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Matter

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In a world renowned within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. Only the siste In a world renowned within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilisations throughout the greater galaxy. Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else’s war is never a simple matter.

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In a world renowned within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. Only the siste In a world renowned within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one brother it means a desperate flight, and a search for the one - maybe two - people who could clear his name. For his brother it means a life lived under constant threat of treachery and murder. And for their sister, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever. Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilisations throughout the greater galaxy. Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy. In the world to which Anaplian returns, nothing is quite as it seems; and determining the appropriate level of interference in someone else’s war is never a simple matter.

30 review for Matter

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    The eighth book in the culture series. If you're reading this, you're familiar with the Culture, and you don't need yet another review telling you how fantastic this particular entry is. All I'll say is that it's no exception, and stands right up there with all the others. Two quotes that really stood out for me from this fantastic book: “Behave honourably and wish for a good death. He’d always dismissed it as self-serving bullshit, frankly; most of the people he’d been told were his betters were The eighth book in the culture series. If you're reading this, you're familiar with the Culture, and you don't need yet another review telling you how fantastic this particular entry is. All I'll say is that it's no exception, and stands right up there with all the others. Two quotes that really stood out for me from this fantastic book: “Behave honourably and wish for a good death. He’d always dismissed it as self-serving bullshit, frankly; most of the people he’d been told were his betters were quite venally dishonourable, and the more they got the more the greedy bastards wanted, while those that weren’t like that were better behaved at least partly because they could afford to be." - “War, famine, disease, genocide. Death, in a million different forms, often painful and protracted for the poor individual wretches involved. What god would so arrange the universe to predispose its creations to experience such suffering, or be the cause of it in others? What master of simulations or arbitrator of a game would set up the initial conditions to the same pitiless effect? God or programmer, the charge would be the same: that of near-infinitely sadistic cruelty; deliberate, premeditated barbarism on an unspeakably horrific scale.”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    This is one of those horribly complicated books that is simultaneously strong and weak in the same exact areas at the same time. *groan* I mean, it starts off strongly with fantasy-type trials and tribulations in the empire, a king dying and his son being supplanted by the king's best friend, taking over the kingdom. Pretty standard... but then the whole other part of this novel is chock-full of purely wonderful heavy SF ideas that isn't entirely obvious at first but then becomes an infodump mast This is one of those horribly complicated books that is simultaneously strong and weak in the same exact areas at the same time. *groan* I mean, it starts off strongly with fantasy-type trials and tribulations in the empire, a king dying and his son being supplanted by the king's best friend, taking over the kingdom. Pretty standard... but then the whole other part of this novel is chock-full of purely wonderful heavy SF ideas that isn't entirely obvious at first but then becomes an infodump masterpiece of oddness and wonder and a world that really belongs as a movie just because the visual elements are completely amazing. The world. Oh my lord, the world. Layers and layers and layers with ancient species and high tech and even ascended species. These humans are only on some outer layer. The infodumping doesn't do it justice. Just... wow. Plus there's also different factions of the Culture, Special Circumstances against the rest, and no one seems to agree how to deal with people. :) And then there's the rogue Culture fragments that may or may not be in with the actual culture (either side), and the sister of the poor deposed kingling decided to quit Special Circumstances to help him out. Everything else just devolves into a huge technothriller with huge stakes and ships and some really amazing descriptions and adventure. So why am I only giving this a 4 star? Because while the ideas are amazing and this author is known for his wonderful characters and his ability with traditional fiction, too, the character's names are too difficult and the ideas are too info-dumpy rather than a flowing masterpiece. And to be entirely fair, I don't know how he could have done it better except by turning this novel into something much longer and gentle. So it feels flawed and utterly brilliant at the same time. Which is a shame. I really want to LOVE this novel, not just appreciate it to death. Which I do. Hell, I want to kind of worship it, but I can't quite LOVE it. How frustrating. I'll keep going! For straight ideas, Banks is one of those grand masters of SF. :) His characters, for their flaws, are still some of the most richly imagined. The plots are usually mind blowing. And if he could ever keep it all flowing and working together right without tripping over each other, I might start worshipping the man as a god. :)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    [Swirling patterns. Weird, vaguely familiar, futuristic music. Is it the Doctor Who theme tune? Slowly the camera pulls back to show the title Celebrity Death Match Special: Blackadder versus The Culture and we realize it's an unusual setting of the Blackadder song. Dissolve to ROWAN ATKINSON and HUGH LAURIE, who looks rather unhappy] ATKINSON: Is everything alright, sir? LAURIE: Oh yes, rather, absolutely spiffing, top hole, couldn't be better. Except for one little thing. ATKINSON: And that is? LAUR [Swirling patterns. Weird, vaguely familiar, futuristic music. Is it the Doctor Who theme tune? Slowly the camera pulls back to show the title Celebrity Death Match Special: Blackadder versus The Culture and we realize it's an unusual setting of the Blackadder song. Dissolve to ROWAN ATKINSON and HUGH LAURIE, who looks rather unhappy] ATKINSON: Is everything alright, sir? LAURIE: Oh yes, rather, absolutely spiffing, top hole, couldn't be better. Except for one little thing. ATKINSON: And that is? LAURIE: Well, I made a rather foolish bet with a chap named Iain Banks. I'm afraid I lost, so I need to write him a full-length science-fiction novel by tomorrow. Otherwise I'm going to be dropped in a block of concrete and buried for the next twenty million years. ATKINSON: Dear me, how very unfortunate. Please accept my commis--- LAURIE: So you think you might be able to take care of it? ATKINSON: To be honest, there are certain technical--- LAURIE: Excellent, excellent, I knew I could count on you. Well, I'm just off to dinner at my club. I'll drop by and collect it later on. [Exit LAURIE. Enter TONY ROBINSON as BALDRICK] ROBINSON: I couldn't 'elp overhearing that. ATKINSON: Baldrick, what are we going to do? ROBINSON: I 'ave a cunning plan. ATKINSON: I might have guessed. ROBINSON: No, really sir, it's very cunning. I took this collection of old novels by Mr. Banks, and I fed them into this computer, and I told it to cut them up and make us a new one. ATKINSON: Baldrick, don't be ridiculous. You can't just create a novel by cutting and pasting old ones. You need characters--- ROBINSON: I know sir. I've put in plenty of characters. Me and 'is 'Ighness to start with. ATKINSON: Baldrick, do you and His Imbecility look like characters from a science-fiction novel? ROBINSON: Well sir, we could come from a backward planet. ATKINSON: Anyway, two characters aren't enough. ROBINSON: I agree sir. I also added Mr. Shakespeare's 'Amlet. ATKINSON: Hamlet?? ROBINSON: And Miss Lara Croft. ATKINSON: Lara Croft??? ROBINSON: From the video game sir. Very fetching young lady. Well-proportioned. ATKINSON: Are there aliens? ROBINSON: Yes sir. More aliens than you could shake a stick at. I've thought of everything. 'Ere, 'ave a look. [He hands over a large pile of paper. ATKINSON flicks through it] ATKINSON: Hm. Well, it's nice and thick. ROBINSON: Thank you sir. 593 pages. ATKINSON: We might just get away with this. ROBINSON: I was hoping so sir. ATKINSON: You did put in an ending? [Pause] ROBINSON: Ah, well, sort of sir. In a manner of speaking. [ATKINSON turns to the end and looks up, appalled] ATKINSON: You have scrawled in pencil, "Then they killed the bad alien and Baldrick lived happily ever after." ROBINSON: I'm sorry sir. The printer broke down. [ATKINSON is just about to start hitting him when LAURIE enters and sees the manuscript] LAURIE: Already finished? Marvellous, Blackadder, marvellous! I must say, I just don't know what I'd do without you. ATKINSON: I don't either sir. [End credits, music] Match point: Blackadder

  4. 5 out of 5

    Psychophant

    This is a book I really wanted to like, and failed. I like Iain M. Banks style, I like his willingness to run risks, to give you the whole punch. And in this book, he barely delivers. The book are 500 pages of set-up, and forty pages of resolution, and not a very satisfying one. Too many characters doing not very interesting things in utmost detail, and then the interesting parts are just glossed over. Add wooden (and not very new in his books) characters, when part of his magic is making great in This is a book I really wanted to like, and failed. I like Iain M. Banks style, I like his willingness to run risks, to give you the whole punch. And in this book, he barely delivers. The book are 500 pages of set-up, and forty pages of resolution, and not a very satisfying one. Too many characters doing not very interesting things in utmost detail, and then the interesting parts are just glossed over. Add wooden (and not very new in his books) characters, when part of his magic is making great inhuman characters. This time even the humans are flat. The only real interest are a few imaginary locations, which are well thought and well presented. But that's it, nice locations, a quite straightforward plot (advancing at a glacial pace during the set-up). I want to emphasize the glossing over. Here we lose the high adrenaline space opera descriptions, the witty banter, the powerful messages, the moral dilemmas. They are potentially there, they just are not in the text. And knowing the villain may be feeling a certain unease is not a moral quandary. It is probably the Banks book I have spent more time reading, and that is a bad thing. I think I will reread Use of Weapons, that explores many of the same areas much better.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Matter starts out with some baroque steampunk fantasia with grim political dealings that reminds me of Jack Vance, George R.R. Martin, and Mervyn Peake. Than it switches to a wide screen galactic romp and winds ups as a apocalyptic high-tech thriller with more than couple elements from Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space. There is three pronged story moving through these stages involving three siblings. The relation between Ferbin and his servant Holse is filled with odd couple comedy like Cerva Matter starts out with some baroque steampunk fantasia with grim political dealings that reminds me of Jack Vance, George R.R. Martin, and Mervyn Peake. Than it switches to a wide screen galactic romp and winds ups as a apocalyptic high-tech thriller with more than couple elements from Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space. There is three pronged story moving through these stages involving three siblings. The relation between Ferbin and his servant Holse is filled with odd couple comedy like Cervantes or Wodehouse, Djan travels home through morphing political climate, and Oramen has a fight for survival ripe with bitter irony. The book is tragic and funny in equal strides and quite dark and violent with action scenes that manage to be tense and absurd at the same time. The eerie scenes on the planet Bulthmass are one of many highlights. But, really there a lot as can’t quite remember having this much fun reading a book in awhile, as it is that mix of serious and entertaining I love. With recognizable allusions and similarities to Hamlet, Revelation Space, Song of Fire and Ice, Vance’s Dragon Masters, Lovecraft, Dr. Who, and Douglas Adams, it might seem that this is a hodge podge but it felt cohesive with great characters, self referential wit, brutality, and astounding imagination. This may not be a better novel, than say, Use of Weapons but I think it might be more fun.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sumant

    The 8th book in The Culture series i.e. Matter was a big let down for me, because it had pretty interesting ideas like Shell word and Nest world but Banks spends so much time exploring those ideas, and giving you info dumps regarding those ideas that the story of the book takes a back seat in the whole book. Also he uses a lot of complex names for his characters which after some time becomes quite irritating as you do not have index on audio book to remember all the characters. Some of the strong The 8th book in The Culture series i.e. Matter was a big let down for me, because it had pretty interesting ideas like Shell word and Nest world but Banks spends so much time exploring those ideas, and giving you info dumps regarding those ideas that the story of the book takes a back seat in the whole book. Also he uses a lot of complex names for his characters which after some time becomes quite irritating as you do not have index on audio book to remember all the characters. Some of the strong points of the book are 1. Shell world 2. Different species involved. 3. A decent plot. Some of the weak points of the book are 1. Main plot goes for a toss. 2. Too many characters with complex names. Let me elaborate on the above strong points 1. Shell world This is really an interesting concept where we have a group of planets whose core basically consists of different layers. Now each layer is a world in itself and is inhabited by different species. Also each layer has its own star and set of mountains, rivers and species. These layers throughout the core of the planet are supported by huge towers through which you can move from one layer to another. Also these planets were built by species who have long ago sublimed, so we do not get any info regarding their purpose. At the core of the shell worlds there are believed to be dirigible behemothaur present, who are worshipped by the species on the shell world to be a world god. We last encountered them in the book Look to windward. 2. Different species involved. Once such shell world is the Surasmen where most of our story takes place, it is inhabited by interesting mix of species. Some of the species on this world are 1. Sarl They are humanoid species who live on the 8th level of Surasmen and they have been involved in a war with another humanoid species known as Deldine for a long time. 2. Oct They are the species who consider the builders of the shell worlds to be their ancestors, they are shown to be technologically more advanced than the Sarl and are the governing species of Sarl. They are also shown to be searching something on the 9th level of the shell world. 3. Nariscene They are governing species of Oct and they keep themselves aloof from any happenings which are going below their levels on Surasmen, they have a theory that species should be allowed to evolve naturally and so do not interfere in any matters. 4. Morthanveld They are governors of the planet Surasmen and are on par with Culture regarding the technological progress. They are water species and live on super structures of Nest world. This is a mix of species which we get in the book, it makes a fascinating read to see how the species interact with each other politically, like the Oct seem to involve themselves in all situations which profit them while the ones like Nariscene and Morthanveld tend to remain aloof. 3. A decent plot. The book starts when the Sarl are in the middle of the war and prince Fabrian sees something which will make him flee to his sister Djan Seriy Anaplian in the culture. Meanwhile his brother Prince Oramen rules as puppet king with regent Tyl Loesp in complete control. The plot mostly consists of Fabrian travelling with his companion servant Chubris Holse to different planets and ships in search of his sister. Let me now elaborate on the weak points of the book 1. Main plot goes for a toss. As you can see from the above strong points I have written much about the different places and species present in the book without giving much into the plot of the book, this by far is the biggest issue of the book because Banks makes his characters travel so much in the book that he has to give info dumps regarding their surroundings or the different culture ships they are travelling on that the main plot takes a back seat throughout the book and keeps popping up in the middle due to which you quickly start losing your interest. 2. Too many characters with complex names. Although in previous books Banks has used lot of complex names but in this book the no of species involved is quite large due to which it becomes very difficult to remember each and every character when doing this book on the audio. Considering the above points it is a weak Culture book, and I give it 3/5 stars.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stefan

