Reading is a major part of my profession and it is not fun. For my own pleasure, I read science fiction almost exclusively (Patrick O'Brian being a major exception). I have read a science fiction book every week since 1978 except for those weeks when I read more than one. I mention this because Iain M. Banks has practically ruined my favorite reading pastime. If you don’t know why, you have only to read one Culture novel and then recall the dialogue of any computer on any Star Trek video or book. Surface Detail is virtually the last nail in the coffin.
Most science fiction is crap. For example, I have never read a “space opera” that could not be fully converted to horseback. I continue to read science fiction because of the surprising quality of the jewels that can be found in the rubble (consider “An Exchange Of Hostages”). Then comes Iain Banks and his Culture; Science fiction that actually takes notice of the age of our universe and the, presumably, perseverance of intelligence. After I read “Matter”, I purchased all of his novels in bulk. I read them, loved them and then re-read them. I was convinced that “Excession” was the best of the best. I then discovered that “Surface Detail” was about to be released in the United Kingdom (and much earlier than in the U.S). I made the purchase on-line in the UK and had it shipped. It was brilliant and his best novel to date. I then purchased the Audible version which I play on my truck stereo I-Pod. The audible version is icing on the cake.
I can tolerate (barely) a space opera now because I can imagine the story line in circumstances where the Culture has declined to make contact. What I can’t tolerate, is Mr. Bank’s insistence on having a life. He is active and apparently has activities outside of writing his next story. Damn!
An obvious work of superior scholarship. The presentaion on audio greatly increased my understanding, retention and grasp of the material. What would have been an extended work of labor if I had to read the text version became an easy pleasure on audio. I have listened to the entire book three times and am going to gift it to two friends.
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