Fiction Reviews


(1996) Iain Banks, Orbit, 15.99, hrdbk, 453pp. ISBN 1 85723 394 8


The latest in Iain Banks' ultra high tech and mega-scaled Culture series of space operas. This author has consistently delivered solid SF intelligently wrapped with a stiff dollop of humour and an awareness of science. The thinking man's answer to much contemporary American SF. Need one say more. Not really, but there are probably those who cannot wait, and then there are the uninitiated so...

So, Iain has in the past looked at the Culture (a highly advanced humanoid interstellar collective) from a number of perspectives: we have seen how its game-playing leisure class live; witnessed the exploits of those it employs to manipulate other (humanoid) civilizations; and followed its military-political intrigues. There, of course, remain numerous other ways to delve into this exotic universe and questions to ask. Of these Excession examines the relationship between a particularly vicious non-human species and the culture, as well as the role drones and AIs play within the Culture, both in a mundane capacity and regarding the BIG picture.

The plot concerns an artefact that appears two and a half millennia ago from another dimension. Then it disappeared. Now, today, it is back! It screws up one ship, but otherwise remains dead enigmatic and leaves everyone to race to find out what on Earth (which is clearly where we are not) is going on, and who is in charge. One person may have a clue as to what this unresponsive object is: the person who saw the object when it previously appeared. However she is sleeping out her death as a guest on the immense Eccentric ship the Sleeper Service. The Culture ships devise a plan to retrieve her but will the Sleeper Service go for it..?  And then there is subliming: Subliming sounds fun but, please kids, don't try this at home. And then... well, by the time you read this the paperback will be out so don't just sit there!

Jonathan Cowie

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