    I'd go as far as saying that this is the 3rd best novel in the series so far, after "The Player of Games" and "Use of Weapons" in that order. I was blown away by the quality of the story, the interesting and well-developed characters, and the sheer scale of the novel. Four stars, highly recommended. but if you haven't read Culture novels before, I recommend just starting at the beginning. "Consider Phlebas" is still the weakest novel in the series, but it is the first one and sort of a rite of p I'd go as far as saying that this is the 3rd best novel in the series so far, after "The Player of Games" and "Use of Weapons" in that order. I was blown away by the quality of the story, the interesting and well-developed characters, and the sheer scale of the novel. Four stars, highly recommended. but if you haven't read Culture novels before, I recommend just starting at the beginning. "Consider Phlebas" is still the weakest novel in the series, but it is the first one and sort of a rite of passage. After that, it's nothing but excellence. If you're into science fiction at all, these are must-reads.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nick Wellings

    Where sprawling becomes a bad kind of sprawling, like, sprawling in the street after passing out from a night on the razz, only with less sodium lights and more dragon-type creatures floating around your mind, no wait, floating around your mind in a concentric kind of world within a world complete with medieval peasant types, futuristic warrior types and fey castle kingdoms, and flying dragon type things and WAR (always WAR! Yaargh!!) - but sprawling in that needy grasping way that only that som Where sprawling becomes a bad kind of sprawling, like, sprawling in the street after passing out from a night on the razz, only with less sodium lights and more dragon-type creatures floating around your mind, no wait, floating around your mind in a concentric kind of world within a world complete with medieval peasant types, futuristic warrior types and fey castle kingdoms, and flying dragon type things and WAR (always WAR! Yaargh!!) - but sprawling in that needy grasping way that only that some sprawlers supine and almost contrite with their imposition upon you can sprawl, like, suffocating...a hand grabbing your trouser cuff, an old friend you try and shake off because he's not who you knew, the whole affair leaving a bit of a Bad Taste, reluctance to treat with the chap any more, but...damnit he's a mate - can't give up on him because of one little public indiscretion. So: Matter. SPOILERS! So: Matter. Requisite Final Fantasy 7 "ultimate boss!" fight at the end, requisite "everyone dies" at the end complete with heroic WW2-esque "I'm going in!" self-sacrifice elements complete with King Lear-ish fratricidal brothers but minus the dramatic dignity of good old Shakes, plus flying dragon things and chase elements from flying dragon type things. I think as well as dragon things, this also had aliens made from gas, insectoid aliens - maybe next Banks we'll get aliens made from aliens, aliens made from toilet paper (if it still exists in the what-the-f**-year-is-it-anyway? century The Culture is set in - the usual intelligent ships, aliens that hate each other, a smidge of espionage and "bad girl made good" too. Fun for all the family, right? No, not quite right. See, I like old Banks. I know we can't have Consider Phlebas again, but lately Banks' has fallen prey to inflation. Not of ego, or wallet or um... spacetime (all of the above may be true) but of plot and idea. Knowing he needs to write for the fans, he chucks everything and the kitchen sink in. It's gone all Stargate SG1, where they started to have, like SG team 18 and SG Atlantis and pyramids flying round space and by the 5th series it was just nuts, and I hated it, so much so that I can't recall anything much about the later series than the big pyramid things in space, and Amanda Tapping being kind of a babe. They made 214 episodes, says Wikipedia. 214! This book reads like an episode about 198, where its like nothing the first series ever was because its so bloated and full of wanky shit, shineys to make you think "woooo! not seen that before!". Gone are the simple geodesics, the shortest distance between drama and event. Gone are the slick and screamingly awesome passages that helped Phlebas blow apart British sci-fi in the 80s. Gone is the majestic urgent voice of a writer who deliberately tries to dazzle. Now instead of the slick legerdemain of early Banks we have an older paunchier prose, the patter of it not quite fitting the trick it tries to pull. We have little castle kingdoms, forced dramatic irony of aliens looking down on said castle kingdom world, aliens made from gas and all that, witty spaceships, The Culture looking down on the gas aliens looking down on the world looking down on the peasants and c. (Maybe the gas aliens were big water-beings. I forget. I just recall they needed environment suits or portable ecosystems.) Here Banks grasps, convolutes, invoulutes himself into chains of story that are coiled not so much double helix, (compact, elegant, efficient, composed of elegant building blocks encoding information, building a neat, stable whole) but laid before us well, in a more spaghetti like melange: if you tug hard enough, a strand leads to a strand, but some just terminate, all loose ended, like. Matter is all detail and no substance, it tries the dazzle, tries to pass of substance by showing of simple abundance (of material.) but the misdirection misfires,the patter runs out of steam, we're left knowing the trick and the trickster too well to be taken in. IN FOURTEEN WORDS: Maximalist Banks, good for a few days amusement, but by far not his best.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tieryas

    2/1/15-I really wanted to love this. It began in a very fascinating way, a revenge story that I was really looking forward to. By the end, it reminded me of Star Trek V, and unfortunately, not in a good way. Still, even with the flaws, Matter is an incredible book with incredible ideas. I'll write a full review at some point. "Wisdom is silence." These Shellworlds are absolutely fascinating, especially their connection to the planets of the dead (and Consider Phlebas). Damn, am so happy to be rea 2/1/15-I really wanted to love this. It began in a very fascinating way, a revenge story that I was really looking forward to. By the end, it reminded me of Star Trek V, and unfortunately, not in a good way. Still, even with the flaws, Matter is an incredible book with incredible ideas. I'll write a full review at some point. "Wisdom is silence." These Shellworlds are absolutely fascinating, especially their connection to the planets of the dead (and Consider Phlebas). Damn, am so happy to be reading another Culture Book and am just saddened I only have a few left before it's done.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Got it, read it, loved it. To be true Iain M Banks' Culture novels had always already distinguished themselves by being remarkable for having a plot, a good plot, an intelligent good plot, that is not utterly unbelievable or alien (ahem, apart from being set in the far future and in outer space etc). On that score you will not be dissappointed here either. Two, three and more plot-lines seemelessly intertwine, split, multiply and ultimately coalesce once more into a grand finale. Equally the lan Got it, read it, loved it. To be true Iain M Banks' Culture novels had always already distinguished themselves by being remarkable for having a plot, a good plot, an intelligent good plot, that is not utterly unbelievable or alien (ahem, apart from being set in the far future and in outer space etc). On that score you will not be dissappointed here either. Two, three and more plot-lines seemelessly intertwine, split, multiply and ultimately coalesce once more into a grand finale. Equally the language and vocabulary will not leave you wanting: it's a well rounded and beautiful English. Those bits and pieces that are not, and are, for lack of a better term, Culture-space-speak, are explained in a glossary in the back of the book for those who are new to Culture novels and/or fail to catch on to ample intrinsic clues scatterd throught the text. Never fear, this is intelligent SF which can easily pass muster as a piece of literature. So if Sci-Fi normally is not your thing because you dread cheap excuses for questionable air-brush cover-art, don't be shy this book would be an excellent starting point for expanding your horizons. That having been said what can you expect from the story? A human low-tech civilization in the midst of war, treachery and intrigue finds itself embroiled in a past, present and future that far explode its scope. Those familiar with Culture novels may ask what is new at this point. The Culture - current apogee of human development in a highly competitive universe filled with a dazzling array of aliens at various levels of civilization and technological development - has always pursued the goal to interfere in the course of the development of lesser civilizations for what the Culture believes to be 'the good'. A well known fact from other Culture novels. What is new, however, is the ways in which the various charcaters of those intertwining plot-lines mentioned in the forgoing deal with their horizons being exploded (in some cases - to no surprise - literally). And yes, if you wish to play the philosophical perspective card, the relationship between mind and matter is at stake and while being entranced by a ripping good yarn you may suddenly find yourself contemplating the nature of freedom. Although the plot-twists may leave you ambiguous whether it is in our nature to be susceptible to nurture, and to which extent we are bound to the matter we are, the novel leaves you in no doubt as to I.M. Banks' position concerning the relationship of mind and matter. Trust a man of his background to sum things up with an expletive. Which one, and how and why you have to find out yourself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    There is an interview at the back of this book in which Banks says he was thinking of giving up writing SF but he set himself the task of creating a completely new context for a novel; The Algebraist, Banks' best novel for years resulted. With Matter Banks returns to the Culture - and that is a mistake. Every worthwhile idea relating to the Culture has been expounded multiple times already - there has been no need for a new Culture novel since Use of Weapons and the quality of them has been deter There is an interview at the back of this book in which Banks says he was thinking of giving up writing SF but he set himself the task of creating a completely new context for a novel; The Algebraist, Banks' best novel for years resulted. With Matter Banks returns to the Culture - and that is a mistake. Every worthwhile idea relating to the Culture has been expounded multiple times already - there has been no need for a new Culture novel since Use of Weapons and the quality of them has been deteriorating ever since. (It seems likely that Use of Weapons will be the best book Banks writes in any genre, ever.) This means that when we are exposed to yet another rehearsal of the arguments for and against interventionist politics, it is just boring; Banks fans could present both sides of the argument without having to think by now. Some of the characters are also Banks cliches and all of the main characters spend considerable time merely travelling from one place to another before they can meet up for a climax that is too short and unfortunately predictable, at least in general outline. Once again the book is too long for its own story; if ruthlessly pared down to half its length it might move fast enough not to lose the interest of its readers. This affliction is so widespread amongst contemporary authors that one must suspect that the publishers/editors must find it somehow desirable. One aspect of the book, is superior to The Algebraist, at least - there is very little reliance on crude jokes to bulk up the story, which is about all that the middle part of the Algebraist consists of. Is Banks a spent force? It seems the man who shook up hard SF and made it a powerful force again may have been overtaken by newcomers to the genre.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    Rosado mp3. Round the lake. Thinking of Mr Banks and his sad news. Love the ship named 'Do Not Try This At Home' #83 TBR Busting 2013 TR Consider Phlebas TR The Player 3* The State of Art 4* Look to Winward 3' Matter 4* The Algebraist As Iain No Em Banks 3* The Wasp Factory 1* The Steep Approach to Garbadale aka The Steep Descent to Garbage 2* Stonemouth

  13. 5 out of 5

    Phoenixfalls

    This book is a fractal -- no matter how you zoom in or out, the basic structure remains the same. It starts incredibly zoomed in on the three (maybe four) main characters, then proceeds to zoom out. . . and out. . . and out. . . until the story encompasses issues as large as the destruction of a world and the resurrection of a long-thought-dead alien society. But, (I think purposefully) to emphasize its fractal nature, the climax comes in an instant and then the whole story comes crashing back d This book is a fractal -- no matter how you zoom in or out, the basic structure remains the same. It starts incredibly zoomed in on the three (maybe four) main characters, then proceeds to zoom out. . . and out. . . and out. . . until the story encompasses issues as large as the destruction of a world and the resurrection of a long-thought-dead alien society. But, (I think purposefully) to emphasize its fractal nature, the climax comes in an instant and then the whole story comes crashing back down to the very zoomed-in. I think this novel will work or not for you based on how well you adapt to that sudden drop. It didn't, particularly, for me, as I was left feeling distanced from the people I had cared about since the beginning, but intellectually I have a great deal of admiration for the skill the novel showed.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Another superb Culture story, and in fact one of the finest. Banks' usual themes of galactic inter-civilization intrigue, war, the dilemma of interference/non-interference in alien civilizations, etc are on display, and as usual we mostly observe the Culture from the outside looking in. This story adds the perspective of a technologically underdeveloped civilization and introduces the fascinating concept of "Shell worlds" - enormous, ancient and artificially constructed planets which are essenti Another superb Culture story, and in fact one of the finest. Banks' usual themes of galactic inter-civilization intrigue, war, the dilemma of interference/non-interference in alien civilizations, etc are on display, and as usual we mostly observe the Culture from the outside looking in. This story adds the perspective of a technologically underdeveloped civilization and introduces the fascinating concept of "Shell worlds" - enormous, ancient and artificially constructed planets which are essentially huge nested spheres, with enigmatic origins, each containing a multitude of species and civilizations. Banks' creativity is on full display, with a panoply of never before described alien species, technologies and galactic politics and history. Highly recommended! For Culture newbies, note that these books can be read in any order. Rather like Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish cycle, the Culture is a shared universe, rather than a series of connected stories that should be read in a particular order. Having now read all but one of the Culture novels, my ranking of the series, best to worst would be: Player of Games Surface Details Matter Excession The Hydrogen Sonata Look to Windward Use of Weapons Consider Phlebas With the exception of Consider Phlebas, which I consider very good, I would classify all the others as great, with there not being much appreciable difference in the greatness from the top to the bottom of the list.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    This novel is a wild ride. It starts off chiefly explaining the Sarl people who live in a society that reminded me of the wild west, complete with cattle rustling (weird space cattle), saloon fights, and the omnipresent question of who's gonna run the ranch (or be the king). It is one of Banks's "Culture" novels and it does quite a lot to explain more about The Culture, for a princess of the royal family of the Sarl was given to The Culture, that conglomerate of "mongrel-utopians", to act in the This novel is a wild ride. It starts off chiefly explaining the Sarl people who live in a society that reminded me of the wild west, complete with cattle rustling (weird space cattle), saloon fights, and the omnipresent question of who's gonna run the ranch (or be the king). It is one of Banks's "Culture" novels and it does quite a lot to explain more about The Culture, for a princess of the royal family of the Sarl was given to The Culture, that conglomerate of "mongrel-utopians", to act in their "Special Circumstances" department. Though she begins this novel by returning to her homeworld, her presence does a lot to explain the way The Culture works. Like all the "Culture" novels "Matter" is not so much about the Culture as it is about one of the worlds on the periphery of the Culture. And what a world Sursamen is! -- an artificial "Shellworld" composed of levels each with its own type of atmosphere and environment; the Sarl live on Level 8, one of the 2 "land" levels. These Shellworlds were built by a race of beings who are now eons dead. There are thousands of them that compose a circle around the galaxy. Most of them are dead, but about 4 thousand remain active. We get to know Sursamen through the royal family of the Sarl. Ferbin, a prince of the royal family, is chased offworld, but returns for a "showdown" with the villains of the story. But the last 100 pages are nothing like what I expected them to be. The story goes from its wild west format into a wild journey full of cataclysmic events and long dead artifacts returning to life that kept me on the edge of my seat through what was a really exciting whirlwind adventure. The characters are asked to question their place, not only among the Sarl, but among this magnificent universe in its totality. This book left me breathless.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    Is it really the first Culture novel for seven years? Where does the time go? While 2004's The Algebraist was full of the verve and invention that we nowadays simply expect by right from Banks' science fiction, somehow the absence of the Culture also left it lacking the ideological thrill – the politics of utopia, as it were – that gives a Banks' novel its heart. Hence the cover of my preview copy simply says, 'The Culture is back. Nothing else matters.' A statement I didn't entirely disagree wi Is it really the first Culture novel for seven years? Where does the time go? While 2004's The Algebraist was full of the verve and invention that we nowadays simply expect by right from Banks' science fiction, somehow the absence of the Culture also left it lacking the ideological thrill – the politics of utopia, as it were – that gives a Banks' novel its heart. Hence the cover of my preview copy simply says, 'The Culture is back. Nothing else matters.' A statement I didn't entirely disagree with (to the disgust of my wife). But to what, I wondered, does the cryptic title refer? What definition of 'matter'? Only one thing is certain: this is a Banks' book so it could be any or all of them. Matter begins on Sursamen, a Shellworld, a gigantic Russian Doll of a world, built eons ago by an inscrutable and extinct race for an unknown purpose. There are thousands scattered across the galaxy (although there used to be many more), most of which are inhabited by a glorious multitude of different races. Levels eight and nine respectively of Sursamen happen to be the home of the Sarl and the Deldeyn, human-like species both undergoing their equivalent of the industrial revolution, and both at war with each other. At the moment of his greatest triumph, Hausk, king of Sarl, is murdered by his closest advisor and we thenceforth follow his surviving offspring: foppish heir to the throne Ferbin, on the run having borne secret witness to his father's ultimate betrayal; bookish Oramen, heir apparent to the now-vacant throne of Sarl; and finally, absent Djan. Given by her father to the Culture some years ago, she has not merely been given citizenship of the Culture, but has become a member of Special Circumstances (or SC), its shadowy secret service. Meanwhile, Ferbin sets out on a mighty journey to enlist his sister's help in avenging their father, although Djan is already returning to Sursamen for reasons of her own, and both hope to save their naïve younger brother, who is in terrible danger from his father's killers. The Culture can't intervene directly on Sursamen for various diplomatic reasons, so their possessing an SC agent is perhaps fortuitous – as much as anything is ever fortuitous in the Culture (I'm thinking of the Sleeper Service and its deep deep cover mission in Excession, which is pointedly recalled here). Most of Matter follows characters to whom the Culture and other such advanced civilisations are distant legends, so we're very much down and dirty with the locals - readers hoping to be thrust once more into the Aladdin’s cave of the Culture per se may be disappointed; this isn't another Inversions, but rather somewhere in-between. While there are wonders by the score, interesting characters aplenty and even a few amusing ship names thrown in for old times' sake, Matter feels like something of a marginal Culture novel, serving mainly to give us a better idea of the Culture’s place and standing in the galactic hierarchy. The story (and especially the ending) feels a bit tenuous. All the various threads work well enough on their own, and the set-pieces, as always, are awe-inspiring, but the story doesn't pull together into a satisfying whole: simply having everyone blunder entertainingly about, incidentally visiting some marvellous places, does not a great novel make, I’m afraid. In fact, I think there are two novels wrestling each other here – with the one featuring the Culture coming off least well. You have to ask, if the Culture wasn’t here would it make a very great difference to matters, and the answer is ‘only to its fans’ (of which I’m definitely one). There’s also some frankly lazy infodumping – fascinating info, I grant you, about which I hesitate to complain because Banks' infodumps have in the past changed the way I think about science fiction as a genre - but info is being dumped upon you, and no mistake. So, a slight disappointment then; but a slightly disappointing Culture novel is still a standard that many other writers should aspire to. Matter is a cracking read on its own, just not a great addition to the Culture canon, adding little to our understanding of everyone's favourite post-scarcity wish-fulfillment civilisation. And what 'matter' do I finally think Mr Banks is referring to? I rather suspect it to be a little joke: that even the stupendous Minds of the Culture still depend upon matter as a stratum for their thought processes, so that, ahem, matter matters.

  17. 4 out of 5

    William

    The story is told in linear fashion, which is somewhat unusual for Banks. And it is an old plot, worthy of the Elizabethan Stage, with elements that are somewhat reminiscent of the works of Frank Baum and Tolkien. Does not get five stars from me due to the author's consistent failure to adhere to the laws of grammar and his often self-indulgent descriptions and diversions into matters that add nothing to the plot. But...still a good read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    prcardi

    Storyline: 3/5 Characters: 3/5 Writing Style: 3/5 World: 4/5 Iain M. Banks.... You did it again. The Culture is my favorite sci fi series to date. There's not even a close second-place contender. Matter is a representative Culture book. That means a far future science fiction universe with species of varying forms and abilities. A universe where historical events billions of years ago are referenced in the same way we now discuss the events of classical Greek history. A time of overlapping technolog Storyline: 3/5 Characters: 3/5 Writing Style: 3/5 World: 4/5 Iain M. Banks.... You did it again. The Culture is my favorite sci fi series to date. There's not even a close second-place contender. Matter is a representative Culture book. That means a far future science fiction universe with species of varying forms and abilities. A universe where historical events billions of years ago are referenced in the same way we now discuss the events of classical Greek history. A time of overlapping technological trajectories and developmental stages, the most advanced of which are unfathomable and the most basic downright feudal. What Banks does better than anyone else in the genre is to take a distant and awe-inspiring future so far advanced and complicated as to be inscrutable and give the reader a mildly cushioned ride through a buffeting tour. You'll be sore and bruised at the end, but the wonders experienced are something to forever look back on with accomplishment and satisfaction. This Culture volume also continues with Banks's statement on civilization. Banks clearly reproves humanity's propensity to destruction and maliciousness. The author's portrayal of the Culture as a utopian society that has moved beyond the fracas is counterbalanced with vivid encounters of wide-scale carnage. Yet the Culture - and Banks - doesn't allow utopia to ignore the suffering of others. Banks doesn't permit some easy way out of the conundrum. He seeks out those situations where only violence can answer violence. This leads to what I appreciate most about the author. This book and the others are written with an implicit - if not explicit - abhorrence of our destructive impulses, yet Banks glories in fury. In Matter, we get more exalted scenes of machismo, action-packed, adrenaline-inducing, magnificent onslaught which excite bloodlust and satisfy that same primal urge which Banks so evidently scorns. He doesn't try to reconcile the contradiction, and I very much appreciate that he felt comfortable admitting that he - and by extension humanity - might just have to live with the incongruity. Matter also continues with another Banks proclivity: flawed storytelling. There is so much to like and to commend in these books, but Banks consistently frustrates me with the way he puts the stories together. This book has the best climax of any of the eight then-published volumes in the series. Of the 593 pages though, it really is not until somewhere around page 400 that a plot is evident. Until that point, the book had been split into two-halves. One half was that far future worldbuilding of which Banks so excels. He does not disappoint with new creations and revelations for the wider universe in Matter. The second half of those early 400 pages was not only boring and uninspired, it was far too similar to material he'd written in an earlier Culture volume (view spoiler)[Inversions (hide spoiler)] . For the first hundred pages, if not more, I was concerned that Banks was going to fail me; that he wasn't going to deliver on the grandeur that I've come to expect from his pen. I would have understood if someone had given up and decided that this was either a) repetitive or b) uninteresting. I'm glad I endured. As a fan, sometimes its hard to acknowledge criticisms of one's favorite, but Banks regularly frustrates in this respect. It is with great anticipation that I pick up the next Culture book these days. It is also with some sadness that I put a newly-read one down. This was the 8th of 10, and Banks's premature death means that there will be no more. Every one I complete now means that there is one less for me to look forward to. My ranking of my favorite Culture novels thus far, best to worst. Player of Games Excession Look to Windward Matter Use of Weapons Inversions State of the Art Consider Phlebas

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mond

    That was a slog. After eight years of waiting for Banks to write a new Culture novel, I’m sure fans were ecstatic when Matter came out and it was so weighty, the longest ever Culture novel to that point (I believe Surface Detail, the next one, is a little longer). As a fan of Stephen King you’d think I’d be comfortable with door-stoppers, but as I’ve become older, wiser and increasingly impatient, any book that exceeds 80,000 words makes my heart sink a little. Matter is 180,000 words. Of course, That was a slog. After eight years of waiting for Banks to write a new Culture novel, I’m sure fans were ecstatic when Matter came out and it was so weighty, the longest ever Culture novel to that point (I believe Surface Detail, the next one, is a little longer). As a fan of Stephen King you’d think I’d be comfortable with door-stoppers, but as I’ve become older, wiser and increasingly impatient, any book that exceeds 80,000 words makes my heart sink a little. Matter is 180,000 words. Of course, if the length were justified I wouldn’t give a shit, but the plot that Banks serves up is taken straight from the epic fantasy handbook. Prince Ferbin of Sarl, egotist and philanderer, witnesses the murder of his father, the King, at the hands of his right-hand man, Mertis tyl Loesp. Ferbin does a runner and is presumed dead. His younger brother, Oramen, is too young to take the crown and so Loesp becomes Regent until Oramen comes of age. Of course, the evil, conniving Loesp has no intention of that happening. Yes, I know what you die-hard Culture fans are going to say, the story is more complicated than that. For one, the pre-industrial kingdom of Sarl is located on the eighth level of a Shellworld named Sursamen (you might remember Shellworlds from Consider Phlebas). These are planets that were built, Magrathean-style, by an ancient civilisation (now deceased). They are layered like an onion, with multiple levels that are accessed via towers that bisect the planet. The Sarls *know* they live on a Shellworld. They also know that they are monitored by aliens such as the Oct and the Aultridia (who detest each other). It’s fascinating stuff, avoiding the annoying Prime Directive cliche where low-tech humans aren’t aware of the aliens among them. Second off, Ferbin and Oramen’s sister, Djan Seriy Anaplian, was - a decade previously - handed over to the Culture as payment for services rendered by a Culture agent. In the years that follow Anaplian becomes a member of Special Circumstances - the covert arm of the Culture. When she hears about the death of her father and brother she decides to head back to Sursamen. Anaplian is a great character, that rare occasion where Banks gives a meaty role to a woman, one who is confident, empowered and smart. Third, and finally, an archeological dig on the ninth level of Sursamen has uncovered an artefact that has the Oct in a tizzy. They believe this might be a relic left behind by the creators of the Shellworld, beings they idolise. So, yes, it’s more than just a ho-hum tale about a King betrayed on a paper-thin secondary world. The problem is that too much of the plot centres on the political machinations of Loesp, whose ambition and moustache twirling plans I couldn’t give a toss about. Oramen’s ability to avoid assassination attempts, mostly through luck, rather than skill, is also irritating. But what kills the novel’s momentum dead is Ferbin’s trip, with his Baldrick inspired dogsbody Holse, across the galaxy to seek assistance from the Culture agent that visited Sursamen a decade previously. Not only does their quest seem to last for an eternity, once Ferbin reaches his destination and meets the now ex- Culture agent he receives no help at all and instead is “gifted” a patronising, albeit vaguely interesting, Philosophy 101 conversation about epistemology and war. It’s not until the final third of the novel - which I won’t spoil - that the plodding, stodgy plot slips into turbo mode. I zipped through the last 130 or so pages, the ending as cinematic as anything Banks has written - at least in terms of The Culture books. I even liked the abrupt ending. But fuck me, I had to eat a shitload of broccoli to get there.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leah Bayer

    3.5 stars I have so many conflicting emotions about this book! Probably because, at least to me, it felt like two books: one with crazy space antics and another featuring political intrigue on a low-tech world. Usually the contrast between high- and low-tech societies is something I enjoy in books (The Dreaming Void, A Fire Upon the Deep) but I am generally not a fan of Iain Banks' more politically driven, almost-fantasy stuff: Inversions is the only Culture book I actively didn't love, for examp 3.5 stars I have so many conflicting emotions about this book! Probably because, at least to me, it felt like two books: one with crazy space antics and another featuring political intrigue on a low-tech world. Usually the contrast between high- and low-tech societies is something I enjoy in books (The Dreaming Void, A Fire Upon the Deep) but I am generally not a fan of Iain Banks' more politically driven, almost-fantasy stuff: Inversions is the only Culture book I actively didn't love, for example. I felt like the two elements didn't work harmoniously. Even though they are plot-connected, I didn't feel the mirroring of elements or strong contrast I feel like a low- vs high-tech plot needs. So let's talk about the good. I adore the worldbuilding here! So many cool concepts. Tons and tons of really interesting alien races (though tbh I could have used more info or scenes of the other ones in the Shellworld), nifty tech we haven't seen before, the rumors of ancient alien races, and of course the Shellworld itself--one of my favorite Culture concepts. Just the idea of it was so amazing, and Banks always does such a good job of bringing his ideas to life. I felt like I could picture it all so perfectly. The characters here, like in many Culture novels, are interesting but not particularly unique feeling. We've got the son who doesn't want to be king, the son who does but is too young and in his head, the scheming overlord, the prodigal sister. I feel like characters are never Banks' strength, though, so I expected that coming in and it didn't bother me. Because he always makes up for it with sassy ships & drones! This time we also get a sassy human assistant, because a large chunk takes place on a tech-free world and we need some way to get those sarcastic comments in there. The last 20% of this book is fantastic. I really felt a huge disjoint between the story aspects, though. The elements of the ending section are touched on but not really talked about until they're suddenly in play: then it feels like the whole first half of the book (and everything in the Shellworld) were a huge waste of time because they have almost nothing to do with what's going on. It just feels unbalanced. It could have either been much shorter (we didn't need half of the on-Shellworld POV scenes for the plot) or the same length but with 1) more space and Culture scenes and 2) more foreshadowing or actual plot-building about the endgame elements. So, to sum it up, I enjoyed this (like I do most Culture novels) but it's not one of my favorites from the series. I think my order of preference goes Look to Windward > Excession > Player of Games > Use of Weapons > Matter > State of the Art > Consider Phlebas > Inversions

