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1. Surface Detail
2. Matter
3. Feersum Endjinn
4. Transition
5. Use of Weapons
6. Against a Dark Background
7. Consider Phlebas
8. The State Of The Art
9. Look to Windward
10. The Algebraist
11. The Player of Games
12. Inversions
13. Matter: A Culture Novel -- First
14. Excession
15. A SONG OF STONE: A Novel
16. Excession
17. L'homme des jeux
18. Bedenke Phlebas
19. Le Sens du vent
20. Business

1. Surface Detail
by Iain M. Banks
Hardcover: 640 Pages (2010-10-28)
list price: US$25.99 -- used & new: US$17.12
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316123404
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit.Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on.A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end.It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

SURFACE DETAIL is Iain M. Banks' new Culture novel, a breathtaking achievement from a writer whose body of work is without parallel in the modern history of science fiction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (13)

5-0 out of 5 stars As ever, Banks remains the master of the last sentance "...WHAT?"
I have only become familiar with Banks and his Culture novels in the past year. I've read all his Culture novels, and a few of his other Sci-Fi works. Others have written more detailed accounts, so i'll keep my review short.

This novel includes more than the usual amount of Mind dialog, not as much as Excession though. This was welcome for me, since the Minds are the only ones that you could reasonably expect to encounter from book to book. It's my entirely non-professional opinion, but I did feel there were a bit too many characters and stories to keep track of. Chay's story illuminates how horrible the Hells are, but could have probably been integrated with Vatueil. The endings were all completely awesome, especially the last sentence of the book.

4-0 out of 5 stars Top 5 Banks for sure, but...
It almost exactly panned out as I had hoped: complex setting, caustic Minds and a range of pathetic to hard-core humans/aliens/meat. Surface Detail looses 1/2 star for trying a bit too hard for my taste on the humour angle, but then again I guess some lighter relief is OK after graphic descriptions of what (possibly) awaits (some of) us.

This also accounts for the other missing 1/2 star: it's specific gravity is lower compared to Look Towards Windward and his earlier work - in spite of the Hells - due to a few too many glib episodes and not enough gravitas. I like Banks for being heavy, dense and subtle, but at the end here I was left wishing for a more comprehensive retribution on some players. An obvious gravitas vector would have been if a Hell also existed for Minds, since Banks makes it clear that meat is way lower on the empathy scale than hardware. But then again- morphing that sad bird into an angel is pure Banks...

I liked the neat "and here's where they are 20 years later" final, and that last sentence made me franticly grab a specific novel again (probably his best) and try to figure out the timelines. I would highly recommend it for Banks fans if you can tolerate the ligher tone of some sections, but would not start with this one as a newby to his work - there be monsters here.

5-0 out of 5 stars That Which Kills Us, Makes Us Stronger
Iain M. Banks has written another Culture novel.This is an almost routine event, though no less appreciated by readers of past Culture stories.Banks balances our familiarity with culture Minds, technology and, well... culture with new characters, story lines and ideas.The book's structure will appeal to Tom Clancy readers, similarly following several characters whose individual stories initially seem unrelated.

Three of the more engaging characters are short-lived.Lededje Y'breq is the personal property of ruthless Joiler Veppers, who has driven her father into bankruptcy and had her tattooed with his personal mark on her skin and everywhere else down to the cellular level.Led dies in the first chapter.Vatueil is a soldier who has fought, killed and died in more battles that even he can remember.When he loses his life, a fresh version is restored from his back-up and thrown into the next round of a decades-long conflict.He dies at the end of the second chapter.Again.The Abominator-class picket Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints is more than it seems--both to other ships who scan its field configuration and to people who misjudge its avatar, Demeisen.It doesn't stay together through the whole story, either.

Readers who enjoy Big Ideas are not disappointed.We encounter tattoos of various depth and complexity.There are several on-the-ground views of virtual afterlives, both rewarding and punishing.As the conflict over the existence of virtual Hells is fought on several levels, we ponder the relationship between hope and suffering.And we consider the varieties of death.Along the way we are introduced to a few new alien races, a giant sentient object or two, and an embarrassing "smatter" epidemic that proves challenging to eradicate.The book delivers what you expect and don't expect from a Culture story.

This book is highly recommended for both Iain M. Banks fans and readers of science fiction in general.It was as enjoyable to read as Use of Weapons, which is in the end my favorite Banks book.If you are new to Banks' Culture series, I recommend following the publication order of these books, beginning with Consider Phlebas.

5-0 out of 5 stars great space thriller
The Culture employs special technology throughout the galaxy that enables humans and aliens to select who they want to be.On the planet Sichult, powerful Veppers assisted by two of his employees, rapes and murders sex slave Lededje Y'breq; but not before she rips some skin off their leader.

The Culture artificial intelligence on a nearby starship resurrects Lededje.She is expected to enact vengeance for her homicide.At the same time, a debate within the Culture leadership continues over what to do about evil sinners like Veppers and his minions.Some insist they should be transported to cyber Hells to suffer punishment until either redeemed or eternity whichever comes first while others insist the more humane response is capital punishment.

The latest Culture space thriller (see Transition and Matter) is an incredible accomplishment as Iain M. Banks shifts effortlessly between reality and virtually so much so the reader will wonder what real is and what fantasy is.Fast-paced from the haunting opening assault and never slowing down, fans of the saga will love this powerful entry while newcomers will be searching for the backlist.

Harriet Klausner

5-0 out of 5 stars Surface Detail & Kindle
Welcome return to earlier works like CONSIDER PHEBLAS, LOOK TO WINDWARD AND EXCESSION. When banks does hard SF he has few equals.

Other reviews have mentioned the particulars I just wanted to add the Kindle version is perfect without any of the formatting problems that the UK version initally displayed. ... Read more

2. Matter
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 624 Pages (2009-02-10)
list price: US$14.99 -- used & new: US$4.79
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316005371
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one man it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name.For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder.And for their sister, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever.

Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilizations throughout the greater galaxy.

Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy, however. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else's war is never a simple matter.

MATTER is a novel of dazzling wit and serious purpose. An extraordinary feat of storytelling and breathtaking invention on a grand scale, it is a tour de force from a writer who has turned science fiction on its head. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (72)

2-0 out of 5 stars how does "too long" end up "rushed" anyway?
I'm not gonna go deep into this, as everyone else already summarized things better than me

I would just like to say that for something easily classified as "this book is too damn long!"... how does an ending come off so rushed?? Did the editor suddenly grab the phone and yell, "hey, we only have 3 blank pages left in here, wrap it up!!"

Also, "treacherous murder" plot and everyone involved around that was easily the best part of the book. Too bad it was also pulled short with "rocks fall, everyone dies!" type of finale

4-0 out of 5 stars Good book
"Matter" is a good book, but it's jam-packed with fluff and the ending was unsatisfying. I enjoyed it until then, when I felt somewhat let down.

5-0 out of 5 stars What does it "MATTER"
The first of many books from Mr. Banksthat has givenme the gift of the CULTURE . Others have tried to entice me to the various works of space operas and failed to deliver . Mr. Banks is a highly aware being using the platform of an AI dependent society to write about. To follow the stories to their out come some times becomes humbling . Matter evolved like no other read . Wanted more as I am finding with all of the CULTURE books . The various things Mr.Banks envisions parallels the development of todayinto what may become tomorrow. The weaponry is just on the edge as well as the AI's with personalities . Amazing bit of work do not stop Mr. Banks you have done yourjob as ifI had experienced the knife missiles go by and maybe some day they will. We are close to a real replicatorso why not a GSV or a group such as special circumstances Obviously Mr. Banks realizesthe doors are open . ReadMATTER because you will see that it does MATTER and you will find yourself going back over it once more . Throw out the computer,TV and read this book there is nothing that brings the culture out in you like this. Thank you Mr. BanksWaiting for another book to arrive USE OF WEAPONSAH

1-0 out of 5 stars Huh? Is it fantasy? Is it Scifi? No, its FantiFi. Its also tedious.
One to avoid in my opinion.
I have never read this author before and will not try again. I had to give this up
after about a hundred pages.
The writting is not particularly good and the book is more about the authors fascination with his little galaxy than he is of telling a good story.
Once I figured out the main story was taking place inside a large structure I couldn't escape the feeling they were all in a giant warehouse instead of a real world. I also couldn't escape the ridiculousness of this primitive people living in a box with advanced aliens watching them and the whole time they know highly advance beings are a few feet away watching them and they can even go live with the advanced species if they wanted but their whole experience is still real and necessary. It all felt like a silly unecessary game after that.
The descriptions are terrible. At one point we are introduced to an alien that is shaped like a Bush but can contort itself to twenty feet and mimic a face to make humans comfortable. I never could figure out what this thing was supposed to look like. This was true of most the species and the entire world. I could not visualize it as real. It was as though the author wasn't really sure himself what things look like.
I am a huge fan of Fantasy and SciFi and I know what a good story looks like. This didn't cut it for me. I wanted to like it but started to get frustrated and finally disgusted at how little I cared about the world, the people, the plot, any of it.

4-0 out of 5 stars Pretty Dope Stuff here...
This was the first Iain Banks book I ever read. Although I got the Kindle version, I only stumbled upon the book because the actual hardcopy Cover illustration caught my eye near some kiosk in some city. Nonetheless I enjoyed the book as it is both entertaining conceptually and dialogue, without erring on the side of 'seriousness or proselytizing'. In fact, the book does not take itself seriously and therein lies the enjoyment in it. I read it straight for a few days and even recommended it to a few people who deliver harsh critiques of sci-fi.

If you have several choice pieces to read, yet you choose to finish a certain book before moving on, that must mean the book is at least decent, this is one of them.

If you like massive world epics with a fair amount of characters, and outcomes and events that are not necessarily run of the mill, you might find it here. ... Read more

3. Feersum Endjinn
by Iain M Banks
Paperback: 324 Pages (1995-06-01)
list price: US$16.00 -- used & new: US$9.52
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0553374591
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
Count Alandre Sessine VII has already died seven times. He has only one life left - one last chance to catch his killer. His only clues point to a conspiracy beyond his own murder. For a catastrophe is fast approaching the earth from which there is no escape - until a loophole through apocalypse is discovered. And a chosen few will do anything to keep it a secret. Someone has betrayed Sessine, killed him before he could uncover the truth. Now he has three days before his funeral to live the way men used to live: restricted to one life where one mistake could be his last. Suddenly he finds himself an outlaw, a fugitive, a desperado. And his only hope of survival is finding others like himself. Others who hold a piece of the puzzle to an enigmatic weapon of salvation and chaos...Amazon.com Review
In a future where the ancients have long since departed Earthfor the stars, those left behind live complacent lives filled withtechnological marvels they no longer understand.Then a cosmic threatknown as the Encroachment begins a devastating ice age on Earth, andit sets in motion a series of events that will bring together a castof original characters who must struggle through war, politicalintrigues and age-old mysteries to save the world.(B 4worned, 1 ophBanx' carrokters theenx en funetic inglish, which makes for some toughreading but also some innovative prose.) ... Read more

Customer Reviews (47)

5-0 out of 5 stars IanM. BanksAI animal Level
When I chose this book I had wanted to read something different from his works and this was far from the thoughts of his other earlier works. This time it ended up being comical in a sense as his constant association to artificial intelligence was on a different spectrum. When I finely understood the language he was using laughing on the floor became easier. Ian has presented another of his many tales with a flavor of animalisumif there is a word that is far from any other authors whim.The man is off on his own with this one. Do not be fooled as it is not a "CULTURE" novel but something extraordinarily uniquein every wayto enjoy, bottom line is once you see the comedy of it it is easy to follow . His many twists and turns make the tall tale finda solid baseline with a very fine black comedy underlying till the very end . This is very different ,but I just keep reading his works because each one has a "FEERSUMENDJINN " Thanks once more Mr. Banksas I move on to the next one .

