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Surface Detail [Paperback]

Iain M. Banks
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 12 2011 Culture
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.
It begins with a murder.And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

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 thought 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.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

SURFACE DETAIL is Iain M. Banks' new Culture novel, a breathtaking achievement from a writer whose body of work is without parallel in the modern history of science fiction.

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Review

Balances high concepts and macrocosmic scale with deft characterisation and the kind of excitement expected from his acclaimed Culture series SciFiNow --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Back to The Culture Oct. 31 2010
Format:Hardcover
Absolutely no-one does space opera with the sheer brio of Iain Banks. Partly, it's the scale: unthinkably brilliant AI's; unthinkably huge spaceships (Torturer-class picket ships! Abominator-class offensive units! Deepest Regrets class warships!) capable of travelling at several thousand times the speed of light; a galaxy populated by trillions of beings - human and otherwise - in which the destruction of an entire star system might barely rate a notice; the ability to change one's sex merely by willing it...I could go on and on.

Partly also, it's the Banksian voice, endlessly sardonic, sometimes to the point of childishness, more often laugh-out-loud funny.

And to a large extent, it's how he portrays the interaction between man and machine, between poor little meat-based humans and the vastly more intelligent and powerful AI's who actually run the show. He does it by having the AI's find it useful to scale themselves down, in the form of drones for detached missions, and avatars for communicating with shipboard passengers. One of the main "characters" in Surface Detail is Demeisen, avatar of the Abominator-class ship Falling Outside Of The Normal Moral Constraints. Demeisen has "personality" to spare.

Plot summary? Well, it all has to do with that old stand-by, virtual reality. More specifically, with the decision of some civilizations to create virtual hells for punishment of the wicked and deterrence of the rest. Trouble is, other civilizations find this practice abhorrent, and it might just lead to war in the Real.

All in all, pure fun. Yes, it's a bit too long (627 pages), could have used some tighter editing, but over all, a great read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typically great Nov. 17 2010
Format:Hardcover
You almost can't go wrong with an Iain Banks novel, I've enjoyed all his last few offerings. As already noted, this is not quite as tight as some of his previous works, but his writing style sweeps you up effortlessly. He's one of the few authors I know who can make the revealing of technical details, which other authors make you grind through, an intense and thrilling experience. If you're not familiar with "the Culture", not to worry, it's thoroughly explained. If you are familiar with "the Culture", new revelations will keep you intrigued.
Enjoy!
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By John Kwok TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
To say that Iain M. Banks opted to forsake modern literary fiction merely to write epic space opera science fiction novels within his acclaimed "Culture" universe, would be making light of him as a writer and criticizing his rationale for abandoning mainstream literary fiction. In plain English, to borrow William Gibson's phrase, Banks felt science fiction had a much better "tool kit" to tell epic tales rooted in morality and philosophy than contemporary mainstream literary fiction. He didn't abandon mainstream literary fiction merely to write genre fiction that would displease many hard-nosed literary critics and writers who remain dismissive of science fiction and fantasy. Instead, he effortlessly combined the convention and style of literary mainstream fiction with the toolkit of science fiction, producing a memorable body of work that will be hailed and remembered as the finest literary space opera science fiction ever written, and demonstrating that, at the time of his death from inoperable cancer on June 9, 2013, he was still among the most important voices in contemporary Anglo-American literature irrespective of genre.

"Surface Detail", one of Banks's last "Culture" novels, is definitely among his best, memorable as a riveting epic tale of revenge and murder played out in the far reaches of Culture-dominated space, replete with ample digressions into faith, philosophy and politics. Banks gives readers a most riveting meditation on the natures of reality and individuality, cloaked in a fast-paced thriller-tinged space opera.
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5.0 out of 5 stars That Which Kills Us, Makes Us Stronger Feb. 20 2013
By John M. Ford TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Iain M. Banks has written another Culture novel. This is an almost routine event, though no less appreciated by readers of past Culture stories. Banks balances our familiarity with Culture Minds, technology and, well... culture with new characters, story lines and ideas. The book's structure will appeal to Tom Clancy readers, similarly following several characters whose individual stories initially seem unrelated.

Some of the more engaging characters are short-lived. Lededje Y'breq is the personal property of ruthless Joiler Veppers, who has driven her father into bankruptcy and had her tattooed with his personal mark on her skin and everywhere else down to the cellular level. Led dies in the first chapter. Vatueil is a soldier who has fought, killed and died in more battles that even he can remember. When he loses his life, a fresh version is restored from his back-up and thrown into the next round of a decades-long conflict. He dies at the end of the second chapter. Again. The Abominator-class picket Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints is more than it seems--both to other ships who scan its field configuration and to people who misjudge its avatar, Demeisen. It doesn't stay together through the whole story, either.

Readers who enjoy Big Ideas are not disappointed. We encounter tattoos of various depth and complexity. There are several on-the-ground views of virtual afterlives, both rewarding and punishing. As the conflict over the existence of virtual Hells is fought on several levels, we ponder the relationship between hope and suffering. And we consider the varieties of death. Along the way we are introduced to a few new alien races, a giant sentient object or two, and an embarrassing "smatter" epidemic that proves challenging to eradicate.
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