Book: Matter by Iain M. Banks

Not as good as I'd hoped

Iain M. Banks
Orbit, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84149-417-3 (UK edition)
565 pages
UKP 18.99

The arrival of a new "Culture" novel by Iain M. Banks is a cause for joy here. And there's a pretty good one here. Unfortunately, it starts around page 400. Around the first two-thirds of the book is a pretty good story that's somewhat science-fictiony but is told slowly and has little to do with the Culture. It's not exactly bad, but I'd say that it doesn't make it above fair-to-good. And that's not what I expected to find in this book. If you wade through the first 400 pages, you'll come to a pretty good Culture novel or maybe novella. Alas, not Mr Banks's best, but a pretty good one. Whether it's worth the reader's trouble to get to it isn't obvious to me.

All of the book is narrated well and that poses a bit of a quandary for me. Mr Banks chooses to reveal certain aspects of the novel's environment slowly. And, as I mentioned, the pace of the narration early on is not speedy. That means that even a few sentences giving the book's premise would reveal things that Mr Banks doesn't reveal until well into the book. I'm pretty sure that I don't want to do that, so suffice it to say that the Sarl are a humanoid race who live in a somewhat unusual place. Their society is feudal and their technology about equivalent to nineteenth-century Europe or America. Early in the book, a crime is committed by a potential usurper and, eventually, Special Circumstances gets involved. People who would like to know more can read the detailed synopsis on the book's Wikipedia page.

The book addresses some interesting themes, among them relationships of power and scale, and the reader naturally wonders how deep the subterfuges run and how long-term the Minds' plans are. The book isn't bad, but it wasn't what I'd hoped for in a new Culture novel.

Posted: Wed - March 12, 2008 at 08:15 PM   Main   Category: