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The Official Iain M Banks Thread


Danster
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I know, I'm just a bit.... well... when i discover a enw author I always read their stuff in publication order. Just doesn't feel right doing it any other way.

For all your ordering needs check the 1st post...

I'm normally the same but out of the three Culture novels I've read I've only found Surface Detail actually interesting so I'm reluctant to just pile in from the start.

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Finished Surface Detail a day or two ago - I enjoyed it! The best Culture novel in a while, I thought. Certainly better than Matter. Two problems though:

1) Structure-wise it's basically the same as both Excession and Matter: characters are scattered around the galaxy; they all have to rush to get to some location where the big climax happens. Now that I think about it, The Algebraist was rather like this too. Maybe some of the other books, but it's been ages since I've read some of them. It's not a bad structure in itself, but it renders most of the book into a bit of a drawn out delay. Also, it's getting pretty samey.

2) Veppers was a pretty decent villain. but I got bored of repeated scenes that held up the story for no other reason than to highlight what a massive wanker he was. He did the same thing with that ridiculous space emperor man in The Algebraist, and it was a bit annoying there too, although at least his exploits were entertaining in their ludicrousness(ness?). Veppers is just a fairly average twat - if the book had continued much longer we might have been exposed to such riveting scenes as Veppers under-tipping a waiter, or failing to hold a door open for someone carrying something heavy.

Still, while the plot was perhaps a little rote, I thought the characters made up for it, especially Demeisen.

Ending spoilers:

Honestly, FAF, what were you thinking? Anyway, nice twist with Zakalwe - but I didn't notice any clues along the way. The only thing I can think of is the weird trapeze thing, which was perhaps an effort to avoid using a chair. Still, it's been ages since I read Use Of Weapons, though I'm re-reading it now.

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Did I miss something, or did

the quietus operative achieve approximately fuck-all? So she travels all the way to the enablement, has a half-hearted attempt at arresting Veppers, and that's it? There's a few scrapes and hijinks on the way, but nothing that affected the conclusion.

Discovering that the Bulbitians have a link to the sublimed is significant, but its basically dropped as soon as it is discovered and never mentioned again.

What am I forgetting?

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I think the idea is that, like Excession, we're seeing the result of several Mind conspiracies tangling in some real world events, but unlike Excession we aren't getting to see it from the Minds point of view.

So

the Quietus agent was a sleeper for SC and did mean they knew what was going on even though Quietus had not kept them in the loop—but this did all get slightly scuppered by her encounter with the Bulbitian. I'm not sure how much we're meant to be able to work out about SC's machinations, might have to re-read it at some point to work that out.

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I just finished Surface Detail and I loved it. Not much too add really – great characters, set-ups, new tech and story.

I’m not sure about the point of the twist with Vepp at the end, was this to suggest his whole life and involvement with the pro/anti Hell factions was a Culture scheme?

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I just finished Surface Detail and I loved it. Not much too add really – great characters, set-ups, new tech and story.

I’m not sure about the point of the twist with Vepp at the end, was this to suggest his whole life and involvement with the pro/anti Hell factions was a Culture scheme?

What twist is that? That he was running the Hells on his computers all along?

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I realise this isn't culture-related, but can I just chip by saying Transition to me was a real disappointment. He seems to be taking eliptical plotting to new heights of obscure pretentiousness, and more than once (say, I don't know, every page) allows the author's voice to interrupt his otherwise quite imaginative story by having his characters speak his politics to the reader (on torture, corruption of power, solipsism and so on).

I found it an annoying read.

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I realise this isn't culture-related, but can I just chip by saying Transition to me was a real disappointment. He seems to be taking eliptical plotting to new heights of obscure pretentiousness, and more than once (say, I don't know, every page) allows the author's voice to interrupt his otherwise quite imaginative story by having his characters speak his politics to the reader (on torture, corruption of power, solipsism and so on).

I found it an annoying read.

