Review: Address: Centauri

F.L. Wallace
1955

Wow, I’ve been really lucky lately.  I’ve been treated to some excellent space opera from the Gnome Press stable.  Following the mediocre reading experiences that were Pattern for Conquest and Cosmic Engineers,  I’ve had the pleasure of The Mixed Men, The Starmen and now Address: Centauri.

But who is author F.L. Wallace??  Well, this is his one and only novel.  Check out his pages on Wikipedia and the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.  Somewhat dissimilar to the majority of authors published by GP, he wrote entirely in the 50’s and the very early 60’s.  The very early 50’s, the 40’s and even the 30’s provided the majority of the material for Gnome Press.

I hinted that this is a space opera, but upon a bit more reflection I’m not so sure.  Space opera is typified by it’s large scale – planet hopping, vast distances, extremely advanced yet poorly described technology and often rather thin characters.  While all of this is more or less present here in Address: Centauri, it’s arrangement sort of dissuades me from attaching the ‘space opera’ label.

Earth is the province of beautiful people, medical and cosmetic technology is advanced enough to remedy a great many problems.  But not all.  For those for whom finances or the technological limits are a barrier we have ‘Handicap Haven.’  An asteroid that houses an advanced medical facility catering to societies physical and mental rejects, and we indeed do have a motley bunch of starring characters drawn from this pool.  Which brings me to something I mentioned in the Close Up about the cover illustration something about the story.  I’m talking specifically about the main characters.

First, looking a bit like a Weeble, is Jordan – a genius engineer who has no legs.  Next is huge Anti.  Formally a talented dancer, but infected by some kind of rampant flesh-building organism.  Next our main man, Docchi.  Through a near-fatal accident, his tissues have been saturated with a partially organic ‘cold lighting’ fluid that responds to his emotional state by lighting his skin.  Jeriann looks great physically but has no digestive system whatsoever.  Finally the beautiful face of Nona.  Emotionally retarded and unable to communicate but with a kind of telepathic empathy with, and ability to influence, electronic and gravitic systems.

To cut a long story short, it’s Nona’s ability to control the artificial gravity of Handicap Haven that sets our population of rejects on their way to Alpha Centauri in a race to be the first to reach another star system, find a true home and perhaps establish contact with an alien civilization.

But, getting back to the question of whether this is a true space opera or not, lets check the boxes.  Vast distances and planet hopping – we go from Sol system all the way to Alpha Centauri.  Check.  Extremely advanced yet poorly described technology – artificial gravity and medical marvels.  Check.  Rather thin characters – barring Docchi, we spend very little time on the motivations and personalities of the other characters.  Check.  However, the vast distances are not a feature but a vehicle or framework for the story to take place in.  The means of setting up a time frame and a duration within which the story can transpire.  The advanced technology is in fact analyzed in a little more detail than we might expect from traditional space opera.  Sure, it’s still a bit sketchy, though to Mr Wallace’s credit, what he does describe leans more towards the harder side of science and it does have an air of credibility.  And we do develop real sympathy for the characters and their plight.  Indeed, the author has provided a very interesting group for us to enjoy the story alongside, and the two most interesting for me are Docchi and Nona.

We don’t really get to know Nona that well aside from her ability that unlocks faster-than-light travel by manipulating gravity, or to be more precise, mentally manipulating the systems that manipulate gravity.  It is her mysteriousness that is attractive however, and she also develops a relationship with Dr Cameron – the only able-bodied and initially very reluctant (he was effectively kidnapped after all) member of our crew.

Docchi is the leader.  He organizes the rebellion that leads to Handicap Haven’s departure and we experience his angst and frustration at having to evaluate and cater to the special needs of the asteroid’s various maladies and juggle (amongst other things) the rationing of power and the allocation of medical supplies en route to the Centauri system.

To wrap this review up without giving too much away, we learn that this rag-tag bunch achieve their goal, find a new home and are viewed as the true representatives of the human race.

There is a great base here from which F.L. Wallace could have built a couple more books around our team’s efforts to establish their home and relations with the denizens of the Centauri system. It’s a real shame he didn’t as I really enjoyed the ride out there, and would have liked to tag along on some more adventures with Docchi, Nona, Anti and their interesting friends.

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