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The periodic re-issue of classic SF and Fantasy novels in the way that Millennium are doing with their Masterworks is undoubtedly A Good Thing, since it brings back into circulation books that are amongst the very best the genres have to offer.


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Younger genre fans are able to buy and read these excellent works, while it enables older fans like myself to replace much-loved but mouldering old copies with fresh new versions, and have an excuse for re-visiting old favourites at the same time. However, this is sometimes a mixed blessing. As Edmund Wilson pointed out, no two people read the same book. By extension, a book read twice by the same person, but decades apart, is likely to elicit significantly different responses.

The Centauri Device (S.F. MASTERWORKS)

That which one found exciting, provocative and profound at twenty can sometimes seem strangely bereft of such qualities when revisited at fifty. The book that existed in the reader's mind, glowing faintly with the patina of fond memory, is something else again when it becomes crisp black print on white paper once more. The date is There are a hundred billion people out there.

Space Captain John Truck, loser and user, has just become the unlikely object of their contention. Throw in a cabal of anarchist artists darting about in alien starships, a drug-cartel kingpin with a party habit, sinister votaries of the viscerally unpleasant religion Openerism — all of whom want a piece of John Truck.

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You can imagine what a tale the old masters of the genre would have spun. Harrison had argued that much SF and fantasy was devoted to giving the reader a safe, familiar thrill before returning them to the real world with their hair mussed but their brains unchallenged and their hearts unmoved.

In his own fiction he refused to give an inch to this — as he saw it — ethical and political corruption. Her damage and need are only superficially more apparent than his.

The book still divides readers — mainly, still between those who expect a trad space opera and are disappointed, and those who have an idea of what Harrison was up to. There must also be those — like me, in — who read it naively as a space opera adventure written in gritty prose, and go on to look for, or even try to write, more of the same. Most of New Space Opera, I sometimes suspect, arose out of that misunderstanding.

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