Banks' Matter

Just finished reading Ian M. Banks’ new Culture series novel, Matter (yes I know, it is late and I will regret this tomorrow — the damned book was 593 pages). A rather enjoyable read (I am a fan of Banks), but also a bit weird, asymmetric experience. There is a lightly entertaining layer in the book, all that stuff of superhuman cultures making intrigue within a state-of-the art space opera with rayguns, gigantic machines, and gargantuan time-scales. There is also a hard-SF style invention involved in Banks’ decision to set the main narrative into a “Shellworld”, a Dyson-sphere-like megastructure with several layers on top of each other, each effectively a world in itself, with its own planetary conditions, civilizations and even artificial suns. The “layer” is perhaps in the end the guiding metaphor for the entire novel: under the space adventure layer there is a layer of Shakespearean drama (much of narrative takes place in Renaissance era civilization, and the courtly dialogues reflect this in their language), and under this there are some philosophical, existential and even political layers of storytelling.

It is hard to go deeper into analysing the novel without spoiling the plot, but lets just say that I can understand how the final pages of the book can leave readers with mixed feelings. There is something dark and clinical under the gay surface of Culture science fiction, and in this novel raw desperation even comes to mind — the novel reads like sort of tragedy, but it is so large and mixed in its constituting parts that it is perhaps impossible to tie all strings together in an entirely convincing manner. But nuff’ said: the book is of high entertaining and even artistic quality and should be recommended. Just be warned of its length…

Iain M. Banks - Matter

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.

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