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michael David Cobb

    I just completed Iain Banks' latest Culture novel 'Matter'. He is something less of a yarn spinner in this one and I was stalled at page 20 for a while, but by the time I got to page 120, I could tell it was going to be a great story. Unlike 'Phlebas' which was the second Banks book I read (after the Algebraist), Matter was a bit more predictable. The intrigue from this book comes from knowing in some detail what Culture SC operatives and their technology are capable of. So the drama builds in th I just completed Iain Banks' latest Culture novel 'Matter'. He is something less of a yarn spinner in this one and I was stalled at page 20 for a while, but by the time I got to page 120, I could tell it was going to be a great story. Unlike 'Phlebas' which was the second Banks book I read (after the Algebraist), Matter was a bit more predictable. The intrigue from this book comes from knowing in some detail what Culture SC operatives and their technology are capable of. So the drama builds in this story by knowing that several species at various levels of sophistication are going to be met with the wrath of god, god being a relative term - achievable by humans in already achieved by one woman exiled from a doomed world. The other interest in this story comes from the seemingly infinite hierarchies of species which are so incredibly alien to human emotions and storytelling. A fascinating device to be sure. Here you have the story of essentially almost modern humans in something of a Napoleonic age who live in a world dominated by the Oct, a species that most resemble nothing more or less than crabs. Not giant man-eating crab-people, but dinner plate sized creatures who smell funny, think and talk sideways. The Oct were described as possessors of the most untranslatable language in the galaxy. Every year they win the prize and nobody can understand their acceptance speech. The Oct are enmeshed in a constant struggle for power with the Aultridians, an even more smelly race of creatures that resemble doormats. Above the Oct are an insectile race, and above them a race of waterborne creatures which I can best say resemble a cross between porcupine fish and sea urchins. If you can imagine how difficult it might be to live in America if your candidate doesn't win in November, imagine what it must be like to be ruled by crabs inferior to ants inferior to fish and that the fish basically own a volume of space containing two million stars. This is the predicament of Ferbin, the playboy prince whose father, the King is assassinated. He must plead his case up this motley chain of command while running for his life. Unbeknownst to him, his exiled sister a secret agent for the Culture, the masters of the galaxy, is working her way down back to her home planet and finding it not difficult to care even in her post-ghetto life. Family still matters. But her lust for revenge is tempered by her new sophistication and the rules of engagement, or is it? Banks shines in his description of the Shellworld, a new invention into his great galaxy. And the appendix adds to the wiki-able knowledge base that attaches to his interstellar inventions. There is great multi-species drama and intrigue in this novel, and yet another reason to read all of Banks. By the way, the title, like 42 is an answer to one of the great philosophical questions of our age.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Michael Owens

    4.5 stars Even pressing on into the final chapter and closing pages, I was going to originally go with a somewhat nebulous ~4+ because I couldn't decide how I felt about the book overall. There is some truly brilliant pieces of fiction at work here and Banks's concept of the shellworld Sursamen — where the vast majority of the book is set — was marvelously executed. However, as the man who introduced me to the Culture series noted (Kyle Muntz), the book sort of takes ~300 pages to get rolling; a 4.5 stars Even pressing on into the final chapter and closing pages, I was going to originally go with a somewhat nebulous ~4+ because I couldn't decide how I felt about the book overall. There is some truly brilliant pieces of fiction at work here and Banks's concept of the shellworld Sursamen — where the vast majority of the book is set — was marvelously executed. However, as the man who introduced me to the Culture series noted (Kyle Muntz), the book sort of takes ~300 pages to get rolling; a normally almost inexcusable circumstance . . . almost. Despite there being only minimal forward moment with the plot (at least compared with the final few chapters), there is still a lot of character development taking place, which I love. Banks spends the time developing the humans (Sarl and Deldeyn) as well as their alien counterparts, the Oct, the Aultridia, the Nariscene, the Morthanveld, and of course, new and highly entertaining drones and Minds from the Culture. In other words, you actually don't mind what would otherwise be plodding through the first 300 pages. Though, I submit, this knowledge might be enough to scare off readers who haven't committed to finishing all 10 books in the Culture series. Also, make no mistake, as other reviewers have noted—shit gets pretty bleak in this book. However, I will not even remotely spoil those parts for you as they have a great deal to do with Banks's wonderful development of his characters. It's bleak because you feel their plight. I mentioned that I was originally going to give the book ~4+ stars, but ended up giving it a solid 4.5, which is largely due to the Epilogue, another point I will not end up spoiling for you by saying even whether I liked it or not or the reasons for deciding on my final verdict. Ultimately, I think it's a book wholly worth the time and effort (and given that it's ~600 pages, both are significant factors).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Infanti

