Iain M. Banks

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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby mikhail » Tue Aug 25, 2009 11:59 am UTC

u38cg wrote:The Culture is more morally ambiguous in Consider Phlebas than in subsequent books. Whether that's down to narrative requirements, a change of view on the part of the author, or something else...

It's because you see it through the perspective of the main character in Consider Phlebas, and he's made his decision there. I seem to remember that, Intellectually, I wasn't convinced by his argument, but on an emotional level, you side with him.

That was my first Banks book, and it's unfortunately mediocre*.

I loved Against a Dark Background until the end, which was terrible. The Algebraist was pretty entertaining, though again, a little disappointing at the end. Excession is great, but is a little anti-climactic (maybe that's the wrong word - there's a climax, and it's on a big scale, but it doesn't feel big). Having read that lot, I was worried that Banks was about 80% of the best SF writer writing today, but thankfully Inversions was superb throughout.

Use of Weapons is very good, though the non-linear format felt a little gimmicky. Feersum Endjin is great, but deh bad chpelin in a quarter of the chapters was a chore to read. Look to Windward is his best outright Culture book, I think (I'm discounting Inversions as it barely establishes itself as being in that universe). Others rate The Player of Games a little higher, and it's a good book, but I think a little overrated. Matter is a pretty good story, though the new big ideas weren't that impressive by Banks' standards. The State of the Art is clever in places (the throw-away joke about the ship contacting the BBC had me in stitches - I think his jokes are very effective because they're rare and unexpected), but I seem to remember it felt a little uneven, maybe only worth reading for completists.

I'm really looking forward to his new one, Transition, which is out next month.

I've read very few of his non SF books (IB rather than IMB). The Wasp Factory was effective and odd, and as much as it was deeply unpleasant in places, I enjoyed it. The Steep Approach to Garbadale dragged in places, and the ending felt very contrived. Any recommendations for other IB books?


*I feel this word has excessively negative connotations, as does "average". I think it's partly this that leads 85% or so of drivers to consider themselves "above average" or better. Sure, people overrate themselves, but I think that misinterpretation of average to mean poor contributes too.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby u38cg » Tue Aug 25, 2009 12:31 pm UTC

I think there's still a hint of moral ambiguity about the Culture. They are self-righteous, monolithic, and seem to see think that the rules (even their own rules) don't apply to them.


Oh yeah, don't get me wrong. The Culture does provoke feelings of disgust - I think the exercise for the reader is to justify it. Phlebas just laid it bare, particularly with the outsider's perspective.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:44 pm UTC

There is a great tendency, especially in American readers, to see the Culture as a utopia-after all, it's got FTL spaceships, and mechanical Minds and an economy of abundance and so on. But it isn't, really. Banks himself has replied when asked if the Culture is a utopia or a dystopia "yes". It has all of the signs that are supposed to show how powerful and good a nation-state is-advanced technology and broad ideas of personal freedoms and a high standard of living. But it doesn't hesitate to muck around in others' lives, sometimes for very murky reasons and the Minds sometimes seem to find the smaller, stupider parts of the Culture something of a drag.
So when the Culture shows up and does things that Aren't Very Nice it can be a big surprise.
As for which non-M books to read, I loved The Crow Road and Whit. Song of Stone I found disturbing, but rather well written. Haven't re-read it, so I'm not able to pinpoint the problem.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby mikhail » Wed Aug 26, 2009 1:16 pm UTC

PAstrychef wrote:There is a great tendency, especially in American readers, to see the Culture as a utopia-after all, it's got FTL spaceships, and mechanical Minds and an economy of abundance and so on. But it isn't, really. Banks himself has replied when asked if the Culture is a utopia or a dystopia "yes". It has all of the signs that are supposed to show how powerful and good a nation-state is-advanced technology and broad ideas of personal freedoms and a high standard of living. But it doesn't hesitate to muck around in others' lives, sometimes for very murky reasons and the Minds sometimes seem to find the smaller, stupider parts of the Culture something of a drag

There's a difference between finding something a drag and actually interfering with it. There is certainly a real murkiness to its foreign policy, though it seems to be driven entirely by good intentions (whatever the morality of the actual interventions). In terms of 'domestic' freedoms, etc., I'm not sure what you're referring to.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Adacore » Wed Aug 26, 2009 8:58 pm UTC

mikhail wrote:I've read very few of his non SF books (IB rather than IMB). The Wasp Factory was effective and odd, and as much as it was deeply unpleasant in places, I enjoyed it. The Steep Approach to Garbadale dragged in places, and the ending felt very contrived. Any recommendations for other IB books?

