I don't know why I'd never heard of Banks or the Culture before. After finally discovering and consuming what little of the series we've got on offer ..Show More »here at Audible, I've started to see references to it everywhere. Go figure. But if you, like me, are into the kind of science fiction that rewards a thinking and speculative approach, then you'd do well not to let this series pass you by. Iain is deathlessly funny in the blackest of black ways, and the narrator's quick and cunning reading really highlights the flippantly grim nature of the galaxy in which the Culture thrives--seriously, tried listening to some other Culture books with another narrator who tried this whole somber style, really didn't work out.
Consider Phlebas is the story of a war between the hyperliberal semi-transcendental post-human Culture civilization, the quintessential 'good guys' of a near-endpoint technological civilization, and a race of near-immortal warrior-poet types spreading their religion to the galaxy. Yeah, yeah, it sounds preachy, but it ain't. Through three or four intertwined narratives (the Culture books almost always do that Charles Stross thing where stories with unclear connections come together to a harmonious narrative), we get to know the civilizations we're looking into and watch as they breach the territory of a genuinely transcendent godlike mega-species, the Culture to rescue one of its own artificial intelligences, their enemies to capture that same mind for the technology it will offer them. But the plot, elegant though it is, isn't even the best part; it's the beautifully flowering exposition of the society of the galaxy, which Banks pulls off with an impossible grace. You'll wanna go there.
I enjoyed Iain M. Banks' book because of an excellent narrator. I am not sure that the story itself is so great... although it falls probably in the g..Show More »enre of tragedy.
This is the first book in Banks' Culture series and is a must to read or listen to should you be interested into being initiated into his universe where man and machine have become equals in the sphere of existence. Set against the background of the Culture (humans and machines) and Iderian war, Horsa, the main character, must find his own way through the maze of loyalties. Horsa chooses against artificial life, just to... well read or listen the book to find out.
On the surface this is a great adventure story in which the playing of games becomes as exciting as a physical combat scene in an action movie. Under..Show More »neath it is a provocative discussion of how intelligent individuals who live as part of larger social groups might best arrange their relationships with each other. The themes are abstract, brilliantly captured in the game play itself, yet never, ever tedious or boring. I agree with reviewer Guy that this is a great introduction to the The Culture series, so this is especially recommended for those who have not previously encountered Banks. Peter Kenny read the story brilliantly, doing an exceptional job of giving each character a unique voice.
I thoroughly enjoyed, Peter Kenny's rendition of Iain M. Banks' "The Player of Games." Kenny's interpretation, especially his unbelievable m..Show More »imicking of different drone-like voices, brought the book to life.
"Consider Phlebas," the first Culture novel where man and machine lives in a symbiotic relationship, is in my view, only an introduction to the background aspects necessary to understand this book.
The main character, Gergey, an over comfortable citizen of the Culture, is given a chance to get his cage rattled by playing the game of his life! But like the mysterious narrator tells you in the beginning, it is a story about a battle that was not a battle and a game that turned out not to be a game.
While going with Gergey on this "rollercoaster ride," experiencing how he comes to life, experience emotions he has never felt before, something at the back of the listener's mind keeps on gnawing at you, "Who is this mysterious narrator?" The book plays its own game with you, the question is, will you win or it.
Iaian M. Banks writes (what I would call) philosophical science fiction. He uses his stories to raise important ethical questions and to comment on th..Show More »e political establishment of the day. ???Use of Weapons??? is no exception. When listening to the story it might help asking yourself ???What is the weapon(s) used in the story and by whom????
When Special Circumstances a division of Contact, the (machine-humanoid symbiotic) Culture???s ???Intelligence Agency??? uses the man, Cheradenine Zakalwe, as an agent to do its dirty work, it eventually has to come to terms with his past. Banks hereby raises the question of superpowers using unknown front figureheads and groups to do their dirty bidding in ensuring that the world is shaped according to their will. What happens if this fa??ade cracks?