Have a read of K's series of posts about it earlier in the thread. He didn't like it much either!

http://www.rllmukforum.com/index.php?showtopic=197036&view=findpost&p=6924280

I started Look to Windward a few days ago. A much slower start than most of the other Culture novels I've read - but then, I suppose any book would seem to start off slowly in comparison to the events early in Excession! I like the focus on non-humanoid, non-Culture alien characters so far. No Special Circumstances agents have turned up yet, either, which likewise makes a change from those other books in the series. There've been some funny scenes where we overhear a babble of dialogue between bored Culture citizens at play (at parties, lava rafting...). I'd heard the book has some connections with Consider Phlebas, but those links haven't really come into play yet.

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Ha! Yes, K's summary aligns perfectly with my perceptions of this book.

Cod characterisation, squandered ideas, a hopeless jumble of cliches and bit-parts, all dusted with something barely resembling a plot. In all I can't help feeling he didn't do enough planning of character and actual plotting (which is all but invisible), and is just framing a polemic inside a retelling of a number of crazy parties he's attended with his new squeeze.

Increasingly I feel Banks has had his time - take a break, go on holiday. Take ten years off and stop with the bait-and-switch act of "you know those really good novels I used to write? Well, try this for size ... ha fooled you!" :(

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just finished surface Detail and thought it was okay. He's still able to conquere up good characters but his earlier work was much more simple and straight forward in its approach. He has started to tend to over complicate the story and involve mutliple charcter arcs which ,as has been said, is getting samey. Also it now seems he really likes to swear a lot which just seems slightly out of place. Also some peoples stories seemed to go nowhere at all.

It was nice read but nowhere near his best stuff. Both this and matter have been poor by his high standards.

Edit-Just noticed this post, it was written by pulsemyne who was some how logged in on my account.

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Just finished Surface Detail, and

could see the "twist" coming (thanks to FAF above)

although it didn't affect the story at all. Overall a rather by-the-numbers Culture novel I felt, with no single character (even Demeisen) interesting enough or focal enough to really care about.

As for Transition, I'm slogging through it and can't quite believe it even got published - what a crock of shite.

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Just finished Surface Detail, and

could see the "twist" coming (thanks to FAF above)

although it didn't affect the story at all. Overall a rather by-the-numbers Culture novel I felt, with no single character (even Demeisen) interesting enough or focal enough to really care about.

As for Transition, I'm slogging through it and can't quite believe it even got published - what a crock of shite.

I'm confused by Transition, I enjoyed it but I don't know why. It all seemed so........ pointless? What plot could be found was minimal to say the least and I'm not entirely sure what part the philosopher chapters played.

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You should have already read, Use of Weapons, Excession, Look to Windward, Inversions, State of the Art and Matter before reading Surface Detail....

;)

I'd suggest Use of Weapons or Excession tbh.

Jesus, I hated Use of Weapons. Thought he'd properly disappeared up his own arse with that one.

I love all the other Culture novels I've read though; Consider Phlebas, Look to Windward and Matter. I've got Surface Detail at home but haven't been able to start it yet...

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've read all the Culture novels except the short stories and Surface Detail ... but it was a good few years back. Will I remember enough to get the max from Surface Detail.

I also wish FAF had more thoroughly spoilered his posts. Why leave a few lines outside the spoiler that suggests there's a twist etc? Very annoying indeed.

Also, what do people here think of Transition?

I liked it a lot... except (as is often the case with Banks):

The ending. Just as the plot seemed to be properly getting going... it ended. He could see through the multi-verse and move without the drug ... and then ... ?

EDIT: just noticed the previous mentions. Guess no one else liked it then. I didn't love it and the Philosopher chapters were obviously a bit odd until they finally tied in at the end... and yes, the timeline was needlessly jumbled for its own good... but as I say, I did enjoy it.

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There’s a bit later on when a character jumps into a naked man, lying in a disused hotel in Venice. It’s never explained who this naked man is, and what he was doing lying naked on the floor of this hotel.

I thought the assumption was that because Tem was now leaping un-aided and to escape torture he was essentially moving his 'real' body through force of will to the Venice location. Didn't the Philosopher say to Ortolan that he'd vanished ?

Agree generally though that he wasn't very rigorous about his rules and also the politics are trite and awful. But despite all that, as I said, I still did enjoy it !

I have the other same problem as you too though: I read the Whisky book and he's such an annoying git in it, his 'real' voice intrudes on my reading of his novels now. :(

[ FWIW, I love The Crow Road, thought The Business was good and Espedair St. was *ok* and I actually thought A Steep A.T.G. was ok too (!). Haven't read The Bridge yet... ]

Oh, and your Culture novel precis is pure genius.

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So I duly received Surface Detail for Chrimbo from my good lady wife.

First off, I liked it.

I think the characters were good (although Veppers was a little weak as a bad guy*) and the plot was okay. I do agree with others about the multi-linear approach he seems to be taking with these stories getting a bit boring now. Worked well in the Excession but that doesn't mean he has to keep using it!

His ability to create worlds and places of the exotic and unique kind is still awesome. From the cliff sitting on the GSV, with the fliers and the waterfall, to the elevator jumping (WTF!) to the battleship game and the hidden mercury lake, all vivid and well realised.

The Hell stuff in particular was a fascinating read, a really nasty snippet of just how bad total vituality could become if we let the wrong hands on it! And I thought Chay's story was one of the more interesting parts of the book, with her lifetime in the retreat and then ending up as an angel. That was good. The Uber-demon was fantastic too! And then there were two! madness... :)

BEST bit (by far) in the entire book though was when the Abominator Class ship lets loose on the GFCF (or whatever they were called) fleet, very reminiscent of the ROU in Excession on his suicide mission. Another image that sticks with me was when he was describing pretending to be a Torturer class to a tail and then spinning round and giving them the full "Abominator" glare... like rabbits in headlights.

I think the Quietus agent was risked by SC very deliberatly, as they needed to get someone talking to the Bulbitians.

Whether the whole thing was a big setup by SC to close down the hells is debatable. They'd have to have influenced Veppers purchasing of the hells in the first place which I think is unlikely. So I think they were reacting to the other invilveds behaviour rather than causing that behaviour in the first place, though a re-read would probably be needed to see whether that is a definite because obviously Zakalwe was there at their behest.

As for Zakalwe, Rang bells when the man was called The Star Marshall, not sure why... But I'd kinda figured it by the epilogue. I think he should have just had Diziet Sma turn up to meet him and leave it at that rather than mention his name. But maybe it means that some of the more interesting characters from past books could turn up again. I'd like to see Grey Matter come back... :)

*Veppers is a slightly odd one, because while he was obviously an obnoxious toad there was also something fun about him. I guess it was his playful roots, his gaming and shooting, he basically liked treating life like a game and loved winning, no matter how.... total script kiddy...!

So, I enjoyed it. Better than Matter anyhow!

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I finished too.

Veppers was very 2D but looking at political news, it appears that people like that do actually exist :) I raced through it and enjoyed it immensely, but yeah, generic Banks and it's clear that his publisher pushed for a Culture novel. It hasn't left a lasting impression on me, although that may be due to age and familiarity now. The space battle wasn't as cool as the ones in Excession I don't think. One thing I did think was new and interesting was that we saw equivalent technology from other civs in action, making the Culture look rather... ordinary. I reckon this is Banks' rejecting the publisher in his own way - he's mentioned that he wants to kill them in the past, so maybe instead of some massive galactic event, we'll instead see - or it will be hinted at - a slowly asphyxiation of their hold on the galaxy followed by complete irrelevancy.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Finished ‘Surface Detail’. I really, really enjoyed it, it’s the best Culture book in ages, and the best Banks book in eons – much better than ‘Matter’, on a par with ‘Look to Windward’, and not far off the quality of something like ‘Excession’. And obviously, it pisses on ‘Transition’ and ‘The Steep Approach to Garbadale’.

Unusually for a recent Banks novel, it was relatively low on padding, and long on original ideas – although the novel as a whole is basically Look to Windward vs Excession. There were some sections that were a little superfluous to the plot, like the encounter with the Bulbitian, and a lot of Veppers’ scenes in the middle section of the book. But they were generally interesting and original enough to maintain the readers’ attention.

