the centauri device

I never liked that book much but at least it took the piss out of sf’s three main tenets: (1) The reader-identification character always drives the action; (2) The universe is knowable; (3) the universe is anthropocentrically structured & its riches are an appropriate prize for the colonialist people like us. TCD tried to out space opera as a kind of counterfeit pulp which had carefully cleaned itself of Saturday night appetite, vacuuming out all the concerns of real pulp fiction to keep it under the radar of the Mothers of America or whatever they called themselves. Pulp’s lust for life was replaced, if you were lucky, by a jaunty shanty & a comedy brawl. Otherwise it was lebensraum & a cadetship in the Space Police (these days it’s primarily low-bourgeois freedom motifs & nice friendly sexual release).

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8 responses to “the centauri device

  1. I’m sure you’ve answered this question thousands of times, but why didn’t you like it?

  2. uzwi

    It was like stealing the milk float then complaining it won’t corner like a Ducati. More important, if you argue in the other guy’s arena you are already accepting his definitions: 1973/4 was my time to walk away for a bit & do something else, but I didn’t see that until a couple of years later. Now I can offer space opera as essential MJH: offensive trash fun. & try to put the Saturday night back into it too.

  3. matt ridley

    I liked the explosion at the end…guess there wont be a sequel then…? Ever sold the film rights?? ;)

  4. I’m interested in the book as an instance of what I think of as your mad bomber phase (complete with cartoon anarchist bomb), which I’ve maybe unfairly made to encompass stories like “The Machine in Shaft Ten” and “Settling the World” as well, stories in which the answer or attempted answer to an untenable situation is “blow it the fuck up.”

    Part of me responds to that answer, especially in the more metaphysical dimensions of the two short stories. Do you still value any aspects of this anarchism (or nihilism?), or is it part of what you deprecate in your earlier work?

    It seems like you continue to value the political provocation to genre involved. That is, what you’ve always blown up is different from what mainstream SF likes to blow up.

  5. uzwi

    Hi wscilacci.

    At around that time someone described a review of mine as a “letter bomb”; I was disgusted enough by the inappropriateness of that image to recognise I needed a rest. I went off & concentrated on other things & learned to write. I still value provocation–I’m still proud of being politically deranged–but my rhetoric wasn’t terraced enough back then. It wasn’t clear enough that the “explosions” offered by the text were intended to metaphorise its own breakage of genre structures & the uninterrogated cultural assumptions on which those structures are based. As you say, it worked better in the short stories. But it didn’t really work at all until “The Ice Monkey” dispensed with everything but a handful of events in its characters’ ordinary lives.

  6. I laughed quite a bit at the pastiche and allusions, and I still remember this one fondly. A fin de siècle take on the form and artifice, coming at the end of something.

    BTW, The Centauri Device’s use of the “Atalanta in Calydon” did come to my mind as I was choosing the selections for the Yale UP Algernon Charles Swinburne: Major Poems & Prose.

    I wanted that collection to read as “Swinburne in Space” — no poet more at home in the flux.

    My thanks.


    But Truck already knew. They breasted a rise, Himation in the lead, his cloak billowing out behind him. A vast estuary spread itself before them, gray and calm, its far banks lost in a haze of rain. On it, some fifty yards from the shore, there floated a great golden ship. She was fully a quarter of a mile long; her raked and curved fins shone tike sails in some exotic Byzantine wind; enamel work writhed deliciously over her lean hull, words in a lost language of rose stems.

    ‘ “The wolf that follows, the fawn that flies”,’ whispered John Truck.

    ‘Look’ — black shrouded arm, long white finger, an extravagant swirl of cloak — ‘they’ve sent a boat out for us!’

    Himation flung up his arms. Playing cards showered from the mirthless air of Centauri, colored ribbons burst like fireworks from his fingertips; when he bowed right and left, small animals could be seen scuttling round the crown of his hat, while unruly red hair escaped its brim. Awed by his own genius, he shouted with laughter — in a kind of possessive joy, a laugh that went on and on.

    When General Gaw struggled over the rise, she found only the echo of that laughter to comfort her, as Atalanta in Calydon, the last raider, shook off the water of the bay like a gilded hound and raced up into the sky on a blaze of white light.


  7. uzwi

    Hi durrell2012.

    I’m delighted you enjoyed it. Not much of the contemporary sf readership got those jokes & allusions. I still receive puzzled internet reviews which quarrel with the description of the Interstellar Anarchist’s rooms–pure Huysmans–as “frugal and austere”. & there are still very few people who realise that the ship names aren’t invented.

    But another reason to move on was to avoid being trapped in Symbolism & the fin de siecle. I was anxious to start in on the Expressionists.

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