I'd say The Bridge, if you like weird, or The Business, if you like normal. They're pretty much the two extremes.

Anyone heard anything about the new book - Transition? I only just realised he had another book coming out yesterday when I saw a poster for a book signing at Forbidden Planet in London.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby markfiend » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:18 am UTC

I'm puzzled how the Culture can be seen with "disgust". Sure, they occasionally make mistakes (e.g. with the Chelgrians in Look To Windward) but there are several points at which it's said that 'meddling' through Contact and SC is proven to provide better outcomes for client species/civilisations than not.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby u38cg » Thu Aug 27, 2009 10:50 am UTC

The conflict (to me) comes through the tension between moral systems. The Culture takes Utilitarianism to its logical conclusion. We as humans don't instinctively work off a utilitarian moral base and therefore various aspects of the Culture strike us as uncomfortable. Would you want a hidden hand operating Earth's political system because the statistics show it leads to better outcomes?
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby markfiend » Thu Aug 27, 2009 2:28 pm UTC

u38cg wrote: Would you want a hidden hand operating Earth's political system because the statistics show it leads to better outcomes?

To be frank I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer it to the mess we're currently in. :lol:
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby MysteryBall » Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:47 pm UTC

Excuse the monthly necro, but I must say, just finishing The Player of Games, I really enjoyed it, and again I grew quite fond of Gurgeh but will probably not see him again..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azad_(fictional_game)#Azad (Don't read if you don't like spoilers).
Waiting for the development of a real life Azad game now, please.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby kingofdreams » Wed Sep 30, 2009 4:35 pm UTC

I actually really liked Consider Phlebas, though I read the Culture novels out of order (this one second to last), I find objection to the Culture similar to Horza's, the culture no longer belongs to biological life, its disquieting, I rooted for the Idirans.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Mysterius » Wed Oct 14, 2009 1:00 am UTC

I've read all the Culture novels except Excession, which I'm reading now: Matter, Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, The State of the Art (just the novella and the Culture-themed short story, not the rest) * , Inversions, Look to Windward, and Use of Weapons, in that order.

* I first started The State of the Art novella years ago, but it didn't catch on for me since I hadn't read any of the full novels.

Matter is not a traditional entry point for the series (it's still relatively new, after all), but it worked well for me (I had only a very superficial familiarity with the Culture before I started reading). I read The Algebraist sometime after Matter, and enjoyed it as well.

Of the non-M books, I enjoyed Whit, and I'm considering reading some of the others once I'm done with Excession. Transition sounds interesting, too.

@PAstrychef: Banks is very clear that the Culture is a utopian society, in his honest whole-hearted opinion.

TIME interviews Iain M. Banks wrote:Do you think of the Culture as a utopia? Would you live in it, if you could?
Good grief yes, to both! What's not to like? ...Well, unless you're actually a fascist or a power junkie or sincerely believe that money rather than happiness is what really matters in life. And even people with those bizarre beliefs are catered for in the Culture, albeit in extreme-immersion VR environments.


Of course, you're free to acknowledge or ignore the author's sentiments however you wish. Personally, something I respect regarding Banks's work is how he writes without forcing his message on you, and indeed does not shy from asking hard questions of his own positions.

He does get a sort of pass in the form of the Culture's very nature: an enlightened post-scarcity society guided by benevolent near-omniscient Minds.
The Culture has resources, intelligence, and a claim to "pure" motives that simply cannot be matched by any Earthly society, so addressing the morality of Contact or Special Circumstances is as slippery as applying 20th century political philosophies (socialism, libertarianism, anarchism, etc.) to the Culture in general.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Oct 15, 2009 4:37 pm UTC

Mysterius wrote:@PAstrychef: Banks is very clear that the Culture is a utopian society, in his honest whole-hearted opinion.
TIME interviews Iain M. Banks wrote:Do you think of the Culture as a utopia? Would you live in it, if you could?
Good grief yes, to both! What's not to like? ...Well, unless you're actually a fascist or a power junkie or sincerely believe that money rather than happiness is what really matters in life. And even people with those bizarre beliefs are catered for in the Culture, albeit in extreme-immersion VR environments.

Well, I was at a convention where he was speaking and when asked was the Culture a Utopia or a Dystopia replied that it was both. Perhaps his thoughts on the situation have changed over the years. Look to Windward has some scenes in which the idea that people with no need to work to live lead lives driven by boredom and pointless seeking out of danger and over-stimulation is plainly stated.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby inarus » Fri Jan 22, 2010 6:05 pm UTC

I love his books. I've read Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Against a Dark Background, The Business and The Wasp Factory, and currently have Excession, Feersum Endjinn, The Algebraist and Matter glaring at me from my bookcase, as I have had them for quite some time, but haven't got round to reading them yet. My current excuse is exams.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby |Erasmus| » Sat Jan 23, 2010 12:32 am UTC

Anyone read Transition yet?

I have a copy, but it's currently third on my list of books to get through (I have 6 sitting around here). I've heard very good things about it, though.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Antimatter Spork » Thu Feb 25, 2010 5:02 am UTC

The Culture isn't always perfect, especially when it comes to "foreign policy", but it's pretty consistently leagues better than any of the alternatives by any reasonable standard. I won't claim to know Banks's motives, but from my perspective it really did look like he set out to design the best of all possible societies.

Though really we get a pretty biased picture from the books, since by necessity they focus on the oddities, eccentricities, and when things break down. Books about people leading uneventful but happy lives in a Utopia are really boring, so they tend not to get written.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Rockberry » Thu Feb 25, 2010 6:17 am UTC

Pseudo wrote:I was wondering if anyone had gotten into his books? I am currently half way through Player of Games and I have Consider Phlebas queued up.

Everyones thoughts...


I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's probably the best scifi author at the moment. Not only does he create fascinating worlds, characters and stories, he's an excellent wordsmith too.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Apteryx » Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:54 am UTC

markfiend wrote:I'm puzzled how the Culture can be seen with "disgust". Sure, they occasionally make mistakes (e.g. with the Chelgrians in Look To Windward) but there are several points at which it's said that 'meddling' through Contact and SC is proven to provide better outcomes for client species/civilisations than not.



I liked how they made up for their mistake in the Chelgrian case too. Perfectly precisely targeted "Do not flock with us" message, one could say almost "Surgically precise". :D

I don't see them as at all disgusting. Surprisingly dense in ideas these books, easy to miss important clauses in sentences I think.

Spoiler:
Like the fact that, in the Iridian war, the Mind that later is one of the main characters in "Look to Windward" is a Warship. It destroys a habitat including taking some lives. When I first read that novel, I actually missed that it was a Culture habitat he destroys. He had to, to protect even more lives.
if that is "Distopian" somehow, I guess the point is made. Actually I think instead it is just the wicked universe, sometimes you have no choice in things.

Or in Excession. The ship module could TAD itself and destroy an entire Affronter ( the best characters in ficiton! lol ) orbital. perfectly fair in War after all, and Affronters were doing same* to Culture worlds. He doesn't do it in the end, because that isn't the Culture.

* Well, not exactly the same, they WERE probably doing it with a lot of relish :P


I wonder if some of the people saying "Distopia' are in the same case as some of the people who say " Such and such a famous book is boring" and then you find out they are just young and not very experienced about the world/books.or in this case, any kind of -topia.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Fume Troll » Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:13 am UTC

Great books, I think I've read them all. And the Iain Banks books too.

Thoroughly reccomended.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:55 pm UTC

Transition was a good read-not a Culture book at all. That sounds wrong. It's not a Culture book and it was good. The Culture books are good too.
It feels a bit flighty after the density of Matter and The Algebraist . Still plenty of nifty ideas to go around. ANd easily returned to in another story.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby ZZamfir » Fri Feb 26, 2010 11:08 am UTC

Antimatter Spork wrote:The Culture isn't always perfect, especially when it comes to "foreign policy", but it's pretty consistently leagues better than any of the alternatives by any reasonable standard. I won't claim to know Banks's motives, but from my perspective it really did look like he set out to design the best of all possible societies.


I am not so sure about this. I would say that Banks, on purpose, created a world that achieves the goals of a wide swath of modern idealisms. But he very carefully avoids telling us whether those ideals are still valid when taken to such extremes.

It's a world that doesn't have scarcity, doesn't have oppression of people (at least by other people), has a very liberal concept of freedom to do anything (especially sexually) that fits in the personal sphere. It's an attmept at least for an end point for nearly any modernist, progressive ideology, from die-hard marxism to libertarian anarchism.

At the same time, it very much doesn't address 'conservative' values. If you think that religion, family, tradition, duty, are the things that give meaning to life, then the culture isn't in any sense an improvment over our current world. Perhaps no worse either, but that's about it.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby FoS » Tue Mar 02, 2010 9:08 am UTC

I read Matter recently while on holiday in the Okovanga Delta and I think it could very well be my favourite Banks novel despite the depressing absence of the Grey Matter.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Peter Galbavy » Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:52 pm UTC

I love this listing: http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Culture-Nov ... 495&sr=1-5

"New Culture Novel (Hardcover)" release date 3 Feb 2011 - I love placeholders :)
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby markfiend » Tue Mar 09, 2010 5:20 pm UTC

ZZamfir wrote:At the same time, it very much doesn't address 'conservative' values. If you think that religion, family, tradition, duty, are the things that give meaning to life, then the culture isn't in any sense an improvment over our current world. Perhaps no worse either, but that's about it.

Not a bug but a feature :lol:
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby PAstrychef » Thu Mar 11, 2010 3:36 am UTC

ZZamfir wrote:At the same time, it very much doesn't address 'conservative' values. If you think that religion, family, tradition, duty, are the things that give meaning to life, then the culture isn't in any sense an improvement over our current world. Perhaps no worse either, but that's about it.

But the people who live in the Culture get to engage in those things as much as they want to. There are family stories-Consider Phlebas especially so. The whole concept of duty is the driving force behind Look To Windward.

One of problems of the Culture, that makes it as dystopian as it is Utopian, is that people have to come up with ways to give a shape and purpose to their lives, because just getting food and shelter no longer occupy so much of their time. Folks with a strong sense of this need often end up in Special Circumstances. Then there's the whole question of why the Culture hasn't Sublimed already....
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Velocity219e » Sat Dec 04, 2010 12:53 pm UTC

|Erasmus| wrote:I have been told that Consider Phlebus is so much worse than the rest of the series.


Heresy! Consider Phlebas is my favorite Culture novel, although reading Surface Detail at the moment and depending on how it ends it might have a contender ^^

Excession is probably the best for ships though.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby |Erasmus| » Thu Dec 09, 2010 1:54 am UTC

Velocity219e wrote:
|Erasmus| wrote:I have been told that Consider Phlebus is so much worse than the rest of the series.


Heresy! Consider Phlebas is my favorite Culture novel, although reading Surface Detail at the moment and depending on how it ends it might have a contender ^^

Excession is probably the best for ships though.

I enjoyed the last line of Surface Detail...

I was originally told that Consider Phlebas is really only worth it as background material for stuff like Use of Weapons and Player of Games. I do like both of those more, but I did not actually think that Consider Phlebas was bad at all.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby bigglesworth » Thu Dec 09, 2010 2:38 am UTC

|Erasmus| wrote:Anyone read Transition yet?

I have a copy, but it's currently third on my list of books to get through (I have 6 sitting around here). I've heard very good things about it, though.
I thought it was very good, but the ending may disappoint some.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby SiC » Thu Dec 09, 2010 11:05 am UTC

I have read Consider Phlebas and Against a Dark Background, and they put me off reading Ian M Banks books completely. I thought they were both excellent stories but I came out of Against a Dark Background so depressed I couldn't handle any more of it!

So can anyone recommend me a pleasant light and happy M Banks novel to try to get me back into his works?
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby PAstrychef » Fri Dec 10, 2010 2:55 am UTC

Don't know that light and happy really come out in Iain's stuff, but you could try The Bridge which is at least short and seems to have a happy ending.
Surface Detail is also more of a romp than AADB, and the ending is a real kicker. Raw Spirits is a nice look at whiskey, which I usually find cheering.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Robstickle » Sun Dec 12, 2010 4:58 pm UTC

I'm reading The Algebraist at the moment. I'm so used to his culture novels that everyone time it's made clear that the society they're in is nothing like The Culture it comes as a shock :lol:

MaybeAndroid wrote:Slight spoiler hidden:
Spoiler:
The novella/short story The State of the Art really threw me though, as it reveals that the Culture is actually not a future from Earth, but rather exists concurrently with our present. It surprised me, but I think it made me appreciate the series even more.


Personally it made me jealous, there's some fictional assholes of enjoying utopia and I'm not invited? Fuckers.

Oh and I like how Contact and Special Circumstances are 'statistically proven' to work, even if they fuck it up occasionally. Can you imagine them trying to tell us that?
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Jumble » Sun Dec 12, 2010 6:07 pm UTC

SiC wrote:So can anyone recommend me a pleasant light and happy M Banks novel to try to get me back into his works?

Don't know about the sci-fi stuff as, for some reason I just don't seem to be able to get into it. A lot of Banks' stuff can be quite dark, but not all of it. If you dig through my posting history you'll find the comments I posted after I chatted to him at a local book fair. I asked him why his style varies so radically and it's so difficult to pigeon-hole his books. He stated that he enjoys doing something completely unexpected in each new book (mainstream, at least - don't know if he was including his sf stuff in this). He describes it as a form of intellectual masturbation.

I kind of agree with you: I like challenging books but if I want to be left depressed I'll read the news. The Crow Road is great from this point of view, and the Business is almost a modern day John Buchan ripping yarn. I love 'Espedair Street' - I just think it's sublime. Whit, Dead Air and Garbadale were OK but didn't grab me. I actually enjoyed The Bridge and Canal Dreams but I thought they were on the creepy end of acceptable. I seriously disliked Complicity and couldn't finish Wasp Factory or Walking on Glass. I guess that this comes back to his desire to keep changing his style and stay fresh. You aren't going to like all of his stuff all of the time, but just wait and he'll write something that does work for you. I take my hat off to his formidable talent.

Funnily enough, given that I couldn't get into the Culture books I really enjoyed Transition. Yes, it does appear to be a cross-over (he said as much when I met him). It's disturbing in places but it's very well written. It would probably encourage me to have another crack at his sf work if it weren't for the fact that my job is currently taking over my life and I have a stack of 10-15 books that I should get around to reading first. Of course, that would be more likely if I spent less time on the forum.....

Anyway, hope that helps.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby |Erasmus| » Sun Dec 12, 2010 11:40 pm UTC

Robstickle wrote:I'm reading The Algebraist at the moment. I'm so used to his culture novels that everyone time it's made clear that the society they're in is nothing like The Culture it comes as a shock :lol:

I didn't really like that one... Banks loves his whole plot twist thing, and that book made it so bleedingly obvious what the answer to the protagonists goal was about a third of the way in that it just became somewhat painful watching them trundle around forever not being able to figure it out.

And I didn't think the characters were good enough to make up for the lack of interesting plot developments.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby markfiend » Mon Dec 13, 2010 9:07 am UTC

I know it's slightly off-topic when we're talking Iain M. Banks but...
Jumble wrote: I [...] couldn't finish Wasp Factory

While I sympathise (it can be difficult to read at times) the Wasp Factory blew my mind. It really is worth the effort.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Deep_Thought » Sun Dec 26, 2010 10:01 pm UTC

|Erasmus| wrote:
Robstickle wrote:I'm reading The Algebraist at the moment. I'm so used to his culture novels that everyone time it's made clear that the society they're in is nothing like The Culture it comes as a shock :lol:

I didn't really like that one... Banks loves his whole plot twist thing, and that book made it so bleedingly obvious what the answer to the protagonists goal was about a third of the way in that it just became somewhat painful watching them trundle around forever not being able to figure it out.

And I didn't think the characters were good enough to make up for the lack of interesting plot developments.


The bit I liked most about the Algebraist was gradually finding out about the gas-dwellers and how their society functions. I thought they were pretty funny. At the time I seem to remember that I thought the book dragged a bit, but looking back on it I have nothing but good memories and reckon I might give it a re-read fairly soon. I thought it made for a pleasant interlude from The Culture, at least.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Robstickle » Wed Dec 29, 2010 6:53 am UTC

Just finished it and I've just found out that there's a new Culture novel so that's good.