The story is complexly structured. There are two numbering systems in the book, a story going from chapter to chapter in chronological order and a numeral system which consists of back flashes seemingly arranged in a reverse chronological order. The numeral chapters give the listener hints an a little bit of insight into the person and being of Cheradenine Zakalwe. When the current time and the past collides the puzzle suddenly fits and the ???aha??? moment arrives. This makes the book in my opinion outstanding.
I found that while the story that moved from chapter to chapter was straightforward, the numeral chapters kept you guessing. I enjoyed the way the numeral chapters were written; each one could be a short story on its own.
Banks makes the listener a sleuth, encouraging you to puzzle out the story before he tells you the secret at the most crucial point in the story. He definitely caught me unaware. I think this is where the brilliance of this novel lies in, the surprise.
Peter Kenny, by now synonymous with the reading of Iaian M. Banks??? audio books does an excellent job.
Be warned, it is not an easy book to listen too at first, but is you persevere you will find the gold at the end of the rainbow. It took me a few times of rewinding and listening again to some chapters, but I am really glad I did it.
???Use of Weapons??? is the third Culture novel after ???Consider Phlebas??? and ???The Player of Games.??? I propose that you listen at least to ???Consider Phlebas??? first, just to get the feel for Bank???s science fiction universe. However it is not a must, you might probably enjoy this story just as much without listening/ reading his other books.
This is one of the Culture Series books, best introduced by "Player of Games" if the series is not familiar. Use of Weapons has a complex, non-linear..Show More » structure that can be difficult to follow in audio format. The prolog establishes an event at a particular point in time, call it time t-zero. The story then begins at time t plus 13 and is told in alternating chapters, half of them moving backward toward t-zero, and the other half moving forward from time t plus 13. You arrive at the end of the book when the backward narrative reaches t-zero just as the forward narrative reaches a climax that reveals the real meaning of the events in the prolog. It is cleverly done, but you really do have to pay attention. This one is not for casual listening while you multitask. I would also suggest re-listening to the beginning of the book after you have finished it. Knowing the whole story really changes the meaning of the events at the book's opening. Brilliantly done, and exquisitely handled by Peter Kenny, who does not just read the book, he performs the story.
Really liked the first two books in the series. The third one was not available on audible so skipped to this one and the onlly reaction is WTF is thi..Show More »s. A couple of short stories are OK, the rest is best ignored. Hope the next book is more like the first 2.
Peter Kenny has brought a whole new experience to my understanding the writing of Iain Banks. Mr Kenny seems to have a number of uncanny knacks of wha..Show More »t I believe a true storyteller should have, an ancient art form that went out of favour with the invention of the printing press and now, thanks to audio books, is making a comeback. A little too dissimilar to how Messrs. Kubrick and Clarke created the universe of 2001 apart but together to be comparable, Mr Kenny was not a co-creator yet he is a collaborator. His obvious skill, talent and intelligence as an actor, most essentially I believe with radio-play experience, has given him a gift permitting him to join Mr Banks in 'The Culture' in a way I think few others could hope to achieve. I would encourage any fan of story telling, whether written word or film or stage play or photojournalism etc., who don't mind a bit of the ol' spec-fic to give this a go. While I believe there are other readings by Mr Kenny as powerful as this, none are better and this will forever remain a performance not to be missed.
Inversions (1998) is the least obviously science fictional of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, which are usually replete with imaginative and sublime fa..Show More »r future science and technology. The Culture is an interstellar anarchic utopian confederation of artificial and natural worlds populated by humanity, aliens, and sentient machines, and run by AI space ship "Minds." As resources have become practically limitless, everyone is theoretically free to do whatever he or she or it wants. The Culture tries to be an enlightened civilization, being intolerant only of aggressive civilizations. A frequent Culture dilemma is what to do when faced with bellicose civilizations that just won't listen to reason or play fair: improve them, crush them, or ignore them. It is in this context, then, that Banks, in his words, tried "to write a Culture novel that wasn't."
