes breeding with humans.
It was thought during the final stages of the war that the Centaurans had invented a Doomsday device. Now, it seems, that device has been discovered, but it can only be operated by a Centauran, and Truck is the only one left.
In this somewhat baroque future where Tr...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
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...more
Ce livre nous raconte donc les aventures de Truck, pilote de vaisseau spatial, qui se trouve être au coeur des magouilles entre deux grands empires multiplanétaires, tous deux terriens, qui s’opposent sur Terre et dans l’espace pour une domination on ne peut plus virtuelle de l’espace. Truck, en tant que looser magnifique, va passer son temps à fuire, en perdant au fur et à mesure de plus en plus d’illusions, d’amis, et d’espoirs.
Attention, maintenant, aux spoilers. C’est un roman étrange, dont...more
Chris Baker
Intergalactic anarchists, mysterious alien technology, pitched space battles, corrupt superpowers, planetary genocide, crazy cultists, flawed heroes, endless parties, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll: The Centauri Device has got it all in spades. It's hard not to enjoy crashing, staggering and vomiting with John Truck through one of the dirtiest galaxies you'll ever imagine. Yet for all that it doesn't take itself too seriously, the abuse and suffering that you'll find there remains almost painfully r...more
Another odd book from Harrison, though this one has a bit more coherence, continuity, and sense to it than Light. It took me about 50 pages to really get into the story, but past that point I was fairly invested in the character and was curious where Harrison was going with the book. Even more so than in his more recent books, this one is in written in a style that, while prose, is fairly poetic--and chock full of philosophy and projections of historical phenomena and ideologies into the distant...more
Feb 12, 2013 Meril rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: sff
I wish I could find some contemporary criticism of this novel. I understand what made the New Wave so appealing at the time--a breath of fresh air in an intellectually stagnating, reactionary genre--but I'm not sure how many of the works achieve the timeless qualities of lasting literature. Does this novel mean anything to an audience in 2013 except as an exercise in literary archaeology, an attempt to uncover the ancestors of today's sf writers? I had the persistent feeling that Harrison was re...more
Sean Kavanagh
A cracking bit of space opera - it filled my Firefly gap - and is a deserved classic
Julian Thomas
I want to love the character of Captain Truck. The portrayal of the inveterate and totally unsympathetic loser, drifting through life casually betraying all trust and confidence, is something which I would usually find engaging, but something about the writing style just left me divorced from the outcome. I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting, but felt strangely disconnected from the outcome, much like Truck himself.
After reading Harrison's book Light (2002) which was to my mind quite obtuse and unclear, I decided to give his stuff another go to be fair to him as one of my favourite authors (China Mieville) thinks the world of him. No, The Centauri Device doesn't work for me at all I'm afraid. It seemed confused and all over the place. I did like the concept of the Openers, but the rest was just pretty dull and grim. Next!
Edward Davies
This everyman story is effective in its mission to create a character who seems ordinary but in fact holds the power of destruction itself in his very DNA. Harrison tries to make the book fun with its misremembered history and its protagonsit of ill repute, but this is more or less a poor mans version of The Stars My Destination with a slightly less irredeemable lead.
Let's see, this was #3 of my "Fall Reading 2011" list. Wasn't a great book, but definitely was a good book. This is some early stuff from Harrison, published in the same year as his first "Viriconium" novella. The prose is impressionistic and dreamlike (or nightmarish), the society bleak. Reminds me of Burroughs in some places.
Dan Sheehy
On the evidence of this book, Harrison is a writer of prodigious skill, stringing together passages of staggering elegance and vision. However, he seems to have a tin ear for authentic dialogue, and most of his characters are such weary cliches that it's impossible to summon any investment in their galactic toings and froings.
Wonderful sf-noir settings, fascinating (if a bit exaggerated)characters, and some wonderful passages of writing that could stand as poetry. On the down side, the plot is rather thin, involves a lot of pointless traveling around the galaxy (to show all those settings), and has a conclusion that is not completely satisfying.
A relatively straight space opera, discussing the evils of oppression, be they from politics or religion. The protagonist is a traditional anti hero who has a revelation late in the book which leads to his final actions. Not a particularly bad story, but not one which set my world on fire either.
Natalie Bowers
Phew! I wasn’t sure I was going to make it to the end of "The Centauri Device." Some stunning writing in places, but boy is is densely-described, meanderingly-metaphorised and overly-populated with peculiarly-named characters! More thoughts to follow when I’ve recovered.
Aleix Dorca
Complex prose, hard to read fluently. A simple story of who's better than the other always leaving the losers (read: the rest of us) behind. Along comes Mr. Truck with a solution...

All in all a good read. The Openers, no doubt, the best concept of the book.
John Stephen
M. John Harrison writes a space novel and manages to make it the most downbeat thing in the history of the field. Loved every page of it, especially his descriptions of a foul galaxy going to hell.
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aka Gabriel King (with Jane Johnson)

Michael John Harrison was born in Rugby, Warwickshire in 1945 and now lives in London.
Harrison is stylistically an Imagist and his early work relies heavily on the use of strange juxtapositions characteristic of absurdism.

More about M. John Harrison...
Light Viriconium Nova Swing The Pastel City Empty Space

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“Uncouth, clannish, lumbering about the confines of Space and Time with a puzzled expression on his face and a handful of things scavenged on the way from gutters, interglacial littorals, sacked settlements and broken relationships, the Earth-human has no use for thinking except in the service of acquisition. He stands at every gate with one hand held out and the other behind his back, inventing reasons why he should be let in. From the first bunch of bananas, his every sluggish fit or dull fleabite of mental activity has prompted more, more; and his time has been spent for thousands of years in the construction and sophistication of systems of ideas that will enable him to excuse, rationalize, and moralize the grasping hand.

His dreams, those priceless comic visions he has of himself as a being with concerns beyond the material, are no more than furtive cannibals stumbling round in an uncomfortable murk of emotion, trying to eat each other. Politics, religion, ideology — desperate, edgy attempts to shift the onus of responsibility for his own actions: abdications. His hands have the largest neural representation in the somesthetic cortex, his head the smallest; but he's always trying to hide the one behind the other.”
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