I've listened to two other Iain M Banks novels, Player of Games and Surface Detail, and had a somewhat lukewarm reaction to them. But given his popula..Show More »rity in the SF community and his recent tragic death, I figured I'd give him another try -- maybe I just hadn't picked the right books?
Consider Phlebas is the first entry in the Culture series, so it seemed like a sensible place to go next. And, indeed, reading it gave me a better handle on Banks's vision, which I think is what really attracts people to his Culture books. Here, we get a galaxy that's partly under the sway of The Culture, a giant liberal wish-fulfillment fantasy of a society in which benevolent machine overseers ensure freedom, tolerance, and material well-being for all. However, the Culture is being encroached on by the Idirans, a religious warrior species that rejects what they regard as its empty machine dependence.
The hero of this story, interestingly, is Horza, a man with shape-changing abilities who works as an agent for the Idirans. He does so less out of conviction in their theology, and more out of a sense that life in the Culture is a dead-end state, a pleasant but ultimately hollow existence. Thematically speaking, it's worthwhile stuff.
Banks's storytelling, however, is frustratingly undisciplined. The characters, including Horza, are thinly developed, deriving about as much personality from Peter Kenny's multi-accented audiobook narration as from the actual writing. The plot's ostensibly about a race to retrieve a lost Culture Mind from a dead world, but after a dramatic opening, it wanders off into an aimless, somewhat implausible middle section that seems to be an excuse for battles and set pieces that don't go anywhere and one gross-out scene. At times, I could see where Banks's reputation as a "smart" author comes from; other times, the experience was more like reading a space adventure made up by an imaginative twelve-year-old boy.
Not that these issues necessarily lead me to steer all readers away. He did have a knack for cinematic imagery, inventive machines, sizzling firefights, and things happening on a huge scale. I enjoyed his dark sensibilities, the idea that war, conflict, and predation are a nasty business, not a light-hearted adventure. The final chapters contain a suspenseful confrontation in underground tunnels and an ending whose ambivalence I liked.
In all honesty, I'm not sure that I could recommend this novel to anyone new to Banks, given how half-cooked its execution is. Yet, for those looking to dig deeper into his works, it's definitely of value for putting his Culture universe into perspective, being the book that first set it up. Its rawness is a good counterpoint to his more polished later works.
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 mimicking o..Show More »f 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.
Had been quite some time since I had read this collection of short stories, I'd forgotten about it's existence. But I managed to get this downloaded s..Show More »hortly before being wheeled in for an emergency appendectomy. So please consider my review through the eyes of post-operation medical quality opiates. First story, isn't that nice. Second story, what? Listen again. Oh yes that is good. A few more stories which are rather good, but as I find with Peter Kenny's reading, he is the unsung star of this generation of Banks' publishing. Even if one doesn't necessarily *enjoy* the story, of which there was one in here that honestly after my hospital release I can't recall which one, Kenny's reading is a joy to listen to (and trust me, even more so under the influence of opiates). His attention to tone, character and timing is I think impeccable. I must give a warning about the title short story. There is one scene, the dinner scene, where you may laugh so hard that you do yourself an injury. Sure, I had recently been sliced open and should have controlled myself. But, the extra morphone that was required due to the additional injury was not unwelcome. This review is rambling? Sure, I'm out of hospital and still on painkillers. The book? Oh yes, I'm reviewing the book and not the opiates. The book's a must have for the Banks completist. And a great little introduction of the differing styles for which Banks was well known. Kenny again delivers. My only niggle would be that it sounded like it was recorded in a small room and not a acoustically dead (ie, no reverb) room. However I'm fairly certain this was only noticeable at 4am on the ward with headphones when the only noises to be heard was the nurses footsteps checking on the patients. This isn't to say it's bad, but more to say why the 'overall' score I've given it doesn't match the performance and story scores. OK, I'm out. Not editing this review. I need some more codeine based stuff...
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.
I cannot recommend this highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book a few years ago, but the narrator brought another dimension to the story ..Show More »that blew me away.
In my humble opinion Iain M Banks is a master of this genre, rivalled only by Alastair Reynolds. This story is beautifully written and totally absorbing from the beginning. The characters are wonderfully realised, the story lines fast paced and believable with an underlying humour that I found delightful.
As is often the case when I read Banks, I found myself marvelling at his insights and observations. He is a formidably intelligent man.
Toby Longworth is a brilliant narrator and this story suits his talents to a tee. It takes real talent to bring characters to life as he did in this book.
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..Show More » 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).
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.