The Centauri Device – M John Harrison (1975)
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 Truck’s ship’s engineer is a Chromian dwarf called Fixx, and his best friend is a somewhat dim individual but brilliant guitar player, earth is split between the Arabs and Israelis and an endless war is in its prime.
Truck is pursued by the Arab and Israeli military, an anarchist artist magician and the religious faction represented by the Openers, whose followers believe that the way to enlightenment is via installing windows in their bodies to expose their inner organs to the world and the galaxy.
It’s a rollercoaster ride through a Dystopian future which very much symbolises the stylistic SF of the 1970s. It’s interesting to note that the Chromian dwarf possibly links this novel with the Viriconium series. Harrison perhaps borrowed Moorcock’s ubiquitous idea of the multiverse – in which the world is duplicated and distorted through infinity – to use in his Viriconium series since some of the stories of the city seem to be set in an alternate version of that world. Maybe TCD is set in an earlier version of one of these universes, or maybe not.
The Seventies was a time when SF occasionally put on the Glam Rock drag of fantasy, and certainly this novel has its fantasy trappings, from the hats and cloaks to the baroque magician – who produces green carnations from behind the ears of unsuspecting gawpers.
There are the caricatured grotesques such as General Alice Gaw of the Israeli military, the hermaphrodite whore, Grishkin the Opener Priest, Fixx the psychotic dwarf and Truck’s paranoid and slightly disturbed wife.
It is an important novel of The Seventies, a signpost showing where we were and where we were going.