    When people used to ask me who my favorite science fiction authors are, my answer was always "William Gibson and Neal Stephenson." I've read everything they've written, and even when the plot becomes convoluted, or the characters are not well-realized, the sheer force of imagination and excitement about the new ideas on each page always leaves me with a big smile on my face. That list is going to have to grow to three now, because Iain Banks has made me more excited as a reader of sci-fi than I' When people used to ask me who my favorite science fiction authors are, my answer was always "William Gibson and Neal Stephenson." I've read everything they've written, and even when the plot becomes convoluted, or the characters are not well-realized, the sheer force of imagination and excitement about the new ideas on each page always leaves me with a big smile on my face. That list is going to have to grow to three now, because Iain Banks has made me more excited as a reader of sci-fi than I've been in a while. Unlike, Gibson and Stephenson, who have each carved out their own niche with new subgenres (Gibson with cyberpunk, Stephenson starting with that and going off into a bunch of different directions, including a unique brand of historical fiction), Banks' Culture series uses the well-worn "space opera" with its spaceships and myriad alien races as a jumping-off point (probably best-known in the public consciousness for its adaptation to movies and TV...think Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica). That's where similarities with other writers ends, though. Banks has created such a vivid, fully-realized, and unique universe to play with here, it can be hard to pull yourself away. Matter, one of his more recent entries in the series, starts with a bitter conflict and political intrigue on a war-torn planet, and gradually zooms out until you realize far greater forces are at work manipulating the events. One of Banks' gifts as a writer is the ability to take a reader from a very narrow focus on a single character one moment, and pull out to show how that character's actions affect a much larger set of events the next...and have each be equally interesting and engaging. Anyway, in case it wasn't clear, I'm in love with this guy, and recommend him to any sci-fi fan...the books in the series all stand alone for the most part...and I'd recommend "The Player of Games" as the most accessible in the series for a newbie.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    I love Bank's ideas - his pantropic/transhumanist far-future socialist utopian society called the Culture; the AI Minds in ships with crazy names; the baroque alien civillizations and ancient artifacts of fearsome power; the big ideas about contact between cultures of vastly different technology levels. This book seemed to be a lot more setup than necessary - a lot was familiar to anyone who'd read a Culture novel before, so I suppose useful to anyone who hadn't, but certain flights of over-descr I love Bank's ideas - his pantropic/transhumanist far-future socialist utopian society called the Culture; the AI Minds in ships with crazy names; the baroque alien civillizations and ancient artifacts of fearsome power; the big ideas about contact between cultures of vastly different technology levels. This book seemed to be a lot more setup than necessary - a lot was familiar to anyone who'd read a Culture novel before, so I suppose useful to anyone who hadn't, but certain flights of over-description, while useful for world-building, made it hard to track what was actually going on. On top of that, Banks' characters aren't his strong point - they're often flat and too prone to sounding Banksian at a convenient opportunity for exposition. When they all have crazy sci-fi names without even a hint of linguistic similarity, it can be a bit tough to remember who was who when they only appear as a bit player a scant few times in the entire story. There was a cool plot buried in the massive book about contact and machinations between wildly disparate cultures plus one malign alien artifact tossed in way late in the game, it felt like it could have benefited by a sharp editor to tighten it up. But it helped pass the time between Belgium and Philly.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Hughes

    Iain M. Banks is the lion of contemporary British science-fiction, and this book fully displays his craft, his style and his unbridled imagination. Like most of Banks's science fiction, it involves his utopian Culture of benevolent hyper-intelligent machines, but the story itself is that of a low-technology society being manipulated to its own destruction by advanced civilisations whose aims it finds incomprehensible -- but which may themselves be only the pawns of some ancient and malign intell Iain M. Banks is the lion of contemporary British science-fiction, and this book fully displays his craft, his style and his unbridled imagination. Like most of Banks's science fiction, it involves his utopian Culture of benevolent hyper-intelligent machines, but the story itself is that of a low-technology society being manipulated to its own destruction by advanced civilisations whose aims it finds incomprehensible -- but which may themselves be only the pawns of some ancient and malign intelligence. This is a very good book and I unhesitatingly recommend it. Even so, it isn't one of Banks's finest. It lacks the quality of insight and enquiry that marks the best science fiction. Banks's Excession, for example, delves deeply into the threats that might beset even a vastly advanced civilisation; Look To Windward weaves a fantastic narrative with an intelligent investigation of the value of human endeavour in a Materialist utopia. Matter does introduce a few interesting concepts of its own, but basically it's just a great story. If you like Banks, you'll like this. If you haven't tried Banks yet, then go and read Excession first (and, by the way, it'll blow your mind!).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    This book wasn't really impressing me until about page 300 (which would usually be unforgivable, but I've learned to trust Iain Banks by now), and then it suddenly became brilliant--the beginning was sort of a slow burn, still flawed, but segueing into some of the best setpieces I've ever seen in SF, with a strong conceptual underpinning as well. The narrative sort of blossoms out from a semi-standard story in the beginning into being one of the most interesting Culture novels. Bank's prose was This book wasn't really impressing me until about page 300 (which would usually be unforgivable, but I've learned to trust Iain Banks by now), and then it suddenly became brilliant--the beginning was sort of a slow burn, still flawed, but segueing into some of the best setpieces I've ever seen in SF, with a strong conceptual underpinning as well. The narrative sort of blossoms out from a semi-standard story in the beginning into being one of the most interesting Culture novels. Bank's prose was as strong as ever; even reading these books back to back, I keep forgetting that Banks has less in common stylistically with Alasdair Reynolds than Pynchon. I do think this book was genuinely too long, but Banks makes up for it in the last 300 pages. This is one of the more flawed novels in the series, but also one of the most complex and well-realized. Also, I should mention--the ending is grim, I mean bleaker than the end of Consider Plebias, and probably more than anything else I've read this year as well.

  27. 5 out of 5

    R.E. McCready

    This book is an enormous achievement. Enormously complex, arguably to its detriment (as even its author admits) nevertheless, it can't be disputed that Matter is an astonishing novel. I'm loath to criticise it, because although it's long and at points heavy going I didn't feel like it needed better editing or anything like that. The narrative is unusual and unwieldy, and there simply doesn't seem to be a short way to tell it. This is the first Culture novel that I'd read, and I might have found This book is an enormous achievement. Enormously complex, arguably to its detriment (as even its author admits) nevertheless, it can't be disputed that Matter is an astonishing novel. I'm loath to criticise it, because although it's long and at points heavy going I didn't feel like it needed better editing or anything like that. The narrative is unusual and unwieldy, and there simply doesn't seem to be a short way to tell it. This is the first Culture novel that I'd read, and I might have found it a bit less ponderous had I got some background beforehand. In summary, I highly recommend this book. In spite of the density of the read, losing the book in a box while moving house, having a baby and being distracted by other books and things I still managed to finish it. And, despite all those issues, I was still blown away by the end. This book is a commitment, but a deserving one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    Wait, what just happened? I consider Mr. Banks to be one of the most creative and wildly imaginative authors in SF. His creativity certainly shone very brightly with this book. This is my fourth Culture book, and I think this book has one of the most imaginative, fanciful and original worlds that I've ever read in SF. Sursamen is just a marvel to the imagination. I fervently wished, while reading the book, that someone would actually make a movie based on this book, because the visuals would be a Wait, what just happened? I consider Mr. Banks to be one of the most creative and wildly imaginative authors in SF. His creativity certainly shone very brightly with this book. This is my fourth Culture book, and I think this book has one of the most imaginative, fanciful and original worlds that I've ever read in SF. Sursamen is just a marvel to the imagination. I fervently wished, while reading the book, that someone would actually make a movie based on this book, because the visuals would be amazing! However, despite the brilliance of the world-building, the plot suffered terribly as a result. I felt that Mr. Banks put too much focus on creating this alluring worlds full of fascinating species, trying to provide sufficient technical details of them, that he forgot there's a story to be told. He spent 490 pages out of 560 before he brought the main characters to the place where the final convergence was supposed to occur. After 60-70 pages of very abrupt conclusion, the book ended. Which left me scratching my head and wondering what had just happened. Rarely do I feel that the book should've been longer. But, this was one occasion where I felt the book should've been a bit longer than it was, to give the climax and conclusion a proper time to develop and sink in. 3.5 Star.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    This 8th novel in the Culture series explores the Shellworlds through a somewhat enlightened (at least among the elites) medieval society called the Sarn. I'd suggest it's an average book in the series, a space opera with some interesting soft SciFi concepts. 7 of 10 stars

  30. 4 out of 5

    Atraveller

    I guess I've found my least favorite Culture novel

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