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hope I'm doing this right – I did try a search first but couldn't find anything that seemed relevant.

Back when I was in middle/high school in the 90s, I would sometimes pick books off the SF/F shelves at the school library pretty much at random, just based on something about them that seemed interesting. One of them had a story that mostly wasn't very memorable, except for one detail that had stuck with me since: a character in the book (I think a woman? I'm sure it wasn't the protagonist anyway, but a secondary character, maybe even just someone he met) had created a world for herself which had all sorts of mythical creatures, including centaurs, but the only way she (?) managed to make the centaurs work properly was to give them a sort of breathing hole in the lower abdomen of the human part, that connected to the lungs of the horse part, otherwise they couldn't get enough oxygen and would die. That image stayed in my mind long after any other details about the book had faded away. I always thought it was a really interesting concept, and something that I didn't see in any other work.

For some reason I used to think this was a Zelazny book, possibly one of the Amber ones (like I said, I would just pick books that seemed interesting, so sometimes that meant I read a book from the middle of a series without reading the ones before it; this one was a book that I didn't like enough to try to read more of the series, if indeed it was part of one), but I'm not so sure now, since none of the people I talked to who had read the entire series found the description familiar, at all, nor did searches about it come up with anything.

Another detail that might be helpful is that this was in Israel, so there is a good chance that this is a book that had been translated into Hebrew (not a 100% chance, but most of the SF/F books in the school library were in Hebrew) at some point, probably more or less around the 80s. Unlikely that this was an original Hebrew work, since at the time there weren't many of those, and I think I would have remembered that; as it is, my vague memories of the book have a distinct "Anglo" (American?) feel to them.

Does this ring a bell for anyone? Is this a Zelazny, or something else? I'd really appreciate any help with this mystery.

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    I don't recall anything like that in the Amber novels. Jun 27, 2022 at 20:27
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    Yeah, this tracks with my previous experience. I think it most likely is the Farmer book, and I just got it confused at some point, either because I read some Amber around the same time, or because I heard about it and got details mixed up.
    – Yael
    Jun 28, 2022 at 8:51

2 Answers 2

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Possibly The Maker of Universes, the first book of Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers series. The centaurs are described as:

They were indeed centaurs, although not quite as the painters of Earth had depicted. This was not surprising. The Lord, when forming them in his biolabs, had had to make certain concessions to reality. The main adjustment had been regulated by the need for oxygen. The large animal part of a centaur had to breathe, a fact ignored by the conventional Terrestrial representations. Air had to be supplied not only to the upper and human torso but to the lower and theriomorphic body. The relatively small lungs of the upper part could not handle the air requirements.
...
The mouths and necks were proportionately large to allow intake of enough oxygen. In place of the human lungs was a bellowslike organ which drove the air through a throatlike Opening and thence into the great lungs of the hippoid body. These lungs were larger than a horse's, for the vertical part increased the oxygen demands. Space for the bigger lungs was made by removal of the larger herbivore digestive organs and substitution of a smaller carnivore stomach. The centaur ate meat, including the flesh of his Amerind victims.

There was a Hebrew translation of the book. This is the cover in case it helps jog any memories:

The Maker of Universes

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  • Hey, thanks! Not all of this sounds familiar, but there's enough there that does that I'm willing to think it's probably the right book (and I just forgot most of it). Especially since I checked and see it's been translated to Hebrew in 1980. I'm going to mark it as solved.
    – Yael
    Jun 27, 2022 at 10:56
  • Oh, I see you found the translation too. :) Great
    – Yael
    Jun 27, 2022 at 10:57
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    Book 3 of this series, "A Private Cosmos", has at least one cover featuring a centaur warrior. Note that this cover mentions Roger Zelazny.
    – Sam Azon
    Jun 27, 2022 at 12:33
  • Neat! I doubt I read that one, but who knows, they're all in the same series so in theory might have been any of them (and the covers of the Hebrew translations are all fairly generic abstract designs like the one John embedded above, so no clues for me there). The Zelazny connection might have just come from the whole thing about passing between worlds, people with immense power, and so on; I might have also read some Amber at the time and gotten details mixed up. Maybe I'll give one or both of these series another try sometime...
    – Yael
    Jun 27, 2022 at 14:54
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You might want to consider another possibility: the Gaea Trilogy by John Varley. The Titanides live within the living, intelligent world of Gaea, were created by Gaea herself as a form of entertainment, and were based on Gaea's interception of human broadcasts of stories and mythology featuring centaurs, as were their opponents, the Angels. At the end of the first novel, the protagonist, Cirocco Jones, a NASA astronaut, persuades Gaea to end the war and both species are re-created. The remaining two novels feature Jones and her further adventures.

The first novel was published in 1979, and was translated into Hebrew.

If you have any uncertainty if this was the trilogy your story was part of, here's some things it would be impossible to miss:

  • Titanides communicate by singing. Everything revolves around music.
  • The sex. Oh, lord, the sex. The Titanides themselves are fully hermaphroditic and can do everything from self-fertilize to have multiple combinations of parents. Varley included a chart to list out the variations. And because they were designed, they're altered to be able to breed with humans.
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  • Thanks! I don't think it was that one, because I would have remembered the singing and the sex (was about to say I don't think our library would've had it because of the sex, but you know what, this is the library where I read all the Jane M Auel books, so, ummm, maybe). From what I see about the Titanides, they also don't have that breathing hole which was the one distinct feature I did remember.
    – Yael
    Jun 27, 2022 at 15:35
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    Actually, Titanides are more complex than hermaphroditic -- they have both at the back (horse-like genitalia), but they have a gender generally determined/expressed by the front genitalia. They treat "hind-sex" as recreation and partial procreation is a byproduct; front-sex is pair-bonded (mostly) and completes the journey from egg to fertilized, ready to implant -- after crucial intervention by Cirocco Jones, following the recreation.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jun 27, 2022 at 16:08
  • Oh, and I recall that most (all?) of the humanoid torso of a Titanide was filled with lungs.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jun 27, 2022 at 16:09
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    "And because they were designed, they're altered to be able to breed with humans." Of course we would add in that feature.
    – DKNguyen
    Jun 27, 2022 at 18:31
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    "Interspecies sex is one of the things in sci-fi that just won't happen." - Futurist Thinker. "Never underestimate the power of the phrase 'Hold my beer'." - People who understand humans. Jun 28, 2022 at 15:15

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