Book: Transition by Iain M. Banks

Iain M. Banks has written some excellent books. This isn't one of them.

Iain M. Banks
Transition -- Based on a False Story
Orbit, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-07198-7
404 pages

The universe that Iain M. Banks's book Transition is set in is a "many-worlds" universe. In one of that universe's many time-lines there's an organization, called the Concern or sometimes l'Expédience, that has agents called transitionaries who can move from one time-line to another by temporarily inhabiting the body of someone in the other time-line. They also have methods for predicting how a particular time-line will develop. So they interfere with other time-lines occasionally to improve things for other worlds. But the organization is very secretive and hierarchical and agents don't generally see the extended outcome of the changes they make. An agent may make a tiny alteration that saves someone's life, but is it really true that that person would later go on to do great things? Is the Concern really what it seems?

That's not a ground-breaking premise for a book but it's a perfectly good one. For the book to be good, Mr Banks would need to take the premise in some new and interesting direction. Unfortunately, he doesn't do that. Instead, he spends quite a lot of time having his characters give long speeches about the corrosive and de-humanizing effects of unchecked power, how bad people can rationalize anything, and how terrorists are created when their societies become victims.

The only reason that I read the book to the end was in the hopes that Mr Banks would somehow pull a rabbit out of his hat by making a good book out of what increasingly seemed like little more than an unsophisticated political statement delivered via an unremarkable plot. My hopes were not fulfilled.

There are traces here of the skill that Mr Banks has shown any number of times. The characters and settings are interesting and memorable. I wish that they were serving a better story.

Posted: Sun - January 24, 2010 at 08:03 PM   Main   Category: