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on March 7, 2001
Reading your first Iain Banks novel is like nothing else in literature. It's a little like being in the washing machine on spin cycle. You emerge dizzy but refreshed. Machine gun pacing, vivid characterization, universe-spanning cultures and, of course, The Culture. Smug, self-satisfied, hedonistic and vain, The Culture is also bifurcated between more-or-less humankind and Minds, advanced AI's that are not always tolerant of their "meat-based" co-citizens.
More than any other novel of The Culture, this one involves those Minds and, without spoilers, they turn out to be human, all too human. Banks handles very well the problem of writing dialog for beings who are far, far more intelligent and think millions of times faster than we do. As others have noted, it sometimes makes for dense reading, but it is very believable. In some ways, this is a novel about the psychology and motives of Minds.
As always, Banks laces the story with sly humor, word play and wholly believable aliens. The Affront, the most conspicuous aliens in this tale, are a wonderful invention. As always, the structure of the novel itself with its interlacing of different story lines and physical organization is a part of the story itself, although less obviously so than in the earlier _Consider Phlebas_.
The Excession of the title is the focus of the attention of most of the characters in the story, but Banks is far too gifted a writer to make it the whole story. Readers who complain about the ending may be missing Banks' most important point. Perhaps the story isn't so much about the Excession, but how the characters react to the Excession. And maybe the ending is Banks' way of underscoring that point.
As always with Banks' stories of The Culture, there is moral ambiguity and it's impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. For my taste, that's a lot more "real" than the moral absolutes of space operas in the tradition of E.E. "Doc" Smith.
An excellent, rollicking adventure, full of surprises, laughs and sly irony. Densely written but highly readable. Much more mature than earlier Culture novels. Highly recommended.
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on October 31, 2001
Most Iain Banks books are challenging reads, it's a credit to the man that he refuses to write down because he's penning SF novels and not the higher profile "literary" stuff that most of the mainstream probably recognizes him for (is he well read in this country, nobody I know has heard of him . . . what's with that?) so what you basically get with the Culture novels is SF from someone who really knows how to write and doesn't just have a degree and feels the need to share this nifty cool idea he had the other day. This book is full of cool ideas but more importantly it's a dense and slightly elusive work . . . while it's not opaque stuff isn't spelled out explicitly for the reader, there are a lot of dots to connect here. The setup is a large object has appeared from literally nowhere and interacts with the energy grip in a way that is supposed to be impossible. But this isn't the first time this object appeared and the only person who is around from that last appearance is Stored in a ship and has to be convinced to come out. That's how the plot starts. Where it ends is somewhere totally different and if sometimes you think you're reading a totally different book, that's just par for the course with Banks. The focus this time around is more on the Minds in the ships, which is good and bad. The Minds are basically human and their rapid fire conversations that take up a large chunk of the book are highly entertaining . . . however it can be daunting for readers unable to keep track of the dozens of names, especially with little strong personality to back up the Mind and make an impression. You may wish for a recap box at some point to make sure you're still up to speed. Still astute readers are rewarded with a plot that twists almost dizzingly . . . I've read a few Banks books by now and he still amazes how he manages to turn everything upside down so quickly. The action is good, the dialogue between ships crackles, the plot is mind bending and the last page deserves to be read over and over again. I can't say this is his best work, but like all his other stuff the quality is high and if new readers have the stamina, they'll find themselves pleasantly delighted.
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on January 23, 2001
Iain Banks can be an intimidating writer. His command of the language and a wonderful imagination combined with a penchant for being unconventional leads to very complex plots, unusual prose styles and flat out great books.
_Excession_ is one of his Culture books, possibly his best. As is typical, there are multiple plots and protagonists but the great AI ships (Minds) play a larger role in this book than any of the others. An unusual object appears in space and touches off a race to claim it between the Culture and others (not specfied so as not to be a spoiler) resulting in some wonderfully complex situations featuring wonderfully deep and fleshed out characters. This book will have you wincing on page and laughing the next, which brings a welcome realness to the hard science fiction genre.
But with this excellence comes a warning: If you tend to skim books or not really pay attention, you may not like Banks in general and _Excession_ specifically. The prose is very dense, with important details tossed off in small sentences that caused to be stop and reread sections more than once. I heartily recommend all of Banks' work and urge the reader to give it the time and care it deserves.
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on October 27, 2000
I first picked up one of Iain M. Banks' Culture novels in a train station in Edinburgh while I was studying abroad in college. I think I must have inhaled the entire book on the train ride from Scotland to London. Well, probably not, but it felt like it. By the time I left Britain, I had scoured the bookstores for more of the series, and finally picked up the last of one I couldn't find in Singapore.
It really annoys me that such excellent novels are "out of print" here in the United States.
The "Culture" in Banks' novels refers to a galactic hegemony involved in overtly or subtly bending the rest of the universe's civilizations to their will. It's really quite well done. Wonderfully invented worlds (such as giant, manufactured rings) and inventive quirks like various kinds of sentient machines make the series real page-turners.
Books written published the "Iain M. Banks" nom de plume seem less overtly sinister, possibly not as thought provoking as his written under "Ian Banks." All in all, I'd give them the five-star rating.
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on October 22, 2000
The book which precede's this book is _The Player of Games_. _Player_ is the reason that I chose to read _Excession_, but unfortunately, the bizarre plot twists and generally thick storytelling made this a difficult read for me.
_Excession_ picks up in the same universe where _Player_ left off and dives even deeper into the consciousness of the sentient drones/ships/orbitals which populate the Culture. This is the reason to attempt this book... these characters are fascinating. They feel human for a bit then Banks subtly reminds you that you're in the "head" of a machine. Brilliance.
The human characters is where Banks lost me. He begins with solid hooks on each of the main characters, but they often did not develop into three dimension characters that I cared about. Towards the end, I found myself praying to avoid threads which involved these characters and their confusing plotlines.
If you want a taste of "The Culture" -- read _Player_. If you want to find out more, read this, but keep a notepad out and take notes.
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on July 21, 2000
It is certainly a well-made book with excellent visual accuracy and wonderful-and-quite-original use of "Minds" that make it special. It is, in itself, interesting and captivating from beginning to end.
The few chapters with the sentient Alien drone living on a very, very dead ship has got to be one of the most memorable scenes of any book that I have ever read. The struggle for survival and the drone's clear and frank emotions take you in.
The revelations are also of great proportion. They're in every chapter and unmissable. The ending is innovative and conclusive, the investigation drawing you in.
The characters in general are very well-made and well-designed, and you can really imagine meeting the Humans, but the Drones and Minds are what make the book, in it's way, "special".
It is hard to find anything wrong with this book. I have wracked my brain hard but can't seem to think of anything that could be flawed. It is great for anyone who wants a good book and even better for lovers of any space opera.
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on July 15, 2000
Except for Star Wars, I'm never been much into sci-fi. I bought Excession partly on the strength of Banks' 'straight' fiction (especially The Wasp Factory), but mostly because it was the only English language book on the shelves of the Venetian bookshop in which I found it. The outward signs were not good: the edition I purchased is illustrated with one of those ghastly airbrushed spaceships favoured by the direst of pulp sci-fi publishers. But one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Nor did I have foreknowledge of Bank's "Culture", the parallel universe he has developed for his science fiction titles, a potential handicap given this is about the fifth in the series. It turned out not to matter.
Excession had me from the start. This is proper literature which, as such, leaves Arthur C Clarke and E E "Doc" Smith for dead. The ideas in it are out of Clarke's league, too. There's something cinematic about the narrative, cutting and diving between figures and dialogues (the communications between the ships are especially fascinating) as Banks unravels, surely and deliberately, the plot. It's challenging - not a word in the 451 pages is wasted, and you can not afford to casually flick through a couple of pages. Fortunately, you never feel the need to. Readers of his straight fiction will know Banks' particular gift for story telling: it is put to even better use here. After fifty pages you know you're in the hands of a master - a fine, wicked, playful master at that.
Banks' only concession to the genre is to give his humanoid characters silly names, such as Dajeil Gelian and (& I'm not kidding) Sikleyr-Najasa Croepice Ince Stahl da Mapin. Knowing Banks' style, however, this is probably some sort of in-joke that I don't get, so the laugh's most likely on me for missing it. His spaceships, which are delightfully sentient, all get terrific names, on the other hand, such as The Problem Child and Fate Amenable to Change. Cool. Great book - ideal holiday reading; excellent for a 15 hour ferry trips from Bari to Igoumenitsa.
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on July 7, 2000
If you were to take the average Roman citizen circa 100AD and present him with a collection of short stories by brilliant twentieth century writers, chances are that he would find much of the content confusing, astounding or downright unbelievable. A similar feeling may be had by readers of Excession who are not familiar with Iain M. Banks previous works of science fiction. Mr Banks tells of a culture where technology is advanced to a point that it is borderline fantasy. While a good deal of his science fiction looks likely to become science fact, some of his concepts are unabashed plot devices.
Unlike much of his non-sci-fi work, the prose here is beautifully straightforward and succint. There are romantic tragedies, collossal space battles, political intrigue and dealings between artificial intelligences. All this produces a spectacularly well written book that is actually several very different stories anchored around one particular event, the "Excession".
I literally could not put this book down. The pacing is perfect, the characters very deep and the technology almost sinful. Throughout the novel I had the feeling that I was going to be in for some kind of major twist or surprise in the end. I was not dissapointed. The final confrotation was the most sensational piece of space operatics that I have ever read and it left my head buzzing.
For people who like their science fiction with an edge, Iain M. Banks does for the next few millenia what William Gibson has done for the near future.
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on March 15, 2000
Iain M. Bank's "Excession" of the Culture series is incredibly complex and amazing for all the "gibberish" terminology that he just cranks out. I'd never even heard of Iain Banks before I spotted this book and promptly read it, because I enjoy sci-fi. I was not completely ready for all the terminologies that the AI ships utilize, but the many subplots were at times funny and irreverent or dire and thought-provoking. The thought that the diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen could simply turn himself into a woman by thinking about it was...strange. The Culture's "culture" is ironic, because all that the AI machinery and the fun-loving utopia has done to ordinary human beings is what we're hoping for the future anyway. I mean, who wouldn't wish to live three hundred years and change sexes when wanted? Who wouldn't want AI machines doing everything for you and completely changing everything. Well, I think Banks raises a lot of ethical questions in "Excession", because for the Culture, what we consider somewhat taboo thought is commonplace. Brilliant, Iain M. Banks!
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on September 9, 1999
Herm, you might wonder about the summary. I'm not a writer, so there. As for the book; I must admit that it's the first book I've read for years - litteraly - of my own free will, ie. not counting work and school books. I would also like to submit, that I've been pre-exposed by my friends by their glorification of the intelligence of mr. Banks. To that point, I would like to say, that they were right. I think, that his book, 'Excession', is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. (Although it has been a while since I last read a book of this genre) I simply love the details put into his exquisitely modelled character and setting definitions, and the way that he explains things so that you could understand them as if you were part of that universe. Also the way that he explains about past events that lead to this, and what might have affected persons or Minds (read: Computer-minds, eg. the mighty ships), and the way that their personalities are explained deeply, even in detail about the last thoughts of a heroically self-destructing drone.
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