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on September 22, 1998
If you're not already a Banks fan, this book won't make you one (that would be "The Player of Games", "Canal Dreams", "The Brige", or "Use of Weapons," depending on your taste). But if you liked "Use of Weapons", "State of the Art" is worth it just for the title story, which has Diziet Sma aboard a GCU orbiting Earth in the 1970s. The intervene
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on August 8, 2001
ok, so this book was one of the first i read after the bridge, inversions and feersum endjinn. I naturally prefer iain m banks' SF novels as they are so detailed and although this is a short story it has a very big emotional impact(or it did for me personally). It is (in brief) about aliens (the culture) deciding whether to land on earth and what effect it may have if it chooses to. Its main focus is how the mentally inferior human race would handle it if aliens did settle on the planet. I found it quite upsetting to read from a point of view which looks at earth as more of a disease than a blessing and it is disturbing to reaslise how detructive people can be. It brings all this to light and as you progress through the story you realise that the aliens perception of humans being blind to change and thinking they are the only race out there is accurate, which is fairly shocking to read. This book is accurate in its description of the human species and soon the story being told becomes almost irrelevant as this novel really gets into your mind. It is short and, as they say, straight to the point. Brace yourself for some subtle but emotional reading!
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on March 18, 2003
There are a few versions of this floating around. The one pictured on top of this page is the one I'll be talking about and is a collection of short fiction. There's at least one other published earlier that only contains the title story. "The State of the Art" is probably what this book is best known for, it's over a hundred pages long and thus dominates by far all of the other stories in the volume. It's also by far the best, probably because the length allows Banks to really run with his ideas and themes. Basically his ultra-advanced Culture runs into Earth circa 1977 and decides to hang around and observe for a bit. This allows Banks to indulge in quite a bit of social commentary in the form of "aliens telling us what we do wrong" but he keeps it balanced,... some of the Culture think Earth is a great place and there are more than a few arguments that the Culture itself is stifling and stagnant (not that these are new arguments to anyone who has read the other Culture novels), all in all it feels like a complete novel as opposed to a novella, and just about everything works. The book is worth it just for that story. Fortunately the others are all pretty decent, most are pretty short and thus don't have as much impact either because they're just downright weird (the one with the sentinent tree or whatever was just odd) or experimental (the last story especially, I suspect I missed a wagon-load of comments on British society) but most of the others, such as the other Culture story or the guy stuck in the astronaut suit work just right and show the depth and extent of Banks' vision. He's not concerned with working in just SF or just genre fiction or "just" anything, his stories run the gamut and are unmistakeably his, in whatever genre or strange mix thereof. These new to Banks would be wise to sample this and see what he's capable of before moving onto the (hard as it is to believe) vastly better novels. I wish I could say he's underrated, but it wouldn't be true.
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on July 25, 2000
Road Of Skulls summary: this short story is rather boring, but it gets you "in there". The feeling of being on the move is there, and the fairly innovative scenes will catch your interest.
Road Of Skulls rating: 4 stars.
A Gift From The Culture summary: this one keeps you in on it. The characters are well-made, the situation interesting. The ending itself even leaves you satisfied. A smooth ride.
A Gift From The Culture rating: 5 stars.
Odd Attachment summary: very odd story, but it is rather amusing while it should be disgusting. Just like if you read The Wasp Factory, except on a smaller scale. Some of the uses of imagery are shocking yet also amusing. Very well thought-up and witty.
Odd Attachment rating: 5 stars.
Descendant summary: at first you may unknowingly skim through too much of the beginning. I don't think that the beginning started early enough. Excusing that, the story from there gets you into it, and deals with some controversial issues in the middle. The ending is slightly dissapointed, yet understandable.
Descendant rating: 4 stars.
Cleaning Up summary: for some reason this one reminds me of PKDs usual type of short stories. Not that captivating, with shallow characters, but very interesting and satisfying. A mixed read, and probably his worst but it's the top of the bottom.
Cleaning Up rating: 4 stars.
Piece summary: this one is short, yet it is a good representation of life then. When it is done, you'll want more as the author's use of the characters are cool enough. And not only that, but you can also see everything that's happening. Absorbing.
Piece rating: 5 stars.
The State Of The Art summary: like a really long and quite alien version of Piece. The characters are far from shallow (except for the main character herself- major problem here!) and it is both a good representation of life in the culture and a good representation of life today.
The State Of The Art rating: 4 stars.
Scratch summary: woah. I really am obessed with this. Most of these stories start out good and get worse and worse if you read them more and more, especially towards the end. But this one? It reads very odd at first, but it is excellent oral reading material. Read it out loud to anyone who knows of this sort of writing and they'll be wondering about Iain's potential (in a good way). When I first read it I cocked my head to one side. I then read it out loud to myself and became ultra-hyper. Many of the elements here (if you look closely enough) are really pessimistic views of life (especially British politics) today. You'll read it and never get off it again. Some of the scenes here are unforgettable and extremely witty; you'll wonder how Iain Banks thought all that up in his mind.
Scratch rating: 5 stars.
Overall rating of collection: 5 stars.
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on February 23, 1999
Look at it this way - State of The Art is a great short story with some additional filler between the covers. But what a great short story it is. State of The Art finds the Culture arriving at Earth in 1978. By all accounts, the outlook is bleak for the human race. Contact, and our favorite Culture gal Dziet Sma, have to decide whether to get in touch with a world locked in a seemingly desperate arms race and the slow and painful destruction of the planet's ecosystem. Banks casts an ascerbic eye over the "state of the art" - both the Culture's and Earth's. By setting the story in the recent past, the reader knows that if the Culture had turned up just 10 years later the whole story would be different. Or would it? Sma and her crew-mates travel around the world sampling the delights and the horrors of Earth. Despite various cosmetic changes, is the planet in any better shape than it was 21 years ago? Is the Earth beyond hope? In a fitting gesture to the Culture's perverse tolerance for dissent, a crew member decides to stay. Why? And what, asks Banks, makes us human - and the Culture alien? A clever, philosophic and beautifully written story. Worth the price of the book alone.
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on September 4, 1996
In "State of the Art" Banks gives us an powerful insight into our own culture, its greed, politics, and notion of what it means to be "human."

As with the very best science fiction writing, Banks challenges the reader. His gritty writing style, coupled with the slick high-technology Culture clashing with 1960's Earth politics, sets the stage for a explosion of ideas. Many of these ideas fly directly in the face of common wisdom (at least for what *we* consider is wisdom) and forces the reader to reevaluate our own mind-set. Scary stuff indeed.

In one of the most telling passages, alien characters play a party game -- describe earthlings in one word. Replies include: industrious, curious and insane. One alien replies "MINE!" A very telling exclamation of modern Earth.

I'd rank "State of the Art" as Banks' best work to date - which is certainly a big complement. I'd recommend the book for any sci-fi fan, or - more importantly - any person who believes that capitalism is the only way for the future. You may not agree with Banks, but at least he gets you thinking
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on June 13, 2000
Banks is quite simply on of the greatest modern SF writers. His books are always a treat for everyone, SF fan or not. Here, Banks shines up the old SF plot device of aliens studying our culture, and does right well by it. Compare this with any of the Star Trek novelizations and I think you'll agree with me that SF is not dead, it's just stuck in a bit of a loop right at the moment. With writers like Banks, science fiction will always retain its ability to surprise, enlighten and thrill us.
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on July 14, 2001
...this is not a collection. There is a short-story collection of Banks', but it was only released by his British publisher (Orbit, in 1991). That collection is also called The State of the Art (the title novella does takes up close to 2/3 of the book...)... Any edition that is from 1989, or published by Mark V Ziesing, is the origional American version and only contains the novella.
Hope that helps out.
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on November 11, 2000
Adult and young adult fans of fiction in the disturbing tradition of Roald Dahl will appreciate this collection of short stories.
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on February 22, 2016
This novel just might be my favorite of all Mr Banks incredible body of work.
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