2-0 out of 5 stars a chore with little payoff
I had seen this book spoken of with awe and reverence, and had just enjoyed "Matter", one of his Culture novels, which, though sometimes the language was like fighting your way through wet curtains, so stiff and thick, was still full of thrilling ideas, and it even had an actual ending, something that I find much too rare in speculative fiction. So, sure, let's take it home. I waded in, and from the beginning really had little idea what i was reading, just a bunch of impressionistic sketches of this or that situation or character...okay, patiently awaiting context, something...but i trusted him, and continued. Looked up and noticed I was on page 100 at some point, and realized, you know, I still have no idea what we're into here, but...soldier on.

And like others have mentioned, every time I came to the phonetic parts (why? he has a developed vocabulary, so why do we have to eat stones?), I counted the pages of it, and just skimmed to get past it.

I like mysteries and smartie stuff just fine, but most of the big gee-whizzes here happen offscreen. what was the Diaspora? what's the Encroachment? and even who are any of the major players really, what are they actually like? And, wait, how did we get to this scene? Oh, so the ant was in on it...wait, why? who, what?

And, spoiler, the ending is one of those dismissive one or two liners, like "and then the genie waved his wand and the storm went away". I slogged through a couple hundred yards of wet sludge to get to...this? My immediate thought was i couldn't wait to get to Amazon and slag it. I bought it at a used bookstore, that gives half credit if you exchange it, and I'm thinking, hmmm, do I really need the two bucks bad enough to live with the knowledge I let at least one other person be subjected to this no-payoff trudge? I might just tear it in half and toss it in the recycling.

3-0 out of 5 stars Don't expect more of Culture here... Banks is experimenting!
With Feersum Endjinn, I was expecting another installment of the Culture.This was not the case, although there was "the hint of Culture."

Feersum Endjinnis about life on "Earth", long after most of humanity has left for the stars.The memory of many technological advances is gone.Space travel is gone.Various "kingdoms" have been established in different levels of Serehfa, a monstrous building that reaches to the skies.

But now a dust cloud has approached the solar system (the Encroachment), reducing sunlight to Earth, and it threatens the survival of this civilization.

Are there secrets left behind that would enable some to escape from Earth?Could these secrets stop the Encroachment?

Iain M. Banks develops a number of unique characters in this tale, but none is more unique than Bascule, who writes phonetically:

"Mr. Zoliparia lukes @ me diffrint than he has in thi past. Ive always liked him & Ive always luked up 2 him evir sins he woz 1 ov thi peepil they sent me 2 when they reekized I tolkd farely normil but I thot a bit funy, + I tend 2 do whot he sez - it woz him sed Perhaps u wood make a good tellir, & him whot sujjestid I keep a jurnil, witch this is whot u r readin - but this time I doan mutch care whot he finks, or @ least I do but I doan mutch care how bad it makes me feel goan agenst his advice bcoz I juss no I 1/2 2 do this" (p. 50, Orbit United Kingdom edition, 1995).

Perhaps a quarter of the book is written this way.Bascule is a significant character, and you really need to read (and interpret) his writing.But it got old, very quickly, to struggle though those pages.

Otherwise, Banks continues his expansive and descriptive writing style:

"Serehfa was a frozen turbulence of architecture beyond the merely monumental: revetments rose like cliffs topped by broad, wooded scarps, stout bastions stood like jutting bluffs, serrated ridges of parapet lay stretched hazily like squared-off mountain ranges themselves, cloud-lined walls ascended sheer or stood pierced by the vast caves of dark windows, whole forested slopes of steep-pitched roofs lay serried green beneath the warmth of the high summer sun, and soaring arches of gables and buttresses climbed to higher and higher levels piled one on top of another, all swathed in whorling patterns of colour and climbing stacked, packed, placed and lifted to where the sparkling whiteness of snow and ice sat in a broad band of collected light thrown dazzlingly against the shining sky" (p. 145).

Okay, Banks takes liberty sometimes with his descriptions!But I have come to expect vivid writing, both in his fiction and sci-fi work.

Feersum Endjinn was less of the galactic, swashbuckling tale I wanted from an Iain M. Banks novel.But I certainly will keep reading them!

2-0 out of 5 stars A misfire from Banks
The ideas, characters, cultures and Worlds in Iain M. Bank's mind are absolutely fascinating and I consider his work to be some of the best available today."The Algebraist" was an epic journey into foreign cultures and the characters held your attention throughout the entire book.It was my favorite book of 2007.

Feersum Endjinn is a departure from what made "The Algebraist" a successful and enjoyable book.I will start with the core issue, which is the lack of character development and useful narrative.You are introduced to the major characters at a running start with the plot unfolding on the very first page.This pace continues, jumping across worlds and time scales to touch on each of the characters.I enjoyed this storytelling technique when it was used in the Hyperion series and A Song of Ice and Fire, but the characters in Feersum Enjinn are never fully introduced and eventually lost behind silly gimmicks like Bascule's quasi-phonetic account of the story.Whi didd Iain 1/2 to do thss, I wheel nevar no.Maybe it was a great deal of fun to write and he just had to run with it, but I can tell you that it is tiresome to interpret and does not contribute to the development of the character in any way.I didn't have any problems understanding his message, but each time Bascule's chapter began I had to say "this AGAIN?"Many reviews have congratulated Banks on this feat as if it is a stroke of genius for character development.It is a cheap trick that detracts from the already vague storyline.

The story is told in parts by the major characters.The book carries on about each of these character's and the encroachment-related problems they are forced to face for the majority of the book and finally fizzles out without much more than a few linking sentences of "See, there is some cohesion to the story after all" - but it was an anti-climax compared to the teasing and purposely vague 300-page buildup.I wish that I cared how the characters fared or that the world was on the verge of collapse, but Iain didn't provide much enthusiasm to drive the story, and that came through painfully in this book.Save your time and re-read "The Algebraist"

2-0 out of 5 stars Boring, Annoying, Tiresome
In my opinion, the book can be described with three attributes:

Boring, Annoying, Tiresome.

Boring: The story itself is ok (because of that: 2 stars), but the way it is told is less than fascinating. For exampleI believe one of the main characters in the book (an elderly scientistcalled "Gadfium") could be completely left out and you wouldn't evennotice. The book has lots of passages describing the (somtimes virtual) environment in psychedelic phrases, but there is no real interestingcontent in these descriptions. They just drag on and on.

Northern lights in virtual reality... this IS boring.

Annoying, Wearisome: Another of the main characters"Bascule the rascule" (oh my god), has a little problem. To express it with his words: "... unlike evrybody els I got this weerd wirin in mi brane so I cant spel rite, juss 1/2 2 do evrythin foneticly." This is one of the easier examples of his "style". Other readers commented here that his blabber was similar to a scottish accent. If this is true, the question arises why anyone would speak a scottish accent in an extremely distant future in which national attributes do not matter at all. Other readers also commented that these chapters (around a fifth of the book) are almost indecipherable. While I could read these passages fairly easy, they are extremely tiresome; especially since 90% of the blabber do not contain anything interesting.

When I think about it: The "Bascule" character stronlgy reminds me of
"Jar Jar Binks" from the Star Wars film The Phantom Menace.

Some people claim that the book is full of creative (new) ideas. I cannot agree: Virtual Reality is not new at all (William Gibson...) and its description in this book is rather lacking. Mega Cities (spawning the whole earth) are also not new at all.

Using virtual reality as a way to write psychedelic episodes is completely uncreative.

Summary: It sure was no fun to read this book.
... Read more

4. Transition
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 432 Pages (2010-09-15)
list price: US$14.99 -- used & new: US$8.20
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316071994
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
There is a world that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, between the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, frozen in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse.Such a world requires a firm hand and a guiding light. But does it need the Concern: an all-powerful organization with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers?

Among those operatives are Temudjin Oh, of mysterious Mongolian origins, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice under snow; Adrian Cubbish, a restlessly greedy City trader; and a nameless, faceless state-sponsored torturer known only as the Philosopher, who moves between time zones with sinister ease.Then there are those who question the Concern: the bandit queen Mrs. Mulverhill, roaming the worlds recruiting rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, under sedation and feigning madness in a forgotten hospital ward, in hiding from a dirty past.

There is a world that needs help; but whether it needs the Concern is a different matter. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (49)

5-0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Book, but not an Easy Read
Transition is a book about "world walkers": those who can pass between parallel worlds created by different branches in events (large and small).This has been done by a number of authors: The Chronicles of Amber by Zelazny, the Merchant Princes books by Charles Stross and Brasyl by Ian McDonald.Each of these books (or collections) has their own charms, but I think that Transition is one of the best.

The story of transition jumps between characters and times.I found each section to be fascinating, moving the plot forward.Transition has some fascinating ideas: the corruption of power, the meaning of reality, torture and the ramifications of religious zealotry.In reading the disjointed plot of Transition I did find myself going back to previous sections to remind myself how exactly the plot had unfolded to reach that point.There's a sub-plot with solar eclipses and I still don't recall when this was first mentioned, even after going back and looking.

Transition has a minor subplot that concerns the moral and legal problems of torture and a "ticking bomb" plot.Banks explores these ideas well.

Another subplot involves religious terrorists.Banks has simply switched Islam and Christianity to make a point.To the readers who object to this point and complain that Christian terrorists are not "true Christians", I will note that many followers of Islam would not classify Islamic terrorists as "true Muslims".Both Islam and Christianity have had periods of enlightenment and violence.The Knights Templar were accomplished killers in the name of Christ during the Crusades.On the Protestant side there were, more recently, "Orange" terrorists in Northern Ireland (yes, yes, I know, in response to the Catholic terrorists, but this only amplifies the point about Christian terrorism).

Along with all these ideas there is love and sex: weaving through the threads of plot is a love affair between the central character and "Mrs. M"

In summary, Transition is a book of ideas with a fascinating plot.The book is not an easy read, but is very enjoyable.

3-0 out of 5 stars Infinite universes as reflections of our own world

Transition is a frustrating book.
This is my second attempt at reading Iain Banks. My first attempt at reading him, Inversions, was less than satisfactory. I have never read any of the Culture novels, despite having friends who have raved endlessly about them.
Being a fan of Moorcock, and Zelazny, and well immersed in the idea of multiple universes and alternate histories, I thought I would try and give Transition a try, and see if I could unlock Iain Banks to my imagination at last.

The attempt was, at best, partially successful.

Told by unreliable narrators, primarily a psychiatric patient, Transition tells the story of several individuals, the identities of more than a couple are possibly the same person at different points in their personal timeline. Or are they?The problem with unreliable narrators is that its difficult to take anything said at face value or even at first reflection.

Reflections. Transition is the story of these individuals who work with, or for the Concern. The Concern is an organization that has developed a drug that allows certain sensitive individuals the ability to jump between alternate histories, between worldlines. The Concern sends out agents between these timelines for its own inscrutable purposes.

Its an old trope in science fiction--I was cutting my teeth on The Coming of the Quantum Cats by Frederik Pohl 25 years ago. There, it was technology, and not drugs that allowed it. Or, say, the sadly forgotten Mainline by Deborah Christian, where the primary character is the only one who has the ability to jump between histories, but the jumps are "small". And then there is Zelazny, and Moorcock, and H Beam Piper's universe...Banks is not precisely breaking new ground here.

So what does Banks bring to the old idea? Well, the Concern appears to be undergoing radical change within its ranks, and its time of action is, in our world, is between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers. Politics, and philosophy mix into the basic plot, making this book a very political tract. I am not sure that Banks intended the book to be leveled at specific targets, but the scaffold of a series of alternate worlds allows him to do so. For example, one of the main worlds that the members of the Concern pass through and inhabit is a Muslim dominated world where the primary threat is from CT's--Christian terrorist suicide bombers. In a world that may be our own, Adrian Cubbish, one of our narrators, is a hypercapitalist who worships the free hand of the market with a fervor that would shock the most jaded trader in London or New York. I am not sure the tribulations of Patient 8262, including attempts at molestation, are meant to evoke Abu Ghraib, but these sections were disturbing, even if we aren't sure through much of the book just how he connects with much of the events of the book. It's that unreliable narrator problem, again.

Its extremely off-putting, as much off-putting as, say, L Neil Smith's heavy handed attempts at libertarian politics in his novels. I am not saying that such politics has no place in a book, but when the politics is so integral to the novel, to the point of hurting plot and character, then I cry foul.

