There has been a curious gap in my reading of the Culture series by Iain M. Banks so far, but this Christmas I did put some of my free time (night times, actually) aside to finally read Excession (1996). This is a highly entertaining and thought-provoking science fiction novel, written about a process where the different factions inside the Special Circumstances (the shadowy super-organisation dealing with external and internal security in the anarchist utopia called the Culture) need to deal with both the potential confrontation of a highly more evolved culture, coming outside of this universe, and at the same time deal with the ethical and moral issues embodied in the Affront, a race whose identity is based on inequality, slavery and systematic sadism. Is it allowed to go to war agaist the Affront to stop their evil, or is evil in the eye of the beholder? There is much good old fashioned interstellar intrigue, space fighting and megamachines marching to the stage, but also an attempt to deal with issues like gender, identity and free will. The novel is perhaps not at its strongest on the human characters, but the real protagonists are the Minds, godly powerful Articifial Intelligences, and the heady entertainment Excession is capable of offering is dealing with the interesting problems very highly powered beings and societies will possibly have to face at some point of their evolution. Allegorical readings of the Culture novels are also possible (interpreting the scienti-fictional framework as a dramatisation of certain ideologies), but not particularly inviting. These books are just so good head-trips.