Monday, 8 February 2016

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks


I am taking a break from Iain M. Banks, I have decided. To be precise, I decided this about halfway through this book, when the meandering plot and lots of torture (not approval of torture, but lots of it) were taking their toll. I stand by that. I was initially thinking of it as a permanent break, but the end of Surface Detail somehow convinced me that while I might need a break, perhaps even of a year or two, I may come back and finish off the Culture novels at some point. 

I'm still not in love with these books. This time, it was just how meandering this was, without feeling like there was a point. This may sound odd, coming from me. I know I usually love meandering. But I have to be enjoying the journey, and I was decidedly not. There were also too many storylines, and too much reluctance to let the reader in on what was going on.

None of the reveals were, in the end, good enough to warrant that, nor did they really feel that they gained anything by being concealed for so long. At least once, Banks tried for a double reveal - reveal one thing, and then a shocking thing about that thing! Problem is, it doesn't work. We need time to take in one twist before you tell us it means something else entirely. Instead of being shocking, it ends up eliciting an elaborate shrug. 

This is a book about what death and an afterlife means in this world, where death can be temporary, and some civilizations have created computer-based afterlives. Some of them have even made Hells to punish those in their society they deem worthy of punishment. 

The Culture doesn't like that too much, but then again, they're not interfering in this particular one. There's a war on a virtual plane over the fate of the Hells. Some reformers on the outside are fighting to expose them. 

Through all that, and not really woven enough into the main thrust of the story to enhance it rather than distract from it is a young woman, Lededje, who was a tortured slave until she was killed by her owner, and woke up in a Culture AI world, before being given a new body. She's out for revenge, and this story was fine, but it could have added so much to the other storyline if only there were some efforts to tie them together, even if only thematically.

I mean, she was dead. And for a while, while alive, lived in a hellish existence. But this is never brought up in such a way as to pull it together with the rest of the story in any substantial or meaningful way. So we have her revenge quest, and then we have the war over the hells, and why aren't these all aspects of the same story?

On the other hand, I feel closer to Lededje as a character than I usually do to Banks' characters, and that's almost enough to pull me back in. Not quite enough, but sufficient to make it likely I'll come back for another novel. But not next month. Or the month after it. I need a break. I am not good at shotgunning a bunch of books in the same world back to back. Bingeing is not my fictional style. I prefer to leave time between them, savour books without hurry, without needing to get to the next one, like there's a destination I'm frantically working my way towards.

I want my reading to be more about the journey. And it's time to take a break from this one. 

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