Even with the heavy handed political layering, there are some interesting concepts that Banks invents, or uses. For example, like in Zelazny's Amber series, amongst the sheaf of infinite Earths, there is one that is very different than the others, and unique: Calbefraques. And like the Amber series, the Concern is based on this central, singular world, and works in our more traditional world. I liked Calbefraques perhaps precisely because it was so very different than the Earths that appear to be funhouse mirrors of our own world.

Another positive is some of the other abilities that we see the Concern use. There is more to their suite of employees than simple world-jumping, and one of the books Narrators, through contact with a rebel(?) member of the Concern, learns some interesting tricks indeed. I liked how Banks described a climatic cat-and-mouse use of opposing powers in a version of Venice. After some slow going, I felt the novel really come to life in this sequence.

I did find it amusing, too, that I was listening to Palimpsest at the same time I was reading this book. Like that book, it emerges that certain talented individuals in the Concern can travel between the worlds, taking their partner along, too, by the act of sex.

So, as I have said, Transition is a frustrating book.

Can the politics and other layers things be seen through? Does the good parts of the novel outweigh the more freighted ones. Yes. But its not as easy as I would have liked--and perhaps that is precisely Banks' intention and his point.

3-0 out of 5 stars Gratuitous; don't do the Kindle version
Two comments:
1) I felt there were various "gratuitous" items: gratuitous use of sex, and gratuitous violence.I felt like I was reading a Sci-Fi book that some nerd that never gets sex would read in order to get their sex fantasy's gratified. I also felt the notion of death and violence was SO matter-of-fact that it didn't have the impact it should.
2) Don't buy the Kindle version. This is a book where it's helpful to look backward and forward to make sure you know who is who over the course of the various jumps from character to character.It's too hard to jump around a book in a Kindle, so this isn't a book to read with a Kindle.

1-0 out of 5 stars Full of radical hate
I bought this book even though lately I've been insulted by his increasing penchant for imbedding his extreme liberal views in his books, in an increasingly nasty and insulting manner. He follows the typical radical methods of choosing outre aspects of an issue and twisting them to his beliefs. He obviously knows little about true Christianity which he bashes repeatedly in this book. Too bad for him he is a pawn himself. He introduces an oxymoronic concept of evil Christian terrorists. After a newly converted Christian 'suicide bomber' blows himself and other people up in an airport, Banks's character rails for great length against evil Christianity, although why they would be bombers is never explained. I guess we are to assume to publicize their cause. Banks writes in his conceit on page 231 "despite the subject's attempt to convert me to his bizarre, perverted and cruel religion with its emphasis on martyrdom, cannibalism and the alleged ability of their holy men to forgive all sins no matter how horrendous or barbaric, I did not reconvert to become a Christian!" He uses the term evil Christian terrorists throughout the book. He is irrational in his hate and complete ignorance of Christianity. He also suggests again, as he has in earlier books, that the US is responsible for 9/11. He likely also still thinks Bush is responsible for allthe US's current ills, and thinks Obamas doing a good job. Like many ultra liberals, he's getting more hateful and irrational about it. He's on the wrong side of an escalating spiritual battle and is too deluded to ever be able to see it.

5-0 out of 5 stars Impressive
I have read most of Iain M. Banks', and Iain Banks' books, and have come to expect to be impressed.This one is no exception. ... Read more

5. Use of Weapons
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 512 Pages (2008-07-28)
list price: US$14.99 -- used & new: US$7.50
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316030570
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks and military action.

The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought.

The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people.It had once saved the woman's life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner.It believed the man to be a lost cause.But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past.

Ferociously intelligent, both witty and horrific, USE OF WEAPONS is a masterpiece of science fiction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (88)

4-0 out of 5 stars Deep and thought-provoking
Honestly, I loved this book but it was only the second book I've read by Iain M. Banks. The first was The Algebraist which I loved *so* very much that I'm not sure that this book can measure up. However, it has most certainly encouraged me to read more of the Culture series (though I've yet to determine the proper order) and I look forward to enjoying more of his work. A great and engaging read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable and Unforgettable
Enough has been said about this book, but briefly: All books, not just sci-fi novels, should aspire to the level of scale, intelligence, and introspection that Banks displays in Use of Weapons. The story stayed with me for a long time after I finished it. It is truly wonderful.

1-0 out of 5 stars As the Galaxy Turns
USE OF WEAPONS (1990 - reprinted 2008) is a "Space Opera" far-future SciFi novel, that is part of the Bank's "Culture" series.

I found the book to be exceedingly dull... it reminded me of watching TV Soap Operas - which I simply don't have any use for either.I couldn't care less about the characters, nor the story.

The story and style of writing reminds me of Asimov's "Foundation Trilogy" series from the 1950's, but updated to be more "sexually racy" for the 1990's audience.Asimov was breaking new ground in the 50's... but this novel adds nothing new, technology-wise.

3-0 out of 5 stars extremely dark fiction.
this has to be the most unrelentingly GRIM novel i have ever read. its an entertaining read, dont get me wrong, but man is it bleak. no ray of sunshine anywhere in this book, no character to like, no situation with a positive outcome, just pages and pages of endless downers.

also, i wont spoil anything here, but you can see the ending coming from hundreds of pages away. many of the reviews here have praised the ending because it was such a shock or revelation... all i can say is, you must not read much. or watch many movies. or consume much fiction in any format. the ending was not only not a surprise, but it wasnt even particularly satisfying. i suppose if i really HADNT known what was going to happen by a quarter way into the book it would make re-evaluating the book in light of the "revelation" somewhat satisfying... but come on. theres one and only one reason for using the kind of narrative structure employed in this book, and thats to set up this kind of ending. this was an especially unsubtle ham-handed implementation to boot. how anyone was surprised by the ending boggles the mind.

even so, i still give the book three stars. its a well written engaging book, worth reading... just hopelessly grim and not half as clever as it aspires to be.

5-0 out of 5 stars An accomplishment
Not quite a space soap opera, but I found this installment of Iain M. Banks' sci-fi novels to be the most 'melodramatic' one that I've read. It doesn't take anything away from the quality of the story and the fascinating immersive parallel universe, but I feel this book could have done without the sci-fi element and still be a haunting and perplexing novel. The gadgetry and exoticism will still make fans of the genre giggle like little girls, and considering that, it makes it an even greater accomplishment. Beautiful, violent. ... Read more

6. Against a Dark Background
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 640 Pages (2009-07-01)
list price: US$12.99 -- used & new: US$7.71
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316036374
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Sharrow was once the leader of a personality-attuned combat team in one of the sporadic little commercial wars in the civilization based around the planet Golter.Now she is hunted by the Huhsz, a religious cult which believes that she is the last obstacle before the faith's apotheosis, and her only hope of escape is to find the last of the apocalyptically powerful Lazy Guns before the Huhsz find her.

Her journey through the exotic Golterian system is a destructive and savage odyssey into her past, and that of her family and of the system itself. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (43)

3-0 out of 5 stars Against a Dark Background
Lady Sharrow is a former antiquities thief and pilot that is being pursued by a religious sect called the Huhsz that believe that only with the death of Sharrow will their messiah be born. Sharrow decides to go on a journey to seek the eighth and final Lazy Gun which she believes will help her survive the Huhsz pursuit and end their vendetta against her. Sharrow was part of a team that disassembled the seventh Lazy Gun which caused a nuclear explosion of apocalyptic proportions and killed many residents of the city she was in. Now infamous for the event, Sharrow seems to only be loved by her small band of friends that pursues the Lazy Gun with her.

I wanted to like this book. The cover and binding were beautiful. I got sucked into the "judging a book by its cover" yet again with different results this time. While I didn't hate Against a Dark Background, the book fell short of its expectations for me. It's entirely possible that I shouldn't have chosen this book as my first Iain M. Banks read because his Culture series is his most famous and respected to date. I will be honest and say that the cover of this book popped out at me at the bookstore and this is why I chose it. I may also be unfairly judging the book because I remember trying to choose to read this book or Dan Simmons' Hyperion when it was my turn to select a book for my real life book club. I chose Hyperion, and it was fantastic which may have led to me having unrealistic expectations for this novel.

Let me say that I knew nothing about Banks' writing other than he is a respected science fiction author. This book was chosen for the July Book of the Month in my Fantasy/Science Fiction Book of the Month group on Shelfari. Without the discussion in the group I would likely have chosen to not review this book at all. It took me five weeks to read and when I finished I realized that large chunks of the plot had already disappeared from my memory.

There were things that were enjoyable in the book. Once I realized that the book had very British humor in it, I started to enjoy it much more. There was some wonderful banter between the characters which had me chuckling more than a few times--the dialogue was quite witty! Some of the situations were hysterical as well and were reminiscent of Firefly and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Most science fiction fans will look at my last sentence and say, "How was this book not fantastic when you mention that awesome TV show and book in the same sentence?!" For me, I wasn't able to connect with any of the characters except for the android Feril who I loved. There was an aloofness about most of the characters, and they all seemed to driven in very unemotional ways. I will say that their behavior lent to VERY good discussion in my Shelfari group. The two other people who were familiar with Banks' work said that he often writes characters like this. Their motivations don't necessarily give the reader any emotional connection to them or even emotional connections with each other. The theme is focused on individuality rather than collectively as a group. While talking about this with the other members of the group, I actually began to find the book more interesting and thought much more about it after learning this. It even fit in with the title of the book (which I will not spoil for you, but there is a subtle meaning in it which I missed but someone else in the group picked up on).

Did the discussion make it better for me? Absolutely. I thought the discussion was really meaningful so I definitely recommend this book for a book club. However, I wouldn't call it an enjoyable read. I think it challenges the reader in ways most books do not and will not. I think overall that is a good thing--we as readers sometimes need to challenge our thought process and philosophies while reading.

I would say that if given the chance to start over though, I would probably choose to read the Culture books first. I will give the first in that series, Consider Phlebas a try and see if I enjoy it more. If not, maybe Mr. Banks' work isn't for me. I do think there is an audience for his books though. His writing is fantastic and thoughtful, but I think for my personal tastes I have to be able to connect with the characters in a meaningful way. It doesn't matter whether I love them or hate them, I just have to care about them enough to have an emotional response which didn't really happen while I was reading this book. **Note: This is actually part of why I think the book is worthwhile to read. I think it was meant to evoke a lack of emotional response to the characters which is VERY challenging!

4-0 out of 5 stars The Kindle edition's formatting
There are plenty of reviews covering the story and storytelling. What I'd like to address is the Kindle edition's formatting.

It has two glaring issues; one slightly annoying, the other quite annoying.

1) Hyphens abound. It's as if words that were hyphened to be split between lines in the paper edition has retained their hyphens in the Kindle edition. This means you get hyphens in the middle of the page, in words that otherwise should not have one. Not a big deal, but it does distract.

2) No blank line between paragraphs. This can be quite confusing, as you sometimes end up reading several seemingly completely out of context sentences, before realizing you're actually reading a flashback now. Without the blank line to alert you to the context shift, it can be hard to catch. You can go from a love-making scene to a war zone, wondering what kind of kink just entered their bedroom when the text switches from sweaty bodies to the smell of blood and burning.

In areas of the book where there's a lot of jumping back and forth, sometimes several times in just a page or two, it becomes a bit of a chore to read.

4-0 out of 5 stars Doomed and delighted simultaneously!
I am in the process of rereading all of Banks' scifi books, in the order in which they were published. AADB stands out among them as a story that feels reorganized somehow, as if the author wrote this once and then changed the order of the chapters or added inserts (there are quite a few flashbacks that take some getting used to). This book does not flow as smoothly as his other books do. The focal character has detailed history that needs to be brought into the tale in order for us to understand how things unwind. And, as usual, Banks give you copious detail of surroundings in almost every grand scene and if it is your habit to skip the prose between dialogue and action scenes you will miss many points that reflect upon and contribute to the characters and their attitudes and actions. So yes, as has been said in other reviews, parts of this book are slower reading.
But the book has Banks' signature richness in space-opera story that informs while it entertains. And his characters are very 3-dimensional, we can see them in our minds eye and imagine their clothings and the sound of their voices. And always Banks has a point that he is driving towards, with faster and greater action at the end, so you can't put it down.
This author must consume a goodly amount of Grange and Single-Malt to come up with all the fantastic ideas about future technology and culture that he does. And his sense of humor is very abundant in this his darkest SF outing.

5-0 out of 5 stars Against a Dark Background
Originally published in 1993, //Against A Dark Background// by Iain M. Banks was extremely difficult to find in the United States for many years, until becoming available in this new edition.Unlike most of Banks' science fiction books, it stands alone and is not part of his "Culture" series.||The book is set on the isolated world of Golter in the far future.The main character, a minor aristocrat and former soldier named Sharrow, finds herself hunted by a religious sect that wants her dead and must reunite with her old military comrades to hunt down the only thing that can save her from them- the Lazy Gun, an ancient product of lost technology and a weapon of horrifying power.

//Against a Dark Background// is an excellent book for any science fiction fan.The plot is interesting, gradually revealing more about both Sharrow and her world.Golter and its environs provides a strange and fascinating setting, and the book has a very powerful atmosphere of darkness and foreboding.It's great to see this book available in America once again.

Reviewed by John Markley

4-0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best From One Of The Best
Despite the questionable ending, this is one of the best novels from one of sci-fi's best novelists. ... Read more

7. Consider Phlebas
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 544 Pages (2008-03-26)
list price: US$14.99 -- used & new: US$7.95
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 031600538X
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
"Dazzlingly original." -- Daily Mail
"Gripping, touching and funny." -- TLS

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (132)

5-0 out of 5 stars Great book
It's quite a good read, now if only I had more time to read it.

4-0 out of 5 stars A good (but not great) action story
Pluses:A well-imagined universe that, for once, doesn't mention or depend upon Earth.An interstellar conflict between (principally) two races that is being fought for a reason -- or a series of reasons -- other than the need to have a war to advance the plot.Action scenes that generate real excitement.Comic relief that works.Avoidance of a happy ending that the writer inserted just to please readers who like happy endings (well represented among the one-star reviewers at this site).

Minuses:While the central character has some facets of a complex personality, his two love interests and all the other characters in general are one-dimensional.A couple of scenes (one that takes place on what amounts to a desert island) seem out of place, as if they were added to fill space, and do little to advance the plot.After the central character finally arrives at his destination, the pace begins to drag a bit, although it picks up again toward the end.

3-0 out of 5 stars Well, I Finished It
This is a book about a motley collection of individuals pursuing their various interests against the backdrop of a vast galaxy-wide war. The protagonist is a traitor to his species for idealogical reasons which aren't very compelling when he spells them out. The two sides in the war are driven by one side's desire to maintain a decadent, hedonistic lifestyle and the other side's religious fanaticism. I guess that's supposed to speak to "what's happening now," but I found the author's charcterization of both sides as pretty simplistic.

The protagonist makes some pretty ill-considered decisions such as taking two dangerous adversaries, along on his trek, when we already know he has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way. One of them he spares so that he can report him to his superiors once this is all over (really???) and the other because they seem to have some respect for each other as worthy adversaries, or some such nonsense. And enemies who seem to be dead come back to life long enough to attack the protagonist one last time.

I found it difficult to finish the book, and only managed to because I found myself with nothing else to do at the time. Still it took me quite a while. the author introduces some interesting ideas, but doesn't flesh them out much, perhaps in an effort to get you read more of the series. I'm not saying the book is bad, just that it didn't really engage me. Obvously, other reviewers liked it a lot, so it's probably just a matter of personal taste.

5-0 out of 5 stars Great Storytelling
Right now, this is my favorite SF book.Great story in a novel setting.I have read a few of Bank's Culture novels since reading Consider Phlebas, but this is still my favorite.

Not a Space Opera, or Epic, but a great story and characters, which sometimes are lost in SF books.Great Byronic hero.

One of the chapters actually made me sick to my stomach.

3-0 out of 5 stars Could Have Been Better
Consider Phlebas is a tough one to review. On one hand I love Banks' voice, his big ideas and up until the end this book moves at a good clip. On the other hand I found the plotting to be random and a bit contrived. I'll weigh the pros and cons in a second -

There is a war of galactic scale going on between the mega-utopian Culture and the super-religious Idiran. A sentient mechanical device called a Mind has taken refuge on a planet called Schar's World after an Idiran/Culture conflict. Horza, a mercenary who can change his physical appearance (a Changer) is employed by the Idiran to retrieve the Mind before the Culture snag it back for themselves. This isn't so easy, soon Horza finds himself unlucky as he goes from one screwed up situation to the next.

There's a lot to like here. The scope of the war is massive, I found Horza to be mostly likeable (though not quite as developed as he could have been). Iain does a great job painting the scenes. I love some of the ideas he implemented, even if some of them aren't his own.

On the flip-side I have substantial gripes. First, this novel is little more than a few massive digressions surrounded by the thin underlying plot. The crazy adventures Horza finds himself on have almost nothing to do with the underlying story. The version of this book I have is 468 pages long and I bet only 130 pages are dedicated to the underlying plot. Unfortunately it turns out that the few pages that are dedicated to the plot just aren't all that good.

I found the ending to be quite lacking. I'm not going to spoil it here, but Banks attempts to pull off an emotional ending and really it just falls flat. Banks will use contrived plot devices to attempt a whiz-bang ending (a convenient pregnancy to try and pull at emotions later on, for instance) but really it just doesn't work here, there's just not enough going as far as character development, or emotional investment to pull an ending like this off and make it memorable. Unfortunately when we finally get to the real meat at the end of this novel is when the book slogs a bit. In the end the book spins off into multiple threads showing the POV of the conflict from all angles, which is great, *but* he spends too much time trying to create tension. Unfortunately the 130 (or so) pages could have been whittled down to 50 or less without much loss.

So, Consider Phlebas isn't exactly a dud. The trademark Banks prose is there, the big ideas are there, we get a good dose of Culture history and such, but in the end (literally) it falls a bit flat. Check it out if you already love Banks, if you have never read a Culture book then start with Player of Games and come back to this one later on. ... Read more

8. The State Of The Art
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 188 Pages (2007-04-11)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.48
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1597800740
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to morality tale. All bear the indefinable stamp of Iain Banks' staggering talent. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (21)

5-0 out of 5 stars A Great Collection.
It's a great collection.Maybe some of the stories are alittle artsy and hard to access, and the novella State of the Art is less a plot driven edge of your seat adventure, and more the musings and meditations on humanity, interventionism, determinism, and aliens (and it's pretty predictable, really).But, even still, I do love it, and plan on rereading it again and again.

4-0 out of 5 stars Good, but a little scattered.
I guess that's to be expected in a group of short stories written over many years as Banks fleshed out his Culture.Some interesting short stories, but you can also see how his writing got more sophisticated as time went on.A good read if you want to get some more Culture--Banks' essay at the end is especially intriguing as it gives insight into Banks understanding of his creation-- but not as page-turning as his true Culture novels.

4-0 out of 5 stars Good collection of short stories
This is a short story collection and might be an interesting gateway for those accustomed to Iain M. Bank's Culture novels but interested in moving beyond them to the author's other stories.

Most of the Culture stories are intentionally somewhat timeless, with no reference to the 'real world' but one featured work is set in the 1970s on Earth and is an interesting link to the Culture from the real world. The story sets the other works in time, and sets the wide-reaching stories of the utopian Culture apart from the earlier science-fiction works of Asimov, Heinlein, and others.

A few stories are a bit opaque and difficult to get into, but most are very good.

4-0 out of 5 stars Entertaining collection of stories, but be sure of the edition you have...
There are at least two editions of this book around (I've got two in front of me as I write this), and there is a significant difference in addition to the cover art.The two editions I have are The State Of The Art (Night Shade Books) and The State of the Art (Orbit UK edition).The reviews posted on Amazon are the same for both editions, causing some confusion.

The Orbit edition has the following eight short stories:

- Road of Skulls
- A Gift from the Culture
- Odd Attachment
- Descendant
- Cleaning Up
- Piece
- The State of the Art
- Scratch

The Night Shade edition has these same stories plus an extra 21 pages of a "non-fiction" chapter titled "A Few Notes on the Culture."These notes are written in the form of a letter from author Iain M Banks to the reader, ending with "Anyway, that's more than enough of me pontificating.With best wishes for the future, Iain M Banks (Sun-Earther Iain El-Bonko Banks of North Queensferry)."

If you are a Culture fan, you'll want the Night Shade Books edition.

If you just want to read an interesting collection of (mostly) sci-fi stories, you can read either!"Odd Attachment" has a unique spin on the "she loves me, she loves me not" petal-pulling exercise.I also liked "Descendant", about the relationship between a man and an intelligent space suit."The State of the Art" was almost 100 pages, and is about a Culture Contact team visiting Earth in 1977.

This is a book written for fans of both Iain M Banks and the Culture!

4-0 out of 5 stars A strong collection.
The State of the Art is Iain M. Banks first, and to date only, short story collection. It was originally published in 1991 and features both genre and mainstream fiction, as well as three stories set in his signature Culture setting.

The collection opens with 'Road of Skulls', a sort of jaunty little SF-fantasy tale with a Douglas Adams-esque comic conclusion. It's fun but very slight and very short. 'A Gift from the Culture', about a Culture citizen living undercover on a recently-Contacted world, is better but a bit odd. It's not a story by itself but feels like the opening chapter to a longer novel which ends in a rather pointless and abrupt manner. Interesting, and perhaps meant to convince us that Culture citizens aren't flawless, but still not the best story I've read.

'Odd Attachment' is dark and very funny, bringing a certain Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene to mind. This film is possibly a Banks touchstone, as he both appeared in the movie (he's one of the extras in the final scene) and referenced the rabbit scene in The Wasp Factory as well. 'Descendant', the second Culture story, is a story of survival and the bond between a man and his sentient spacesuit. A macabre and most effective story.

'Cleaning Up' is brilliant, a very funny SF novel about what happens to Earth when an alien spaceship accidentally dumps a load of rejected consumer products on the planet. From the evidence presented here (not to mention the humorous streaks in his other books), Banks could do a great SF comedy, and I'm surprised he's never tried to do it at novel length. 'Piece' is more sobering, a mainstream story reflecting on terrorism and the arguments of science versus faith and God versus evolution. A very thoughtful and prescient story with a gut-punch twist ending. 'Scratch' is very weird, a stream-of-consciousness oddity which is barely readable. Not really sure what Banks was aiming for there.

Fully half the book is taken up by the title novella. The premise of this story is very simple. The Culture's General Contact Unit Arbitrary arrives in orbit around the third planet of a remote, yellow star in the closing months of the year 1976 by the local calendar and spends the next fourteen months or so surveying the world to see if it is ready for official Contact. Much of the book is taken up by the attempts of the central character Diziet Sma to convince the Arbitrary's Mind - and thus the wider Culture - that Earth should be Contacted to prevent its inevitable slide into nuclear armageddon, whilst the Culture is more inclined to leave the planet as it is as a 'control experiment' to show the dangers faced by a nascent spacefaring civilisation. There isn't a huge amount of drama or personal jeopardy in the story, but the intellectual arguments between the two and the other characters' reactions to the situation are all handled intelligently and in a fascinating manner. The story also acts as an effective prequel to the third proper Culture novel, Use of Weapons.

The State of the Art (****) shows a broad range of Banks' writing skills and is well worth tracking down. The book is available from Orbit in the UK and Night Shade in the USA. ... Read more

9. Look to Windward
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 384 Pages (2010-07-26)
list price: US$23.99 -- used & new: US$17.27
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 145162168X
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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Product Description
The Twin Novae battle had been one of the last of the Idiran war, and one of the most horrific: desperate to avert their inevitable defeat, the Idirans had induced not one but two suns to explode, snuffing out worlds and biospheres teeming with sentient life. They were attacks of incredible proportion -- gigadeathcrimes. But the war ended, and life went on.

Now, eight hundred years later, light from the first explosion is about to reach the Masaq' Orbital, home to the Culture's most adventurous and decadent souls. There it will fall upon Masaq's 50 billion inhabitants, gathered to commemorate the deaths of the innocent and to reflect, if only for a moment, on what some call the Culture's own complicity in the terrible event.

Also journeying to Masaq' is Major Quilan, an emissary from the war-ravaged world of Chel. In the aftermath of the conflict that split his world apart, most believe he has come to Masaq' to bring home Chel's most brilliant star and self-exiled dissident, the honored Composer Ziller.

Ziller claims he will do anything to avoid a meeting with Major Quilan, who he suspects has come to murder him. But the Major's true assignment will have far greater consequences than the death of a mere political dissident, as part of a conspiracy more ambitious than even he can know -- a mission his superiors have buried so deeply in his mind that even he cannot remember it.

Hailed by SFX magazine as "an excellent hopping-on point if you've never read a Banks SF novel before," Look to Windward is an awe-inspiring immersion into the wildly original, vividly realized civilization that Banks calls the Culture. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (45)

5-0 out of 5 stars THE CULTURE"S VAST HISTORY
Anotherfantastic story of thehow the CULTURE'S continued meddling in other worlds development creates a different outcome of the races history and proof no matter how good a guide it is like anyone else mistakes do happen but at what price for all. After being thrown to the lions share of what the CULTURE is by reading MATTER I realized that Mr. Banks portrays this group as a society of Artificial Intelligent dependentrace with its secret groups with in groups Special Circumstancesfor example then Contact. When you finish one book it creates a hunger for more each one so obscure form the other it never seems to be closed and on the shelf. Once more an author becomes a visionary creating science fiction that is becoming science fact. Look very carefully out side your window as to what countries or country parallels the principles of meddling with change ,technology ,medicine,space,truly recognize that what he is writing about is now. Before long expect a General Service Vehicle to arrivehere soon . Read them all and demand more because his books are an experience of the MIND just like the AI's that eachstory is enhanced with .Funny when you finish reading them once and there is no more you start all over craving the details that slipped by the first read.

5-0 out of 5 stars Banks's best
In Look to Windward, Banks has his masterpiece.It tells a story of revenge, heartbreak, forgiveness, war and loss.A much more subdued novel than others in the Culture series, without the breakneck action scenes of Consider Phlebas or the outright strangeness of Excession, Look to Windward's strength is in Banks's characters, all of whom succeed in stirring deep emotion within the reader.From the apparently serene Mind of Masaq' Hub to the tormented Major Quilan to the haughty but deeply insecure Ziller to the gently sardonic Kabe, all of the protagonists are well done.The book has some pacing issues, as all of Banks's works seem to, and there's an entire subplot that should have been cut altogether--it's cool, but it ultimately affects the main plot not in the least, and doesn't help the already off pacing at all--but the book does such a good job invoking emotion with its beauty and brutality that these can be largely ignored.It's not perfect, but it's definitely his best.

5-0 out of 5 stars A meditative thriller
A novel in which the themes of revenge and the consequences of violence are intimately interwined. One has sympathy for both sides, which makes this a book onw does not simply read and move on from, but one that puts the complexity of the situation directly in front of you, shows you all the players (both their good and bad sides), and doesn't hide that the "bad guys" are not all bad, and that the "good guys" are not all good. The climactic scene is both inevitable and one you wish wouldn't happen. In a way, it's a technothriller, but in another it's a deep meditation. A complex book, and one that will affect you deeply.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Pleasures of Utopia
The trouble with utopias is that perfection gets a bit dull. Unless you're talking about Iain M Banks's "Culture" novels, which get scarily close to perfection without ever losing their charm.

The Culture is Star Trek's Federation stood on its head, anarchic where the Enterprise is hierarchical, post-human instead of stodgily 20th century, interventionist where Kirk's gang (in theory at least) stick to an intergalactic Peace of Westphalia and keep their hands to themselves.

As any American today can tell you, intervening in the affairs of others doesn't always end well. As "Look to Windward" opens, the Culture is wiping egg off its collective face after an attempt to eliminate social inequality in a people called the Chelgrians has instead ignited a bloody caste war. Not coincidentally, the Culture is also marking the 800th anniversary of a battle in their last serious war, which caused the destruction of two suns and a few billion souls.

Death is very much on the mind of Chelgrian emissary Quilan, still mourning the death of his wife in the war the Culture started. He has been dispatched to the Culture world of Masaq', ostensibly to talk a dissident artist into returning with him. However, he has secret orders, so deeply buried in his mind that even he doesn't know what they are.

Masaq' is an Orbital, an artificial world shaped like a gigantic, rotating bracelet in space, millions of kilometers in diameter. As such, it offers its inhabitants nearly limitless space. Technological advances, meanwhile, have banished illness, disease, poverty and starvation.

The plot with Quilan and the dissident composer is only the rim of the story, provided impetus by the hub and the heart, which is looking at how humanity would live in such a utopia. And just as importantly, how we might choose to die.

Mr Banks's Culture novels are never less than full-bore malarial fevers of imagination, and "Look to Windward" does not disappoint. The book's primary pleasure is the chance to sink into Mr Banks's hallucinatory universe and let the ideas and images wash over you: city-sized living zeppelins, sailing cable cars, a fortress perched atop basalt stacks.

How would we live in utopia? Picture your worst extrovert, party-boy stereotype, dialled up to 1,000. His Culture citizens are hedonistic, selfish and hilariously shallow--high points include a diner unsure whether what's on his plate is food or an alien, and a rafter on a lava stream who is unable to distinguish between base and virtual reality. But Mr Banks shows us the flip side, as well, in their guilt for past mistakes and the way they face life's final end.

Readers looking for something as kinetic as Mr Banks's first Culture novel, "Consider Phlebas", will be sorely disappointed. Like the Masaq' Orbital, "Look to Windward" is in no hurry to get you anywhere, but invites you to take a spin and admire the view. A pretty view it is, nicely leavened with both light and shadow, proof that utopias don't have to be boring.

4-0 out of 5 stars Solid book, HORRIBLE KINDLE EDITION
First, let me say I'm a fan of Ian Banks' Culture novels. Look to Windward is solid and enjoyable, if not quite the pinnacle of Culture books. Others are better reviewers than I, so I'll leave it at that.

What I really want to focus on is the inexcusably bad editing of the Kindle edition. Be warned that if you purchase the electronic edition of this book, you'll grit your teeth every time you encounter one of the DOZENS of typos in the text. I don't consider myself a perfectionist. I've encountered the occasional typo or two in printed books and not been upset. But this book quite literally as 10 times as many typos as any other book I've ever read, and I have read many hundreds of books.

Whoever was responsible for the Kindle edition of this book should be ashamed of themselves. ... Read more

10. The Algebraist
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 434 Pages (2006-06-15)
list price: US$14.95 -- used & new: US$8.25
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1597800449
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars. Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he makes it to the end of the year. The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in a system awaiting its wormhole connection to the rest of civilization. In the meantime, they are dismissed as decadents living in a state of highly developed barbarism, hoarding data without order, hunting their own young and fighting pointless formal wars. Seconded to a military-religious order he's barely heard of - part of the baroque hierarchy of the Mercatoria, the latest galactic hegemony - Fassin Taak has to travel again amongst the Dwellers. He is in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years. But with each day that passes a war draws closer - a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he's ever known. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (74)

4-0 out of 5 stars Slow start but then takes off
A very good read, as usual Banks really stretches the bounds of imagination. This is not a Culture novel, but rather an equally intricate and fascinating universe. I have seen enough other reviews summarize the plot, I just wanted to add that the Dwellers are what kept me in this, and will keep me coming back if he writes in this setting again. They're hilarious, mysterious, enigmatic...like something out of Lewis Carroll. There was a lot of "laying pipe" on the character backgrounds, culture, family and government. I would have liked to see him start things off with a bang or something that draws you in first. But stick it out, it is worth it.Yes Banks can go over the top with descriptives, but you either get in the spirit of it or don't, and I don't mind as long as the story rewards. This story rewards! Slow to ge started, but once it takes hold I did not want to put this down, staying up several late nights.

2-0 out of 5 stars Here's what I think of The Algebraist...not so much.
I finished it and stared uncomprehendingly at the book in my hands. I'd completed the last page and I don't know what I'd just read. Did I miss something important that pulled it together somehow? So I spent a couple of days randomly reading parts of it until I got something of a gist. First I was just confused--then I got angry. The time I spent reading this is time I'll never get back, and somewhere along the line I'm going to wish I'd been doing something else.

Let me first say I am a frequent SF reader, and I'm incredulous this book was considered for any prize at all. Ponderous, with half-hearted explorations of too many ideas, this book left me empty. I never could grasp what thread was going anywhere and that made for a directionless plot. Finally, I got the significance of seemingly random pieces such as the search for the ship in the very beginning, who was the searcher, and who was the prey. The characters were thinly developed, and I just couldn't for the life of me find anyone to connect with. Man! I've never worked harder to pull a story together for myself, than in reading this tome. I felt cheated, though: how come the author couldn't have been more help?

Can't say I'd recommend it. Too long, too formless, too haphazardly constructed for me to put anybody else through reading it. I read it so you don't have to.
Thank me later.

5-0 out of 5 stars Simply stunning
This novel is stunning, elegant and coherent - a journey to be remembered.If you like sci-fi at all then you owe it to yourself to read at least some of Ian M Banks' work, and this one will not disappoint!

5-0 out of 5 stars The coolest space opera novel ever.
This is the coolest space opera novel ever written.And just for a change, most of the usual Banks mayhem takes place in the middle, instead of the end.

5-0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to Iain M. Banks
I discovered Iain M. Banks with this book someone had left next to the bed in a fisherman's hotel my family and I were staying on the Lofoten Islands in Norway, hundreds of kilometers above the Arctic Circle. It was already quite a mystical experience being up there under the midnight sun. Reading the first few paragraphs I knew this was something special. Granted I was lost and confused for the first hundred pages, I even stopped reading it for a few months. When I picked it up again, I couldn't stop. I've caught the bug and now devoured four other of his sci-fi books. Like most of Banks' leading characters, Fassin Taak is a somber, reluctant, conflicted, lone kind of guy. Some readers might not find him personable enough and lose interest because of the lack of him being a clear cut hero, but in my opinion they're missing the point. What matters here is the vivid universe Banks is able to create, it's as violent, beautiful, and haunting as you could probably never imagine. And the beauty of it is that it's perfectly immersive. There is plenty of action, suspense, and escapism to satisfy the fan of the genre. Let's hope this is the beginning of a new series. Until then I'll catch up on Banks' equally satisfying if slightly less mystical Culture novels. ... Read more

11. The Player of Games
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 416 Pages (2008-03-26)
list price: US$14.99 -- used & new: US$8.59
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0316005401
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
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The Culture - a human/machine symbiotic society - has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game...a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life - and very possibly his death.

Praise for Iain M. Banks:

"Poetic, humorous, baffling, terrifying, sexy -- the books of Iain M. Banks are all these things and more" -- NME

"An exquisitely riotous tour de force of the imagination which writes its own rules simply for the pleasure of breaking them." -- Time OutAmazon.com Review
In The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks presents a distant future thatcould almost be called the end of history. Humanity has filled the galaxy,and thanks to ultra-high technology everyone has everything they want, noone gets sick, and no one dies. It's a playground society of sports,stellar cruises, parties, and festivals. Jernau Gurgeh, a famed master gameplayer, is looking for something more and finds it when he's invited to agame tournament at a small alien empire. Abruptly Banks veers intodifferent territory. The Empire of Azad is exotic, sensual, andvibrant. It has space battle cruisers, a glowing court--all the stuff ofgood old science fiction--which appears old-fashioned in contrast toGurgeh's home. At first it's a relief, but further exploration reveals theempire to be depraved and terrifically unjust. Its defects are grossexaggerations of our own, yet they indict us all the same. Clearly Banksis interested in the idea of a future where everyone can be mature andhappy. Yet it's interesting to note that in order to give us thiscompelling adventure story, he has to return to a more traditional setting. Thoughtful science fiction readers will appreciate the culturalcomparisons, and fans of big ideas and action will also be rewarded.--Brooks Peck ... Read more

Customer Reviews (88)

5-0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites
I first read "The Player of Games" many years ago, and since then have read it at least three times.It is brilliant science fiction in a class I think can best be characterized as "utopian science fiction."Utopian in that the book takes place in a future where all ones' worldly needs are taken care of.In this case, civilization (the "Culture") spans some large volume of stars, star ships are sentient, indeed small robots are sentient, and much of the technology is so advanced it is effectively magic (although clearly scientifically and technically based).Which means it is up to the individual to fill time.The main character of this book (Gurgeh) is an individual who is particularly good at games, and who derives his self value from that skill.

The story emerges from encounters of the Culture with other species and star-faring civilization.Some members of the Culture have to deal with the sometimes unpleasant business of interacting with those civilizations.Furthermore, the Culture includes machine intelligences that are far smarter than humans, and while presumably favorably disposed to us, they do not always deal in a straightforward fashion.This book is the story of an individual who becomes enmeshed with one of those encounters (against his will).

I think part of why I enjoy Banks so much is that he writes about a type of individual who are needed, and who often make great sacrifices.Yet at the same time these individuals live on the boundaries of their society, are flawed, often manipulated, and in many cases are misfits.The latter not really the case for the main character in Player of Games, by the way, but is very must true for some of my more favorite side characters in the book.

A great read - I've recommended this book to many friends, and they have all ended up becoming Banks fans.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Last Starfighter Grows up!
One of my favorite movies as a kid was "The Last Starfighter", a movie about a pre-teen video game junkie who defeats a space shoot-em up video game only to discover that the game was actually a test to find the Last Starfighter, the hero who could save an intergalactic civilization from being destroyed."The Player of Games" is the adult, philosophical, critical, "I got some critiques about our civilization I got to air and this is the way I am going to air them" equivalent.
The main character is an avid gamesmen- the best in the universe, hands down- who is offered the opportunity to play a different sort of game in another civilization in which the outcome of the game could determine whether or not that civiization, and others, continue to exist.Playing the game requires complete immersion into this world, the risks are high, the probability of success is not high, and the intrigue- a new kind game with elevated stakes- is too much to resist.The offer is accepted and the Player of Games finds himself playing for his life with rules he doesn't know and a purpose he really isn't sure about.
On the surface, this is a great thriller of a book and well worth the read.Being true science fiction, however, the undercurrents are critical, highlighting aspects of our own world that our problematic, and troublesome, and could possibly lead to devastating results.Fortunately, Banks allows the reader to either read for pleasure- ignoring the social and political commentary and just enjoying a good action filled drama- or to concentrate on those more philospophical points and engage in some deep thinking introspection.It is not an easy line to walk and many a good science fiction idea has been ruined by a heavy handed approach.Such is not the approach Banks takes, and the result is a quality science fiction novel that works on many levels.

5-0 out of 5 stars Player of Games
I would not have thought that a book about a guy who plays games could be so intoxicating but, that's just how I felt while I was reading it. The story has a lot in common with what is going on with humankind on many levels (a bit to close to home). The story struck me more as reality disguised as Sci-Fi, I found it both ugly and beautiful at the same time. Of course I still feel a little intoxicated (as you maybe able to tell from this review) with no signs of becoming sober anytime soon.

Iain M. Banks is by far one of the best Sci-Fi writers, that I have come across. I highly recommend him to everyone.

4-0 out of 5 stars Banks has created another fan!
Gurgeh, a human in the Culture is widely known as one of the greatest game players of all time. Gurgeh is persuaded (blackmailed) to travel to an empire many light years away called Azad so he can take part in a series of games. Azad is unique in that their whole society and government surround a very complex game. Gurgeh goes on a five year journey to take part in these games. He only has a couple years (during his flight) to learn how to play this game while the people of Azad have dedicated their whole lives to it. What are the motives behind all this? What are the repercussions if Gurgeh wins? Or loses?

Player of Games is my first Iain Banks book, so it's also my first Culture book. Many Culture enthusiasts recommend starting with this book and as a person who did such I also recommend starting here. I do recommend new Culture readers to check out Wikipedia and read up on the whole idea behind the mega-utopian Culture society, just so more of the book makes sense. It's not impossible to read without this insight, but it certainly does help.

I found the characters in this book to be fleshed out nicely, actually some of the best characterization I've read recently. Banks throws his characters into some interesting situations. Banks is a skillful author. This is one of those books that when I look back I visualize the scenery very vividly. His prose is very accessible and clean.

I definitely look forward to reading more Banks! I highly recommend this book.

5-0 out of 5 stars Another solid entry in the opus
I never thought I was a fan of space opera until I read Iain Banks. I bought my first Banks' novel by accident (thought it was something else) and was appalled when I saw it was 600+ pages and full of really strange names. 50 pages in I was hooked, 300 pages in I was still up, and then when it was 3:00 a.m. and I couldn't keep my eyes open any more to follow along I finally fell into a coma and dreamt about drones and AI and the Culture. Banks is actually a much better writer than he gets credit for, and he doesn't get enough credit for his inventiveness and ability to string a plot together and keep it together for 600 pages. ... Read more

12. Inversions
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 352 Pages (2007-10-19)
list price: US$22.95 -- used & new: US$13.13
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1416583785
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Iain M. Banks, the international bestselling author of The Player of Games and Consider Phlebas, is a true original, a literary visionary whose brilliant speculative fiction has transported us into worlds of unbounded imagination. Now, in his acclaimed new novel, Banks presents an engrossing portrait of an alien world, and of two very different people bound by a startling and mysterious secret.

On a backward world with six moons, an alert spy reports on the doings of one Dr. Vosill, who has mysteriously become the personal physician to the king despite being a foreigner and, even more unthinkably, a woman. Vosill has more enemies than she first realizes. But then she also has more remedies in hand than those who wish her ill can ever guess.

Elsewhere, in another palace across the mountains, a man named DeWar serves as chief bodyguard to the Protector General of Tassasen, a profession he describes as the business of "assassinating assassins." DeWar, too, has his enemies, but his foes strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more direct.

No one trusts the doctor, and the bodyguard trusts no one, but is there a hidden commonality linking their disparate histories? Spiraling around a central core of mystery, deceit, love, and betrayal. Inversions is a dazzling work of science fiction from a versatile and imaginative author writing at the height of his remarkable powers. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (44)

4-0 out of 5 stars oh, so clever
The mediaeval setting of this novel is a planet with numerous moons, and as such it may be placed in the fantasy genre. Banks employs this allegorical near-Earthly setting to develop a compelling moral tale, rather than to achieve the romantic or magical scenarios common in fantasy. Readers of Banks' Culture sci-fi and `literary' novels will be rewarded as the quality of his writing allows complexity of plot and character to weave a fascinating story.

There is one point where Banks errs from his logical and comprehensible assemblage of events, and in doing so contradicts his otherwise fine depiction of a modernist and reasoning protagonist. He harks back to this point repeatedly thereby dangling a rather large hint that circumstances could place this novel in the Culture series. If so, Banks is offering an amusing perspective on human histroy. Trusting Banks' approach to his work and taking a hint from the title, I commend this as a fine addition to the Culture series.

4-0 out of 5 stars The Doctor sends a note, "...declining the invitation, citing an indisposition due to special circumstances."
The scale of Iain M Bank's epic Culture books is, well, ...epic is the right word here.The scale often is galactic, with a time scale sometimes in the billions of years, and the fantastic technologies the norm rather than the exception.

But every story can be split into smaller and smaller segments.Who can tell whether novelist Ed Abbey was planted on Earth to initiate environmental activism as a minute part of a much larger effort to preserve and protect those rare and precious habitable worlds?

Well, probably not Abbey, as he wrote, "Aliens on this planet?Us?Who said so?Not me.And if I did, that was yesterday.Tonight I know better" (Abbey's Road, p. 189).

Inversions is a Culture story, albeit an exceedingly thin slice of it.I read the Orbit 1999 paperback, published in Great Britain.

Doctor Vosill, a foreigner from the distant lands of Drezen (where nobody seems to know her), cares for King Quience as his personal physician.Rival King UrLeyn is protected by his bodyguard, DeWar, and his favorite consort, Perrund. This is an age of battles, bitter rivalries, court intrigue, and torture chambers.

Might there be subtle, oh so subtle, attempts from Culture to influence this society?What form might these attempts take?Why would Culture even be involved?

I sensed that this volume was an interesting blend of the two hats worn by Iain Banks and Iain M Banks.Although I certainly want more of the CUlture on the traditional epic scale, I enjoyed the intrigue in Inversions.

5-0 out of 5 stars A tale of two cities
The story so far features two states in a post-empire world. The interesting juxtaposition is of a warrior "Protector" and his bodyguard happily killing people versus a hypochondriac king and his doctor trying to cure people. As the story unfolds, we see that the doctor, who is doing her best to move the monarchy in a progressive direction, is hated by many of the conservative nobles, who set in train various assassination plots. Little do they know.....? In the other side of the world, the Protector is increasingly inveigled in an unwinnable war, while the bodyguard gets more involved with the chief concubine. And all the while the Protector's son may be dying.Ironic that the doctor is attending to the hypochondriac king, while the Protector's son is really unwell. The two stories are told in an interwoven way (like Devil in the White City) alternating chapter by chapter. The reader is left to work out whether they are truly interlinked (did the doctor know the bodyguard in a previous life?) and to see the interesting ways the one country's attitudes shine a light on the other. Each story is written simply and would be good on their own, but the way they are interspersed makes the reader's imagination work harder; it's a great book.

2-0 out of 5 stars Not believable or compelling
I love to claim this excellent series as one of my favorite in scifi, but this book is nothing better than embarassing. The entire book takes place in ballrooms and courtyards with yawning noblemen and the politics of high culture: easily the most boring of Banks's novels. I'd read War and Peace if I wanted that kind of novel.

Also the plot is just preposterous, especially the ending. Almost everyone in the story completely breaks character for the last chapters. Well, that's a little generous. They break SANITY for the last chapters!

Skip this one and head straight for Look to Windward; it's one of the best of the series.

5-0 out of 5 stars Not a typical Culture novel.
This is another excellent book by Mr. Banks.It gives you a glimpse of the actions of Special Circumstances agents from the viewpoint of the native civilizations that they are embedded in. ... Read more

13. Matter: A Culture Novel -- First 1st American Edition
by Iain M. Banks
 Hardcover: Pages (2008)

Asin: B003R7BRQE
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (72)

2-0 out of 5 stars how does "too long" end up "rushed" anyway?
I'm not gonna go deep into this, as everyone else already summarized things better than me

I would just like to say that for something easily classified as "this book is too damn long!"... how does an ending come off so rushed?? Did the editor suddenly grab the phone and yell, "hey, we only have 3 blank pages left in here, wrap it up!!"

Also, "treacherous murder" plot and everyone involved around that was easily the best part of the book. Too bad it was also pulled short with "rocks fall, everyone dies!" type of finale

4-0 out of 5 stars Good book
"Matter" is a good book, but it's jam-packed with fluff and the ending was unsatisfying. I enjoyed it until then, when I felt somewhat let down.