Spoiler:
As soon as he explained what the list was I thought to myself "Right Erasmus thinks it should be obvious... oh it's going to be inside their planets isn't it." And I was disappointed that the ending to Sal/Taince was so anticlimactic. Still for the most part I liked it, the dwellers were a lot of fun and that ridiculous villain (I refuse to look up his name) trying to get them to give Fassin up was the most hilarious thing I've read in a while.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Nosforit » Sat Jan 01, 2011 9:41 pm UTC

u38cg wrote:The conflict (to me) comes through the tension between moral systems. The Culture takes Utilitarianism to its logical conclusion. We as humans don't instinctively work off a utilitarian moral base and therefore various aspects of the Culture strike us as uncomfortable. Would you want a hidden hand operating Earth's political system because the statistics show it leads to better outcomes?

I've read Matter and I agree.

I didn't like Matter because it's a sandbox, exclusive to things Ian understands/likes/knows while the subject he writes about is supposed to be inclusive. As a result his simple people are too simple and his advanced people are so advanced that he can't actually imagine them. It's Planet of the Apes without the introspection because it has warlike people doing war, loving people as lovers, and aliens acting alien. It's too uncomplicated for my tastes.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby dubsola » Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:10 pm UTC

Adacore wrote:I'd say The Bridge, if you like weird, or The Business, if you like normal. They're pretty much the two extremes.

I second the recommendation for The Bridge - that was the first of his novels I'd read, and it was excellent. Very, very strange at first, but it all makes sense as you go along. The Business is definitely 'normal' but still a good read.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Jan 14, 2011 4:03 pm UTC

Nosforit wrote:I didn't like Matter because it's a sandbox, exclusive to things Ian understands/likes/knows while the subject he writes about is supposed to be inclusive. As a result his simple people are too simple and his advanced people are so advanced that he can't actually imagine them. It's Planet of the Apes without the introspection because it has warlike people doing war, loving people as lovers, and aliens acting alien. It's too uncomplicated for my tastes.


Could you elaborate on this a little please? In particular I don't understand what you mean by it being a sandbox. Perhaps you could contrast it to another novel which wasn't? It's been a while since I read Matter but I enjoyed most of it, even if there is a hundred-page lull in the middle. If you were looking for character development and introspection, then surely Ferbin and Oramen displayed some? Banks mainly goes for complexity in plots rather than characters though, I'll admit.
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby Deep_Thought » Tue Mar 01, 2011 3:12 pm UTC

Jumble wrote:Funnily enough, given that I couldn't get into the Culture books I really enjoyed Transition. Yes, it does appear to be a cross-over (he said as much when I met him). It's disturbing in places but it's very well written.


Apologies for self-replying but I've just finished Transition and wanted to share my opinion on it. Yes, I know it doesn't have an M in the middle. I read it in the space of about two weeks, which is the fastest I've read a book (when not on holiday) for ages, so there was obviously something about it I was enjoying. However I found the end unsatisfying, and in particular I can't help thinking that Iain's publishers aren't editing him properly anymore.
There are two entire characters/plot threads in Transition that are almost completely extraneous to the main plot thread and purely exist for Banks to spout off various ideas on philosophy and the state of the world as far as I can tell. While author's are free to do this, I'm not a big fan of wading through many pages of it just to get to the next actual plot development.
Spoiler:
I am of course referring to Adrian Cubbish and The Philosopher.
Adrian himself does nothing of import to the entire plot except fly to Venice and get possessed. Banks seems to put him in as both a character from our world to justify the dropping of the 'M' from his name, but also as a pastiche of City-boy traders that you are supposed to end up hating. You know what - I ended up quite liking Adrian by the end of the book. Sure he was horrendously selfish, but he was honest about it and obviously clever. His supposed karmic death at the end was lame and contrived.
The Philosopher at least interacts with one of the main characters on more than two occasions, but again his branch of the story is pretty well separated from the main one. On the other hand the Lady Bisquitine is essentially a Deus Ex/Chekov's Gun for the baddies who is mentioned in one brief section before the ending. A bit more time spent with her character and less with Cubbish/The Philosopher might have resulted in a more balanced book.

Anyway, I think the Guardian's reviewer summed the book up quite neatly by saying it is neither fiction or sci-fi, but belongs to the "assassins and breasts" genre!
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Re: Iain M. Banks

Postby bigglesworth » Wed Mar 02, 2011 1:52 am UTC

Spoiler:
I never got the impression that we were supposed to hate Cubbish. The other aspects you commented on are matters of taste, but I'm interested about this one.
Generation Y. I don't remember the First Gulf War, but do remember floppy disks.
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