The novel was essentially about Lededje’s revenge on Veppers, and Veppers’ plot, so everything else (like Vatueil’s wars, Chey and Prin’s journey into hell, Yime’s journey across the galaxy, etc) was basically padding if I’m being unkind, or filling out the universe if I’m being more kind. It was mostly great, but Yime’s relevance to the story was limited at best. She, and the Quietus ship, basically didn’t do much, it would be nice if she had a greater role in the climax – even the Culture attaché to the Enablement had a greater role, and she had about three scenes in the entire book.

In fact, I’m not totally sure what Yime’s function was – she was supposed to stop Lededje killing Veppers, but the SC ship did that job. And she contacted the Bulbitian, and found out – obliquely – that the Bulbitian’s are in contact with the Sublimed. I don’t think that plotline went anywhere, though.

Veppers was a little bit more interesting than the average Culture-book villain as well –

he was a bad person, trying to do the right thing for (some of) the wrong reasons. He was a rapist and a murder and a (boo!) capitalist and a twat, but at the same time, his goal was to shut down the Hells. He did it for personal gain, obviously, but he was still doing a good thing – saving trillions of lives from eternal torture.

Demeisen was obviously a complete star, and one of the best characters Banks has ever created – a gleefully destructive killer. He’d be truly repugnant if he were a human, but for some reason his arrogance and devotion to destruction makes him super-cool as a ship. Ideally, Banks needs to do a spin-off series of novels where Demeisen becomes a private detective.

My major beefs with the book were that some of the plotlines seemed a little bit contrived in their relevance to the central storyline, and that

the Chay / Prin storyline was let down by rubbish characterisation of aliens. Banks can do really good aliens sometimes – like the Affront, or the Idirans or the Dwellers – but often does a really half-arsed job. The Pavuleans (sp?) in Surface Details reminded me of the Chelgrians from Look to Windward, in that they speak, act, and think like humans, and have cultures that socially, spiritually, and culturally resemble humans (and specifically, 21st century Western European humans), but look like double-trunked elephants or five-legged fucking dogs or something, and that never really sat easily with me.

I mean, the Pavuleans appear to have TV shows, and railways, and a media that seems uncannily like ours, and they have a suspiciously Judaeo-Christian-seeming hell. The way they interact with each other made me picture them as being human, which gets thrown out of kilter every so often by jarring references to trunks or hind legs. I just couldn’t picture them as aliens; Banks should have made them pan-human, rather than weird elephant things.

The fact that their version of hell was essentially a kind of Medieval Western European vision of the Biblical hell sat uneasily with me as well, and seemed a bit lazy on the part of the author. I could just about buy that a pan-human species might have some kind of parallel cultural evolution leading to very similar visions of a punitive afterlife, but not weird elephant things. He should have gone all-out and made them as alien and weird as the Affront, or made them pan-human, not some halfway house between the two.

That aside, great stuff. The battle scenes were tremendous – I liked the space tank scene early on, where objects are described in the way that a dumb machine might view them – and the dialogue scenes were generally funny or interesting.

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Great review, as always K. +1

In fact, I’m not totally sure what Yime’s function was – she was supposed to stop Lededje killing Veppers, but the SC ship did that job. And she contacted the Bulbitian, and found out – obliquely – that the Bulbitian’s are in contact with the Sublimed. I don’t think that plotline went anywhere, though.
I'm going to have to read this bit again. But the way I understood it was that she was able to get to the place that SC couldn't* and wasn't it a step beyond just being in touch with the sublimed...? Finding it hard to remember now.

But otherwise I agree she was just a vaguely interesting character caught up in the whole plot having little influence ont he outcome.

*although of course they did, through her.

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Finished The Player Of Games a while back, I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Consider Phlebas.

Flere Imsaho being Mawhrin Skel was completely fucking obvious. Surely Gurgeh, this great game player, would've sussed that out as soon as Chamlis mentioned the empty drone casing found on Chiark? Surely the incredible Minds at Special Circumstances wouldn't have been so stupid as to leave such a vital clue lying about?

Apart from that though, I liked the change of pace compared to Consider Phlebas. I can see why some people would think it boring, though. Going to read Use of Weapons after polishing off a couple of other books I got lying about.

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