5-0 out of 5 stars What does it "MATTER"
The first of many books from Mr. Banksthat has givenme the gift of the CULTURE . Others have tried to entice me to the various works of space operas and failed to deliver . Mr. Banks is a highly aware being using the platform of an AI dependent society to write about. To follow the stories to their out come some times becomes humbling . Matter evolved like no other read . Wanted more as I am finding with all of the CULTURE books . The various things Mr.Banks envisions parallels the development of todayinto what may become tomorrow. The weaponry is just on the edge as well as the AI's with personalities . Amazing bit of work do not stop Mr. Banks you have done yourjob as ifI had experienced the knife missiles go by and maybe some day they will. We are close to a real replicatorso why not a GSV or a group such as special circumstances Obviously Mr. Banks realizesthe doors are open . ReadMATTER because you will see that it does MATTER and you will find yourself going back over it once more . Throw out the computer,TV and read this book there is nothing that brings the culture out in you like this. Thank you Mr. BanksWaiting for another book to arrive USE OF WEAPONSAH

1-0 out of 5 stars Huh? Is it fantasy? Is it Scifi? No, its FantiFi. Its also tedious.
One to avoid in my opinion.
I have never read this author before and will not try again. I had to give this up
after about a hundred pages.
The writting is not particularly good and the book is more about the authors fascination with his little galaxy than he is of telling a good story.
Once I figured out the main story was taking place inside a large structure I couldn't escape the feeling they were all in a giant warehouse instead of a real world. I also couldn't escape the ridiculousness of this primitive people living in a box with advanced aliens watching them and the whole time they know highly advance beings are a few feet away watching them and they can even go live with the advanced species if they wanted but their whole experience is still real and necessary. It all felt like a silly unecessary game after that.
The descriptions are terrible. At one point we are introduced to an alien that is shaped like a Bush but can contort itself to twenty feet and mimic a face to make humans comfortable. I never could figure out what this thing was supposed to look like. This was true of most the species and the entire world. I could not visualize it as real. It was as though the author wasn't really sure himself what things look like.
I am a huge fan of Fantasy and SciFi and I know what a good story looks like. This didn't cut it for me. I wanted to like it but started to get frustrated and finally disgusted at how little I cared about the world, the people, the plot, any of it.

4-0 out of 5 stars Pretty Dope Stuff here...
This was the first Iain Banks book I ever read. Although I got the Kindle version, I only stumbled upon the book because the actual hardcopy Cover illustration caught my eye near some kiosk in some city. Nonetheless I enjoyed the book as it is both entertaining conceptually and dialogue, without erring on the side of 'seriousness or proselytizing'. In fact, the book does not take itself seriously and therein lies the enjoyment in it. I read it straight for a few days and even recommended it to a few people who deliver harsh critiques of sci-fi.

If you have several choice pieces to read, yet you choose to finish a certain book before moving on, that must mean the book is at least decent, this is one of them.

If you like massive world epics with a fair amount of characters, and outcomes and events that are not necessarily run of the mill, you might find it here. ... Read more

14. Excession
by Iain M. Banks
Hardcover: 451 Pages (1996)

Isbn: 1857233948
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (83)

5-0 out of 5 stars Another great novel from Banks
There's already some good reviews here, so I'll just add a few thoughts.

First, Banks is an amazing author, and Excession is another great novel.

If you haven't read any Banks' novels and are thinking about starting, you should probably start with Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons, or maybe Player of Games. Those books have fewer main characters, so its easier to get into.

Trust me, I'm not being patronizing by saying that. Probably the most challenging aspect of Banks' writing is the crazy amount of characters & names you have to remember. Whenever I start reading a new Banks novel I keep a pad of paper and pen handy to keep track of everyone.

Now, if you haven't read Banks, please PLEASE don't let that stop you! I know it sounds like a lot of work just to enjoy a novel, but it's seriously worth it.

If you're familiar with his books & are wondering if this one is worth it - yeah, it is.

1-0 out of 5 stars The most tedious, fustrating book I have ever read.
This book is shockingly bad.
There is no story, endless pages of nonsense, with descriptions which are quite franky tedious and childish.
I had read The wasp factory and thought I would give the sci-fi side of Ian Banks a go.
I read in the hope the book would improve, which took a year as I read several books in between desperate for a good story.
The book did not improve.
How the book has received so many good reviews reminded me of another story.
The Emperor's New Clothes.

4-0 out of 5 stars Mind Games
To keep themselves amused, the super-AIs known as Minds in Iain M Banks's science fiction universe spend their time runing galaxy-sized simulations, a world of make-believe and might-have-been the Minds call the Land of Infinite Fun.

"Excession" is a bit like spending a few hours in Mr Banks's own Land of Infinite Fun; outlandish, amusing, intriguing, but never quite involving enought to let you forget that it's all just make-believe. Po-faced it certainly is not, it's space opera with a wink and a smile, gently tapping on the fourth wall but never quite breaking it.

"Excession" is the fourth book set in Mr Banks's Culture universe. This universe features technology as ahead of own our as the iPod is to the clay tablet, technology taken to its ultimate extreme, capable of building anything, anywhere, in any quantity desired. As a result, the biological inhabitants have long since given control of space ships and habitats (nobody's so old-fashioned as to live on an actual planet) and pretty much everything else to the Minds, a bunch of computers as pompous as Deep Thought, as twiggy as HAL and as serious as a whoopy cushion at a Shriner convention. They are the perfect security blanket for the cosseted inhabitants of the Culture. Together, they can out-think and out-fight anything the galaxy can throw at them.

Anything? Well, almost anything. The word "excession" you see, means something beyond a civilization's ability to understand, or resist should it prove hostile. The Aztecs would understand the concept. The Culture, as luck would have it, may have discovered an Excession, in the form of an impenetrable black globe which may serve as a link to other universes. As an added complication, it's also rather close to a warlike race called the Affront.

Mr Banks plugs us into the machinations of the Minds, as they struggle to respond to the challenges posed both by the Excession and the Affront, not to mention a cabal-within-a-cabal of rogue Minds with an agenda of their own.

It's not all a meeting of Minds, though they hog the limelight and all the best lines. There's also Genar-Hofoen, a rake in the Clark Gable mould, currently serving as an ambassador to the thuggish frat-boy Affront. Somewhere in his closet, with all his other skeletons, is his ex-lover Dajeil Gelian, now a recluse on board a highly eccentric ship called the Sleeper Service.

The Minds have a job for Genar-Hofoen, though it might be pure stratagem. Tricky chaps, AIs. Just ask David Bowman. Are they trying to stop a war over the Excession, or start one?

The mysteries emerge into clearer resolution somewhat haphazardly, as we flicker randomly back and forth between Genar-Hofoen, Dajeil, and the Minds. The plot is mere subroutine, never the main program. The history between Genar-Hofoen and Dajeil, for example, is revealed in flashback info-dumps, and does not resolve so much as suddenly stop, blue-screened by other events around the Excession.
It's never a terribly compelling story, but then it's always fun to watch Mr Banks at play in his universe.

Mostly, you see, the novel is an exploration of the imaginative universe M Banks has created for us. What do supercomputers do for fun? What would post-humans do for religion? What would families be like if you could change your sex anytime you wanted? You get the feeling Mr Banks would rather answer these questions than attend to his sprawling story. It's a nice reminder that while American scifi has the best gadgets, it's the Brits that have the most fun. The overall structure of may suffer as a result, may get a little buggy, but the result is priceless.

It's not quite Infinite Fun, but you don't have to have a brain the size of a planet to enjoy plugging into Mr Banks's universe.

5-0 out of 5 stars A great intro to Banks
This was my first read of Iain M. Banks and I absolutely loved it. His sense of alien-ness and his construction of the far future societies and technologies are like nothing I'd read before.

1-0 out of 5 stars Nothing happens!
I have never written a review for a book before.But I feel it is necessary to warn people about this book.It starts interestingly, mysterious, and has a lot of different plot lines, and then...nothing EVER happens.Even when things get tense and you are certain that someone will do SOMETHING...it doesn't happen.All everyone does is talk a lot about what they would do if they were going to do anything...which they don't.So don't be fooled:there is NO action, NO plot, and NO direction to this book.So if you want a science fiction book where nothing happens and you are completely confused for hundreds of pages...you've found the right book to read!

As has been said here before by many other reviewers of not good books:"I would have given this book a "0" if they allowed it. ... Read more

15. A SONG OF STONE: A Novel
by Iain Banks
Paperback: 288 Pages (1999-09-07)
list price: US$19.95 -- used & new: US$3.98
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0684855364
Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description

A European nation not unlike Bosnia: armed forces roam the lawless land where dark columns of smoke rise up from the surrounding farms and houses. The war is ending, perhaps ended. But for the castle and its occupants, a young lord and lady, the trouble is just beginning.

Fearing an invasion of soldiers, the amorous couple takes to the road with the other refugees, disguised in rags. But the brutal female lieutenant of an outlaw band of guerrillas has other ideas. Just hours into their escape, the fleeing aristocrats are delivered back to the castle, where, now prisoners in their own home, they become pawns in the lieutenant's dangerous game of desire, deceit, and death.

A Song of Stone demonstrates Iain Banks's unique ability to combine gripping narrative with a soaring, voyaging imagination. This noir fable confirms his reputation as the master of things dark and debauched. Singular, haunting, and viciously wry, A Song of Stone is a tour de force of contemporary fiction.Amazon.com Review
This brutal tale starts in a bleak, brutal European any-war. Abel andMorgan live in a forboding castle, alone and isolated, until the conflictintrudes on their numb lives in the form of a cruel mercenary lieutenantand her violent, ravaging men who take up residence. From there, the taledisintegrates into darkness and atrocity, punctuated by Abel's memories ofearlier joy and pain. Iain Banks pushes the story steadily downward, draggingthe morbidly fascinated reader into the depths of human despair. Gang rape,torture, and incest are seen through Abel's uncaring eyes--this book is notfor the squeamish. And although Banks strives for a Passion play in theend, what's missing is even the tiniest kernel of real redemption. Fans ofThe Wasp Factory andBanks's other non-science fiction works will find familiar detailshere, but A Songof Stone stands alone as a fable of hopelessness. --ThereseLittleton ... Read more

Customer Reviews (39)

3-0 out of 5 stars Human nature unfettered
This book explores the worst of human behavior.It is very believable and I really think these types of things have happened before.It's about refugees trying to escape a war that is encroaching upon the countryside.It happens that they run up on a military unit that takes charge.What follows is what humans do.

The book is very grim and explores the dark side of human nature.I found it to be a powerful experience.

1-0 out of 5 stars one giant longueur
This book was the worst thing I have read in a long time, not because it is terribly written but because it is so horribly boring and pretentious. Banks is trying to be literary to a fault. The narrator is sort of like Jean Jacques Rousseau, and at one point--where he couldn't remember his since-childhood butler's name--I found myself liking him. But the narrator never offered anything more. And what was the point of there being a breakdown of human civilization when the book simply seems situated in a simple, civil war? The civilians aren't tearing each other to pieces. The only bad guys in the book are soldiers. Thanks to a generator, the castle still has light up until the end of the book; there is simply nothing in this book that feels like total entropy. The soldiers are abusive, yeah, but most people expect an army to be abusive in times of war, especially when they are trying to fight one while mixed with the populace...ugh. And the philosophy behind this book is terrible, and as another review it, pretentious rubbish.

The book makes no point about anything, and the writing is the most tautological, bombastic, garrulous, circumlocutory, and pedantic thing I've read in a while.

3-0 out of 5 stars Is humanity's story written in stone?
It is the End of Times.Society has collapsed, and technologies exist until machines break.Weapons and fuel are the valued commodities, not gold and fine clothes.

Abel and Morgan lived a life of luxury in their family castle, surrounded by riches and servants.Self-indulgence ruled their life... until society collapsed.

Eventually, they decided to leave the castle and join the long line of refugees.However, a horse-drawn carriage does not camouflage their status, and aparamilitary outfit takes control of their lives and returns them to the castle, where the soldiers, under the control of the lieutenant ("You can call me lieutenant"), settle in and battle neighboring military units and trade places with the original inhabitants.

Iain Banks doesn't look for the creme rising to the top when humans are tested.Instead, he emphasizes the animals we are.Every act, every behavior, has meaning."I take in the view while expelling my own waste , as, going on a slow curve out, my personal contribution to the moat floats free, golden in the new-day's haze and splashing, foaming on the dark waters below, each sunstruck, brassily delineated droplet a shining stitch within a rope of gold; a glowing sine like a metaphor for light" (p. 76).

There are no heros... we reap what we sow, Banks would say.Unproductive lives lead to unproductive deaths.

Eventually, Banks makes his position clear through the voice of Able:

"It is my estimation that, unless one's involvement is peripheral, nobody survives a war; the people who come out the other side are not those who went in.Oh, I know, we all change, every day, and each morning emerge from our cocoon of sleep a different person, to confront an unutterably alien face, and any illness, and all shocks, age and change us by their given degrees... yet when the illness is past or the shock faded, we rejoin, more or less, the same society that we left, and recalibrate our selves by it.Such triangulating solace is denied us when that community itself has changed as much as or more than we have ourselves, and we must remake our own beings as well as the fabric of that shared world" (p. 273).

