Monday, December 20, 2004

[sf] Reading a book – The Centauri Device.

I’ve identified 3 key moments for me when I’m reading a book:

Judgment call – After reading 10 to 20% of a book, I make a decision about committing to the whole thing based on whether anything has happened that interestes me.
Breaking the Back – it’s that point where I close the book to take a break and realise that I’m more than halfway through.
The final assault – where I sit down and finish the damn thing – could be 300 pages in one go, could be 40. Strangely, the larger the novel the more pages I tend to read in this final section.

Anyway, The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison.
Captain John Truck is a loser. We know this because the book tells us so, about 50 times in the space of 212 pages. Now there’s some good stuff going on here: a grim Thatcherite version of the 24th century, a bit of punk energy and the question of what exactly the Centauri Device does. The overall desperate vibe of the book has a touch of Firefly about it.

Captain John Truck is the only person in the galaxy who can activate the Centauri Device. That means two armies, a religion, a drug baron and interstellar anarchists all want to possess him. And that means that Captain John Truck is an extremely reactive character, who only really starts taking actions in the last 50 pages of the book.

For most of the story, he visits picturesque locations: the longest running party in the universe, an asteroid in the middle of interstellar space, a pretty cool space battle. Like The Stars My Destination, this is a travelogue where all the elements keep getting reincorporated, but unlike Bester’s book, the supporting characters here feel thin, unreal.

And what is the Centauri Device? The book provides some cool speculations but ultimately disappoints.

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