Fiction Reviews

Iron Gods

(2017) Andrew Bannister, Bantam Press, £14.99, hrdbk, 316pp, ISBN 978-0-593-07650-7


The Spin is an ancient and artificial assemblage of 22 stars and 88 planets. Many of these last are the home of various human civilizations: some advanced; some less so. But the advanced worlds at the Spinís core are in decline for a number of centuries. Staving off this decline has warranted some drastic measures including the creation of some worker colonies: slavery on an industrial scale.

A small band of slave from one such 'Hive', against the odds, escape taking an ancient battleship, the last of the great ships that used to abound in the Spin. This ship has had its mind deliberately reduced, but the escaped slaves begin to reverse this.

Of course the authorities are not at all happy that both slaves have escaped and that they have lost their prize ship which has headed out away from the centre of the Spin. Fearing some sort of underground resistance, they plant an agent into the Hive to ascertain what is going; an agent whose mind is going to have to interact with the artificial intelligence called the 'mind stack'.

Meanwhile a new green star burns in the outer reaches of the SpinÖ

Iron Gods is a follow-up to the mind-numbingly brilliant Creation Machine which is also set in the Spin. Technically these two books are linked and there are in just a couple of places brief references in Iron Gods to the events in cite>Creation Machine. However, fret not if you have not read the first book because Iron Gods can effectively be read as a standalone novel. If you are like me you'll be hooked and seek out the first novel and having read both you will gather that there is a broader story arc emerging and which no doubt will become more apparent in the third title yet to come. Yet, I stress, this is a very enjoyable novel all by itself.

This is widescreen space opera with a hard-ish SF riff to it. I likened the style and content of Creation Machine as being somewhat reminiscent of the late, great Iain Banks 'Culture' books. Both feature advanced civilizations capable of constructing big dumb objects. In Banks' Culture these include the giant space station artificial habitat worlds called orbitals; meanwhile Bannister gives us the Spin itself which is one giant, stellar constellation-scale, big dumb object. Both Banks and Bannister have intelligent space ships and small mobile artificial intelligences. Both Bannister's and Banks' novels have a dark, humanly cruel component, though Bannister does not offset this with the happy-go-lucky hippies in space 'Culture' that Banks has. (The athletes in Iron Gods make for frighteningly horrific, yet perversely compulsive, reading and I'm a bit uneasy about Bannister bringing this facet of my personality to the fore.) Both authors also give their readers a mix of political intrigue with action, thriller set pieces and both provide bags of sense-of-wonder (sensawunda). So, as I did with Creation Machine I heartily commend Iron Gods to Iain Banks' readers. Be assured, this is something I do not do lightly, such is with the regard I hold Iain.

With Bannister's debut novel, Creation Machine, we seemed to have struck a nugget of SF gold. With Iron Gods our luck continues and it seems that with this new author we may well have found a vein of the stuff.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Peter's review of Iron Gods.

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