Sunday, 24 February 2008

Review: "The Centauri Device" by M. John Harrison

I've been picking my way through the SF Masterworks series published by Gollancz in various bookstores as I travel about. My latest acquisition in the series is "The Centauri Device" by M. John Harrison.

John Truck, the principal character, is a self-proclaimed loser, unlucky or otherwise unaccomplished in his career, relationships, and life in general. There is, however, one thing unique to John Truck, which is his birthright, and which makes him sought after by the powers that be.

I must confess that I tend to prefer other variations on the theme. I enjoy reading about a character who begins with very obvious limitations, and who is forced by circumstances or by some internal drive to improve. A quintessential example of the rising loser would be Gully Foyle in Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination". Another would be Robinette Broadhead in Frederick Pohl's "Gateway" series.

Although John Truck does not rise all that much, he also does not start as low as Gully Foyle, which is a point in his favor. John Truck lives in the moment, or perhaps a bit beyond the moment, looking for the next thing he can think to do, with no larger plan or purpose (at least until he becomes embroiled in the search for the Centauri Device). His journey does not elevate him terribly, but does highlight that he is well intentioned if flawed.

On balance, I would have to say that although I probably won't reread "The Centauri Device", it's worth a look if you enjoy reasonably well written prose and anti-heroic characters.

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