Banks upsets his normal Culture pattern by setting his novel on a single world (with two suns and multiple moons) in a medieval-monarchic-patriarchal civilization that knows nothing of interstellar travel, let alone the Culture. The novel is comprised of two alternating and inverting stories, one about the Doctor, a mysterious woman named Vossil who has become the personal physician to King Quience of Haspidus, the other about the Bodyguard, a mysterious man named DeWar who has become the personal bodyguard of Protector UrLeyn of Tassasen. Even readers unfamiliar with Banks' other Culture novels should gather early on that Vossil and DeWar hail from some much more advanced civilizations. And if you've read some Culture novels you might wonder about a suspicious rain of fiery rocks that caused an empire on this world to fall. . .
The two story strands and their two protagonists mirror each other while remaining tantalizingly separate. Both Vossil and DeWar are trying to keep their respective rulers alive, she through medicine, he through violence. Both retain their integrity, morality, and humanity while surrounded by torturers, assassins, aristocrats, and spies. Yet one gets the impression that Vossil is subtly nudging her King towards progress while DeWar is passively watching his Protector try to establish a new form of government. The two stories are told by different narrators. Vossil's naive young assistant Oleph is spying on her for an unknown master and telling the story of his youthful infatuation with the Doctor when he's an old man, while a sophisticated person who wants to keep his or her identity secret is telling the story of DeWar's attempts to protect the Protector and to explain himself.
Banks being a fine writer, he writes some neat lines, as when Oleph tries to avoid seeing some horrible implements of torture, but "they attracted my wide-open eyes like suns attract flowers." And he writes characters it's easy to care about. DeWar and Vossil are compelling, as are some of the characters around them, Lady Perrund (the maimed and beautiful former first concubine of the Protector), the Protector's little son Lattens, Oleph, and the subtle King Quience.
The philosophical base of the novel rests on shifting sands. Oleph recalls the Doctor telling him that although "We can never be sure of anything. . . yet we must live. We must apply ourselves to the world." But how to apply ourselves? Oleph points out that "We never like to think that we are sinning, merely that we are making hard decisions, and acting upon them." DeWar tells Lattens a story in which some people live in a utopian world where they can fly on invisible wings and everyone has everything they need and is reasonably happy, and wherein two cousins, a man and a woman, friends since childhood, have an argument regarding the savage tribes around them:
"Was it better to leave them alone or was it better to try and make life better for them? Even if you decided it was the right thing to do to make life better for them, which way did you do this? Did you say, Come and join us and be like us? Did you say, Give up all your own ways of doing things, the gods that you worship, the beliefs you hold most dear, the traditions that make you who you are? Or do you say, We have decided you should stay roughly as you are and we will treat you like children and give you toys that might make your life better?"
Thus after all Inversions really is a Culture novel, for Banks can't help writing sf that reveals the culture of our developed countries here and now.
Inversions is also an anti-war story in which, unusually for anti-war stories (and for Culture novels, which usually feature a fair amount of large and small-scale violence), the war here (quite horrible in its effects on individuals and nations) happens far off-stage or in the past. The only war shown in real time is a cool and creepy game (recalling Uncle Toby's hobby in Tristram Shandy) played by DeWar and Lattens in which they fire mini-catapults from a balcony into the landscaped garden below, trying to destroy each other's miniature towns and ports. Are we watching a future warlord being made by playing this "innocent" version of the real war taking place elsewhere in the world.
Peter Kenney reads the audiobook engagingly, giving Vossil an indefinable accent to highlight her foreignness, reading female voices without straining to be feminine, and enhancing the story and characters.
Like each of Banks' Culture novels, Inversions is a self-contained and relatively compact story. It reminds me of the Strugatskis' Hard to Be a God, or of Le Guin's Ekumen stories. It might disappoint fans of heroic or epic fantasy, as well as fans of big spectacle space opera, but people who like Banks' Culture novels and thoughtful and moving sf or fantasy novels about the difficulties in helping people or doing the right thing (or deciding what the right thing is to do) would probably like it.
