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Five stars isn't enough,
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This review is from: The Centauri Device (Sf Masterworks) (Kindle Edition)Adventures are an entertaining series of unpleasantnesses that happen to other people. Those having adventure thrust upon them are, in real life, unaware at the time of the entertainment and have far more important things to worry about. That adventures are actually enjoyable for the participants is a significant difference between the worlds of fiction and reality, and to read something that breaks that mould is refreshing.
John Truck, the nominatively determined protagonist (I dare not call him a hero, for he spends an awful lot of time running away) is the future's equivalent of a white van man, just scraping a living from his battered and barely legal ship, one of society's losers. A self-confessed loser too. For reasons completely outside his control he is bullied, cajoled and threatened by governments and cults who want the eponymous Centauri Device under their control. Of course, in reality it would all go horribly wrong and one of the antagonists would get their way, but Narrative demands that Truck win through - although unlike the traditional hero he does so entirely by accident and would really like to just be left alone to continue as a loser orbiting around the fringes of society. I suppose that in a way he's like General Flashman - he ends up appearing to be heroic despite spending most of the time wetting his pants with terror - although unlike Flashman he's not himself a bully and makes no effort to hide his cowardice.
So we have a splendid, refreshing story, in which at least some characters are rounded, detailed and sympathetic even if some of the antagonists are a bit less well developed. It's already excellent and verging upon getting five stars.
We also have the most superb writing. It's clear and direct, but peppered with biting commentary. For example, "he leered at a receptionist ... as long-legged and unapproachable - by losers - as any ice-princess. She smiled back politely, because that year it was polite to be polite to the underpriveleged", "for a narcotics offence ... no one could reasonably expect a lawyer, but the twenty-fourth century admits - indeed insists upon - your right to religious representation". It's also - and I was initially somewhat annoyed at this - full of surreal imagery. But that annoyance soon evaporated, when the surrealist anarchist "Pater" (is it a coincidence that his name is Latin for "father"?) is introduced. He gives the text-book definition of surrealism as his manifesto - "here we begin to guess at the nature of space ... We infer reality". Surrealism is not all about melting clocks and elephants with too many joints in their legs, it's the exploration of the underlying functioning of thought and morals, the prefix sur- meaning "the basis of". Surprise and odd juxtaposition of images are only tools for finding that basis through challenging conventional ideas.
So, it's enjoyable, which is of course the most important thing about fiction. It's populated, it's relevant to today despite being written in 1975, and it's literate. It's not just literate in terms of language, it's also historically and artistically literate. This is a superb book, and you should read it. Five stars isn't enough.