Peeing in the moat will not be the same for Able.There is no re-calibration for him, nor for Morgan, and not for the lieutenant.

The reason for society's collapse is not important.It just happens, and what is left are a million stories of survival and adaptation.This is one of those stories.Unproductive lives...

I read the U.K. Abacus 1998 edition, so it may differ somewhat from the US edition.

1-0 out of 5 stars Limited Appeal
I don't review many books here but the thought that a little effort on my part would save someone else from having to read this awful book made up my mind to do so.

I loved the author's "Consider Phoebus", and decided to buy some more of his work. If I had read "A Song of Stone" first, I would have avoided him like the plague.

If you like first-person narratives from whiney, incompetent protagonists who spent half their time spouting trite, sophomoric philosophy, then you may just enjoy this book. If not, don't waste your money.

2-0 out of 5 stars Dull, wordy, pointless. Not for me.
I'll make no attempt to avoid SPOILERS in the following.

In a future, post-apocalyptic Britain, wrecked by gang-wars, a band of irregulars led by a female Lieutenant hole up in an old castle. They make the Lord and his mistress into half-prisoners, half-pets. The Lord has endless, pointless, boring, amazingly windy memories/internal monologues of what went before. He (strict first person) addresses the memoir to Her, in second person, which works about as well as this usually does, which is to say, a weak, poor and distracting device. Did I mention the brutal, pointless killings, there to demonstrate that post-apocalyptic Gangwar is Hell?

The Loot and her soldiers slaughter a rival gang, and take their Big Gun. This is symbolic. The soldiers have a big victory party, get drunk, rape the girls, wreck the Lord's castle, and humiliate him. The Loot has sex with Her Mistresship, a mute, milquetoast boring cardboard 'person'. The Loot shoots the Lord, but he gets away, and (sort of) kills her. Her troops tie him to the Big Gun: in the Lord's words, "For I too am tied, in Mezentian hyperbole, a puppet of [sic] before the cannon's mouth." You know, a little Mezentian hyperbole goes a long, long way, but it's here by the hundredweight, page after page after page... "It is my estimation that, unless one's involvement is peripheral, nobody survives a war; the people who come out the other side are not those who went in." Good God.

It's hard to believe this sad, purple, preachy, windy book book was written by our beloved, Orbital-smashing, Drone-riding Iain M. Banks -- but I've had pretty poor luck with his non-SF novels. There was a violently-nihilistic spy thriller (Complicity??) that I liked pretty well, but I found The Bridge dull and tendentious, and now this... So I guess I'll stick to the Star Smashers of Special Circumstances, thank you very much, and leave the literary stuff to, well, the literariate?

Peter D. Tillman ... Read more

16. Excession
by Iain M Banks
Mass Market Paperback: 633 Pages (2002-06-12)
-- used & new: US$30.74
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 2253072419
Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (1)

5-0 out of 5 stars Forgot how great this is.
I read this about six years ago in dental school.Since then have read a great deal of Sci Fi- some good some mediocre.I picked this up again the other day, and man does this guy rock.He writes sf with a depth of imagination and seriousness of purpose that you won't find anywhere else.This is going to sound sweeping, but many sf writers are just a joke compared to Banks.I told my wife that reading Banks is like listening to Jimi Hendrix play guitar.No understatement.

So if you like sf, give this a try.Its one of the only Banks books you can get in the US.Its cheap, its long, its filled with mind blowing writing.Just trust me on this. ... Read more

17. L'homme des jeux
by Iain M Banks
Paperback: 390 Pages (1992-09-02)

Isbn: 2221069315
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18. Bedenke Phlebas
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 762 Pages (2002-06-01)
-- used & new: US$65.79
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 3453215303
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19. Le Sens du vent
by Iain M. Banks, Bernard Sigaud
Paperback: 404 Pages (2002-09-30)
-- used & new: US$49.84
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 2221095529
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20. Business
by Iain M. Banks
Paperback: 320 Pages (2000-06-08)

Isbn: 0349112444
Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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Customer Reviews (39)

4-0 out of 5 stars The most conventional Iain Banks novel I've read...
Kathryn Telman is employed by "the Business," an international (non-national?) conglomerate, centuries old, and dedicated to profit.Kathryn rose through the ranks to a "third level" because of her talent, and she finds that the intrigue involving the second and first level executives is complicated and devious.

The Business is considering buying a nation, with the understanding that having true international status as one, with its ambassadorial duties and obligations, would be good for business (small "b").Kathryn is more involved in the development of this arrangement that she ever planned to be.

I found The Business to be an entertaining book, and the most conventional of the many Iain Banks and Iain M Banks I've read to date (probably a dozen).Banks has pushed the envelope of imagination and human situations in most of his book, and this one can't be placed in that category.However, it is a decidedly good tale, and one that would probably also make an entertaining movie script.So being "conventional" isn't a bad thing; it's just that, if Banks name had not been listed as author, I don't think I'd have guessed it was him.I enjoyed the story, and found myself caught up in Kathryn's web.

This is just another reminder that Iain Banks is a talented author, who can make a variety of stories come alive.

4-0 out of 5 stars Not a Psychological Oddity, Still Great Writing
I have become a true Banks fan, and was concerned that the subject matter of this book wouldn't be peculiar enough for me to find engrossing. Fortunately I was wrong, and the creepy reality of a business as old as anyone can guess that has managed to stay as powerful as ever through clever and progressive investments into modern times was entirely compelling. The characters are believable and the story well-paced and intriguing, but I still think Banks' best works are those in which he has to be more creative with the unusual psychological realities of his characters.

4-0 out of 5 stars Audiobook version is superb!
I read this book when it came out, and liked it well enough.However, I just "read" it again via the unabridged audio version narrated by Barbara Rosenblat, and it really came to life.A lot of the book is told through dialogue, and her skilled portrayal of the many character voices brought out the humor and finally the humanity of the main characters especially well. The plot does meander a bit, but the reward is worth your patience.Fans of audiobooks should make an effort to track down this version.

5-0 out of 5 stars The organizational chart must look like a tipsy fractal
Banks is so consistently excellent that when he stumbles just a little bit it can mean two things.One, the results are still highly readable because at the very least the man knows his way around a sentence and two, its a mild disappointment because we know what he's capable of normally.

With the exception of "Crow Road", I find that I enjoy his "Iain M Banks" SF books better, his archness and sly sense of the absurd seems to lend itself better to snarky spaceships and farflung planetery politics.Here we have farflung global politics, all strung through the heart of a gigantic multi-national corporation that seems to have existed forever and is kind of doing a little bit of everything.Enter: the Business.

On some level the Business seems to be a forerunner of the Culture from his SF novels, it has that same liberated and focused "anything goes" sensibility, a slight amorality and an aura of "we know what we're doing, so back off."Our narrator this time out is Kathyrn Tilman, a Level Three in the Business (going from top down) who has been working for them throughout most of her life.Through her eyes we see the inner workings of this huge nebulous company as they do their best to buy a country so they can get themselves a seat at the UN.Why?It's not quite clear, either because they think it will give them more leverage or simply because it might be fun to try.

Tilman is one of Banks' usually excellent stabs at characterizations, never coming across as anything but real, confident in what she's doing but human enough to make mistakes or know when things are quickly spiralling out of control.Her story here spans the globe as the Business attempts to manuever her into their future plans, while she does her best to figure out what she really wants.Along the way we get flashbacks and snippets of her life and how it intertwines with those we meet along the way, princes and mad uncles and various sinister types.

The problem is, this is all very nice, but it doesn't seem to add up to much.In some respects it seems like Banks is trying to write a full fledged extended family like he did so brilliantly in "Crow Road" while also making the book a fast paced Grisham-like thriller.But there's no real sense of peril or imminent danger here . . . while it's clear that the Business has some monkey business going on that we're not aware of, the plan is so nebulous and the extent of Kate's involvement isn't so clear until much later that even when the plan is explained, I'm still not sure whether I should be impressed at the plotting or gripping the pages in white-knuckled terror.The pacing never races above leisurely and the action consists of Kate visiting various places and interacting with people there, as a gradual plan begins to unfold.Even when a deathbed confession leads us to think that more is going on than is apparent, it's more like, "Oh, good, now we're getting down to it" than "Kate, run for it!Run for your life!"

Yet, you don't really miss the thrills because Kathryn is so well characterized and the nuances of his company as so interesting that its not until you're nearly done that you notice that not all that much has happened.Which means that the book winds up being a pleasurable, but somewhat empty experience, readable but not especially memorable.Banks being Banks, you'll enjoy the ride and the characters and the situations, but if you're looking for something a bit meatier . . . well, the man has practically an entire bookshelf of novels to start with first.

4-0 out of 5 stars A netsuke monkey and a twelve sided thruppeny bit
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book - "The Wasp Factory" - in 1984. In the years since, he's won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume `Iain M. Banks'. "The Business" was first published in 1999, and is his tenth non sci-fi book.

The origins of the Business predate Christianity, and it - technically - owned the Roman Empire for an exceptionally short spell. (It turned out to be something of a mistake). The world headquarters are at Chateau d'Oex, in Switzerland, where there are - allegedly - some rather interesting items in their vaults. (These are rumoured to include a book that might just have made it into the Bible and some rather erotic doodlings sketched by Michelangelo). Although the Business has 'understandings' with several states and regimes, it is now planning to 'buy' its own country - allowing for a seat on the United Nations and diplomatic immunity for its senior executives. Officially, the country being considered if Fenua Uans, a small island in the Pacific.

Kate Telman is senior executive officer, third level with the Business. She started with Security, though has been keeping an eye on technology trends in recent years - luckily, her suggestions on where to invest have been paying off significantly. (As a result, she reached Level Three a good deal more quickly than she had dared hope). Kate is thirty eight years old and was born in Scotland, but holds joint British - US citizenship. Although she is currently on sabbatical, she has been with the organisation since she left school. She had been effectively groomed for the Business by Elizabeth Telman since childhood, following a chance meeting on the roadside in 1968. Elizabeth adopted Kate after her natural mother died, four years later. Now, with Elizabeth also dead, Freddy Ferrindonald is the closest thing to family she has left. Freddy, a step-brother of Elizabeth's, is also a high-ranking Business employee, not to mention exceptionally rich and just a little odd. He lives at Blysecrag House, which might just qualify as a stately home. (It has three hundred rooms and its cellars extend for two miles). The pair certainly get on very well together, and Kate admits to being very fond of Freddy.

Blysecrag is soon to be playing host to a very high-level meeting and some general hedonism - Kate is rather excited (and relieved) to have been invited. Unffortunately, Prince Suvinder Dzung from Thulan will also be among the other guests. Suvinder is a noted admirer of Kate's, but the admiration is entirely one way. Kate prefers Stephen Buzetski, another Business executive - unfortunately, he is proving to be stubbornly loyal to his wife. Events at Blysecrag lead to Kate doing a little more travelling and attending a few more meetings - leading to an offer she never seriously expected and didn't necessarily want. However, as time goes by, she becomes increasingly suspicious that the more senior executives are not being entirely straight about things...

Generally, I've found if a book has the name "Iain Banks" on the cover it's well worth reading. "The Crow Road" and "Whit" would both safely be included in my "10 Favourite Books of All Time", while "Canal Dreams" and "The Wasp Factory" would probably be knocking loudly on the door. In all those books, Banks has developed a strong 'lead' character whose past has contributed as much to the book as the 'current' events of the story. In comparison, "The Business" is a little weak : Kate's past isn't developed in the way Prentice McHoan's or Frank Cauldhame's are developed, while the story's 'current' events - meetings, parties and sightseeing - aren't quite as absorbing as the events of "Whit" and "Canal Dreams". However, "The Business" is still an Iain Banks book : even on an off-day, he'll tell a story a good deal more readable and a great deal more enjoyable than your average writer is capable of producing. ... Read more

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