I listen to my audiobooks as I commute (1.5 hours a day). It's amazing I'm still alive having been so engrossed in this book.
Th..Show More »e story has all the wonder of Ian M Bank's vivid imagination. He conjours up fantastical species and worlds that require no effort on my part to suspend disbelief. A beautiful story that tries to describe the problems that might face species as they reache their full potential through scientific discovery. The author does so without coming off as pretentious, trite, or belittling the audience's intelligence. More than once he made my life seem very trivial when held against the vastness of existance. A tragic story, but captivating the whole way through.
Toby Longworth's narration is a credit to the story and Toby himself. Toby imbues each character with his/her/it's own personality without sounding at all ridiculous. You always know who's talking and get an incredible sense of who they are. I'd like to wax lyrically about Toby's performance, but to save you the pain of my inelloquant banter, I'll just say that it was superb.
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 m..Show More »ajor 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!
Like all of Iain M Banks' Culture novels that I have read, this one was vast, mind blowing and in parts hilariously funny. The best part about Banks ..Show More »in audio is that my mind can wander during detailed descriptions of space (or other) battles, and not have lost the thread when the interesting (to me) stuff starts up again.
The narrator gave a unique voice characterisation to every one of the many major and minor characters, making sections of the story that I think I may have skimmed in print utterly engaging in audio. I'm sure the book has its faults, I've seen other reviewers complain about Veppers being a cardboard cutout pantomime villain, and they're right. I just didn't mind though, so much did I enjoy the personalities of the rest of the characters, especially the ships' Minds.
I've read most of Banks's work by now, and this is a little underwhelming. After the depth and breadth of Surface Detail, this leaves me feeling a li..Show More »ttle cold. Banks as always paints sweeping vistas of alien awesomeness and really digs in with amazing concepts and high tech culture. But one doesn't ever really like his characters, only the Minds seem to have any depth to them.
It won't be the last Banks i read, he does keep me hooked enough to continue. But I hope they get better rather than worse from here.
I am a big Iain M. Banks fan, and any new Culture novel is a cause for celebration. If you aren't familiar with the Culture -- set in a far future po..Show More »st-scarcity society where AIs, humans, aliens, and impossible engineering co-mingle in interesting ways -- this may not be the ideal book to start with (Player of Games or Consider Phlebas might be better), but all of the books are pretty independent.
As a fan of the series, I wouldn't consider this to be the best offering, though it is far from bad. There is the usual mix of action, wry humor, philosophizing, and amazing flights of imagination that mark Culture novels. But the story itself, while full of great ideas and interesting sections, doesn't really connect the way the most compelling novels do. Perhaps that is because the novel is a bit of a ramble through a civilization that is about to evolve to a higher, immaterial, state. There is an overarching plot about a millennia-old religious secret, but the book is really about the picturesque locations visited in attempt to solve the ancient Da Vinci Code-style mystery. The perpetual parties, people with faces made of bowls of soup, sculpted moons, eccentric robots, and other clever details encountered seem like a slightly harder-edged version of Douglas Adams.
Because the novel veers between humor and seriousness rather suddenly, or perhaps because so many of the main characters are Minds, the super-intelligent ship-board AIs, the book is really interesting but rarely feels emotionally compelling. Since Banks is more than capable of writing at the highest level, this is a little disappointing, but the book is still very much worth listening to, and is generally both thrilling and fun, with a little serious navel-gazing thrown in for interest.
The reading is terrific, but, listener be warned, there are a few very explicit moments voice-acted in great detail. Make sure to have headphones on for, say, the visit to the party ship, or the start of the second half of the book. Overall, I don't think any fan of imaginative science fiction, and especially any fan of Banks, will be disappointing they took the time to listen to the novel.