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The Centauri Device

3.41  ·  Rating details ·  1,491 ratings  ·  89 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 opera on
Kindle Edition, SF Masterworks, 208 pages
Published December 30th 2010 by Gateway (first published 1974)
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Average rating 3.41  · 
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 ·  1,491 ratings  ·  89 reviews

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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.

Bryan Alexander
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, space-opera
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
Jun 15, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
Purple prose and a listless, largely unsympathetic protagonist make a surprisingly action-packed political thriller cum space opera an unexpectedly difficult read. Additionally, I'm not sure what message I'm meant to take home, other than ideology and individuals in power do not serve the people at large. The final 30p or so are completely baffling. I here-by formally give up on Harrison SF novels.
The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison is not my cup of tea. Harrison was a force in the new wave of science fiction. I like the golden age. The Centauri Device has been called 'proto-cyberpunk'. I prefer literary. The Centauri Device seemed to me to be a second rate pastiche of the styles of Philip K Dick, William S Burroughs, and maybe Douglas Adams. It occasionally crawled into the light of cogency only to stagger and stumble back into the garbage strewn dark alleys of scrambled imagery. The ...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
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
John Defrog
Apr 20, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first time reading M. John Harrison. It may be my last. I get that it’s heralded as a pioneering and influential “anti-space-opera”, and there’s little doubt Harrison has a kind of lyricism to his writing. But for me, the latter really gets in the way of the story – which is not a good thing when yr describing a universe 600 years in the future. It’s a shame too because the story – in which space captain John Truck, the only man alive who can operate the title device, is being pursued ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-masterworks, sf
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.
May 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, reviewed
"The reader must judge for himself." A final insult, from a vile, beautiful, gross, nihilist book that rejects everything about its own existence - it rejects science fiction, it rejects the future, the present, the past. Its hero is characterized by his indecisiveness and lack of character. Its moral is that no ideology can or will stop the suffering. Its moral is that the sufferers will seek out their own doom. It speaks to ghosts as a ghost.

This book gets five stars for being something at war
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read for the Hard-Core Sci-Fi Challenge, the Space Opera Challenge, the SF Masterworks Challenge, and the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club here on Goodreads.

This crazy book reads like a combination of Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, and Douglas Adams. Part madcap comedy of the absurd, part noir, and part epic space opera, this book has you laughing at the protagonist in one scene, crying for him the next.

John Truck is a space trucker who's always been down on his luck. He has a checkered pas
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-read
A jumbled, confused, confusing, excessively overwritten piece in yet another dive port town on the edge of another nowhere, this time laced with drugs with vast reams of complex names without any context that after a short while I skipped over as meaningless. Character is suborned to creation of ghoulish atmosphere, energies (of what must be a smart mind) dissipated in favour of cramming in as much clutter as in the imagination of a delirious inmate. We don't really know much about this loser, a ...more
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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)."
Dec 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anarchist take on space opera. Awesome
May 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very weird style and featuring one of the most useless of antiheroes, but towards the last third it certainly picks up quite nicely and revolves down and down into a great ending.
Neil Thomson
What to say about The Centauri Device? This was largely disappointing for me and I can identify several reasons as to why?

First problem lies with the main protagonist. John Truck is something of a douchebag. A drug user, often a drug pusher, he wallows in self loathing as the boil on the wart on the arse of the galaxy but the author never really succeeds in making the reader want to root for him. Oh sure we learn that he represents the downtrodden, representative of a race cast-aside by greater
Grady Hughes
Jan 24, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This little chesnut was almost hilariously bad at times. From beginning to end this whole SF circus seems intent on pushing you away from it at every turn. It's full of over-crowded and smugly written metaphoric descriptions of characters and locations that stop the (thin, thin, thin) plot dead in its tracks. The way he writes action scenes is even confusing in this book, forcing you to re-read a sentence because you realized what you thought was just another confusing description of the charact ...more
Dear God this was difficult to get through.

It was just... so incredibly boring.

And I get that it was a Sci-fi, but nothing about this universe was really explained it just sort of was in a really annoying way where the author used weird words and phrases and you just sort of had to nod along like you had a clue what was going on.

Which brings me to the plot of 'WTF is happening?! No one knows!'. It was a clusterfuck. The main character passed out basically at the end of every chapter and overall
Mar 30, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I couldn't get on with this, I found I had to read quite a lot of sentences over and over a few times. I can't put my finger on it but maybe someone else who has read it and has more knowledge of grammar than me would be able to point out why the construction of the sentences are so frustrating at times to read. The language didn't flow for me. Like a car stalling. It felt constantly like the words were going somewhere and then it would come abruptly to a halt. I found it hard to follow who was ...more
Daniel Cunningham
I picked this up from the library because I'd heard it referred to as a classic of Sci-Fi. The writing is certainly a cut above, but the story, settings, language are pure 70's... and, to my taste, haven't aged well. The blurb on the front gives this much away:
"A last-chance loner from the back alleys of space hold the fate of the earth in his hands."
Well then.

I suppose... think "Escape from New York" but in space. And "Escape from New York" is a classic, too, in its way; but it is very much a
Joachim Boaz
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full review:

"I can only imagine the shock that readers received and still receive (according to amazon reviews) after diving into M. John Harrison’s The Centauri Device (1974) expecting a standard space opera. This is a subgenre where the anti-hero still has not found a firm place to roost… You know the rubric: Empathizing with the hero. Positivism. Saving the world. The good guys win.

I suspect the shock to the system [...]"
Allen White
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Harrison's exceptional prose propelled my interest in this book. Its plot was unremarkable, its characters were mere sketches, but man -- can Harrison WRITE! I hope someday to be able to put together a sentence as half as well as he can. (I look forward to reading his later works; this was one of his earlier novels.)

Prose: 5 stars.
Plot: Three 1/2 stars.
Characters: 2 stars.
DNF at 50 pages. I forced my way through his first book, The Committed Men, and also gave it a 1-star rating. But that was a year or two ago and I'm 30 now and life is too short to skim-read your way through nonsensical, self-indulgent, drug-fuelled 1970s New Wave claptrap just because some baby boomers think it's a classic. Use it for kindling.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The style is refreshing, as is the bleak setting. The thing that turned me off was the incoherency. A good number of sentences just don't make sense, it's almost as if half the words or sentences are missing. I think perhaps it's to allow the reader to fill in the blanks, but that just doesn't work too well for me. An important but flawed book.
Emma Webb
Couldn't get into it. It's not badly written by any means, but I was unable to find a connection with any of the characters. This meant I felt nothing for them and this indifference made it the worst sci-fi masterworks I've read so far. I'll try it again some time to see if it improves on a second reading.
Apr 09, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting plot idea lost on unnecessarily complex language. Took me three times as long to read because i had to read most of it at least twice to understand it and it took so long to get anywhere it kept sending me to sleep.
Benjamin Bauer
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mini-review forthcoming.
Laura Royle
Borderline incomprehensible. What a strange and frustrating book!
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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.


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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.”
“Here we begin to guess at the nature of space... The Galaxy has given us our canvas, a dead dragonfly has bequeathed us the brushes we have to hand. We make Space. We define it... none of this belongs to Earth or to ideology. It is inviolate.' To prove his point, perhaps, space ignored him.” 0 likes
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