Reading Excession

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.

Iain M. Banks: Excession
Iain M. Banks: Excession

Author: frans

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

2 thoughts on “Reading Excession”

  1. I read the first Culture novel Consider Phlebas for the first time recently and while I enjoyed reading, at the end I looked at it and asked, “why was half of that stuff in there?” It just seemed like there were so many diversions that really seemed like they could easily edited out. It made me think twice before picking up his other books.

  2. I sometimes think that Banks has his models coming from the epic novelists of 19th century (think Dostoevsky etc.) but then again, also Stephen King and colleagues seem to get paid by the number of manuscript pages, so it might be true that some of the extra characters and side-plots are there just for commercial, rather than artistic reasons. I personally rather like the complex, convoluted tapestry they create together, but also understand the opposite view.

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