It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. And it begins with a murder.
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.
©2010 Iain M. Banks (P)2010 Hachette Audio
"Banks's labyrinthine and devious ninth Culture space opera novel adeptly shifts perspective between vast concepts and individual passions....New readers may be taken aback by the rapid pace, but fans will dive right in and won't come up for air until the final page." (Publishers Weekly)
I'm a big fan of Iain M Banks (and Alistair Reynolds, Richard Morgan, etc.) - what they call 'hard science fiction' or sometimes 'space opera' - so it wasn't really surprising that I liked this latest Culture novel.
I WAS surprised at how well the narrator did with this - the story was so complex, and there were so many characters, that I was really impressed with Peter Kenny's ability to keep up with it all. The names are difficult sometimes, but Kenny did a great job of making the voices and personalities very well distinguished from one another, so it wasn't too problematic. No doubt I'll listen to this again in another month or two for all the bits I missed.
One caveat: Iain Banks and Iain M Banks books often have a certain amount of unflinching violence in them, and this one was particularly gruesome in parts. Some of the scenes in the hell worlds were difficult to take. So I wouldn't recommend giving this book to a 12-year-old or even someone with delicate sensibilities - definitely some nightmare-inducing scenes in there (and of course the writing is so good, you really do end up thinking you were there).
But otherwise highly recommended!
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!
Tell us about yourself!
Yes, I would. This was one of my favorite books recently.
As with many Banks books, I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed. Part of that could be my sadness that this one was ending and now there will be a multi year wait for his next Culture novel!
I liked the best the chase scene on the underground city with the Special Circumstances Agent.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This was my first Iain M. Banks novel, and I enjoyed the experience, though it didn't knock my socks off the way it seems to have for other readers. Fans of contemporary "hard" science fiction will find a lot familiar elements here: sentient AIs, extremely advanced physical technology, a swarming pan-galactic meta-civilization filled with biological and machine-based societies (or those that have gone from one to the other), and the uploading of consciousness into virtual realities or new bodies. However, Banks' stories feature The Culture, a highly advanced, benevolent society that has a way of guiding affairs in the galaxy, but not interfering with the self-determination other societies without good cause. The drama of his novels usually plays off the question of what the utopian Culture will do in ambiguous cases, since it can't become involved in an obvious way.
This time, the matter is "Hells", virtual realities into which the consciousnesses of the dead are uploaded, subjecting them to terrible torment for their crimes in "the Real". Naturally, the more progressive cultures and factions in the galaxy are firmly against the Hells, while more traditional ones wish to keep them. A war is in progress to decide the outcome, taking place mostly in VR, but with risk of spilling over into the Real. Banks tells the interlocking stories of several different characters caught up in various parts of this conflict, each with a stake of some sort.
I will say that the writing is smart and imaginative, with some interesting speculation and questions. I enjoyed the creative virtual reality battle sequences and the grotesque horror of a Hell. There are also a handful of amusing characters, such as the roguish AI that commands the Culture warship Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints, who reminded me more than a little of the Christopher Eccleston version of Doctor Who.
That said, I eventually lost interest in what was going on in the war or who was playing for which side (possibly while pretending to play for the other). Beyond some characters trapped in a Hell and a "conservative politician" figure, it never felt very personal to anyone. I thought Banks might have done something deeper with the idea of the "rights" of a consciousness trapped in virtual reality, unable to escape or die, and not relied as much on ham-fisted literalisms involving demons and pitchforks. Also, I feel that Banks does a better job with side characters than main characters; I found the protagonists in this story pretty bland.
All in all, I enjoyed Surface Detail well enough that I'll be seeking out some of Banks' other works in the near future. He's certainly a good SF writer and has a lot of intriguing ideas. That said, this wasn't quite as enthralling a work as all the glowing reviews had let me to hope.
I'm a big fan of the Iain M. Banks, especially his sciencie fiction books including Look Toward Windward, Algebraist and the like. I've listened to a few of his non-sci fi books now, but this Surface Detail (Culture Novel #9) is the first sci fi I've heard narrated.
And it's absolutely fantastic. The writing is as good as the best of his science fiction, and Peter Kenny is phenomenal as a narrator. I've listened to hundreds of audio books over the last several years, and this is definitely one of my favorites. I love this audio presentation.
Warning to casual listeners: this has fairly complex plot, so you'll have a hard time if you try to multi-task your attention while listening to this book.
Ian M banks is another one of those authors that I have been hoping to see on Audible for years.
The basic premise of this book is as follows: All civilizations start out with a belief in some kind of Heaven and Hell.
All civilizations that survive long enough advance to the point where they can recreate their myths in virtual afterlife's for the souls of their dead, aka the Matrix but for disembodied minds.
Some civilizations feel the need to create Hells to torture some members of their societies after they die.
The over arching plot of the book concerns a battle between factions of the galactic community who want to abolish hells and the ones that want to keep them. The war is fought both virtually and physically on many fronts.
Of course, being an Ian M. Banks book their is much more going on.
Please audible, bring us the rest of his books!
This is the first review for me in 5 years of Audible membership. Banks is a genius. The story in this novel is gradually woven together into a terrific climax. The characters are compelling and go through interesting development. Bank's use of humor is engaging and informing without distracting from the drama of the narrative. The explanation of the technology behind the universe Banks creates is superb and again, not distracting from the story.
Basically, Douglas Adams' cynical wit, Asimov's scale and completeness of universe with the odd Shakespearian character twist.
If you want a can't stop listening experience, a well paced story, plenty of real science-fiction imagery, an operatic scale and storyline but at a literary level above the norm, this is your guy.
I haven't enjoyed a story this much since..... well, of Use of Weapons. We need more Banks on Audible, he is one of the few reasons I still buy paper books.
I think that the "only slightly psychotic" warship "Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints" may be one of my favorite characters in any tale, ever.
audible listener!! :o)
* The "guffcuff" aliens. SO funny!
* One of the characters is the AI of a culture warship. In one scene he narrates what he's doing as he spoofs being a less powerful warship. Hilarious - one of my favorite scenes in the book
* We get a great tour of a GSV through the main character's eyes
* there's a small surprise for loyal culture readers at the very, very, very end ;)
Loved it, can't wait for the next Culture novel.
I have read all of the other culture novels (and wish they were on audible too...). "Surface Detail" is the best one to date. Banks explores many of the same themes and uses many of the same devices as in his other novels. The interwoven plot of the lower-tech Sichulteans and the uber-tech, meddling Culture is seamlessly executed. There are strong echos from "Use of Weapons" both in plot and style; though, "Surface Detail" has a much more linear plot and is as easy to follow as "The Player of Games." This novel is also both extremely funny and disturbing, more so than any of his other Culture novels. The Hell scenes are reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting: truly horrendous and described in exacting detail. Characters are complex and multilayered as usual. Likewise the settings, language and technology are as rich and engaging as always. The narrator was excellent. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in literary SF or other big-scope, space opera like those by Alastair Reynolds, Peter Hamilton and Charles Stross. If you've read the first three Culture books, this is a MUST read.
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