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Inversions 69

Duncan Lawie, resident science fiction reviewer and world traveler has sent a review of Iain (M) Banks' Inversions. The book itself is a good story, but also has a very interesting writing style. Form and function - what a novel idea. *grin*
author Iain M Banks
pages ~400
publisher Pocket Books, 02/2000
rating 8/10
reviewer Duncan Lawie
ISBN 0671036688
summary A novel of interlocking narratives which combines formal methods and informal prose into a strong story.

Iain (M.) Banks is one of the more famous split personalities in recent publishing history. He has written ten non-genre novels as Ian Banks and produced eight books of science fiction as Iain M. Banks. His first novel was published in 1984. Reviews of his "literary" works have occasionally suggested a merging of the two streams of his career but this ignores the significant fantastic and science fiction elements present even in his early "mainstream" novels. His "science fiction" has been more clearly defined, with the majority of these works being shaped by the galaxy-spanning civilization known as the Culture.

Inversions, the latest novel by Iain M. Banks, is set in a post medieval world. It is a time after the end of empire, with a new model of devolved power emerging from the chaos. There are two narratives, intercut chapter by chapter and covering the same period but set in the capitals of different countries. The main subjects of the narratives are strangers to the society in which they live but have each made themselves indispensable to the leaders of their nations. One has become the personal bodyguard of the Protector, the leader of a revolution which has overthrown a hereditary monarchy and brought new power to the merchant classes. The other is the king's personal doctor, who has reached that position through her inordinate skill despite being both a foreigner and a woman. This has given each stranger the potential to influence without political office, and their stories reflect the story of their chosen country.

This novel could have been published in the black and white cover of a "mainstream" Ian Banks novel and would still have retained much of its value. However, as a work by Iain M. Banks there are significant resonances with the rest of his science fiction oeuvre. In this light the major inversion of the novel is that the tale of external interference with a developing civilisation is told from the viewpoint of the affected society rather than from the technological standpoint of Banks' previous novels. It does this by using narrators indigenous to the world and limited in their understanding of events. The book is largely successful in this use of fallible narrators and viewed from this angle the tales of mythical lands quickly decode to everyday life in a more advanced society.

Inversions is equally successful in the exposition of its themes. It is a book about change, catching societies at the cusp of advance and displaying alternative approaches. The story of nations is counterpointed by that of individuals and it is the telling of their stories which provides an avenue for understanding the lessons Banks is offering in this book. The resultant novel has a very formal format, being balanced between personal and national viewpoints and with each of the two stories providing a partial key to the other. This produces a roman a clef with the option of further keys through familiarity with Banks' other science fiction. In this context, the mapping of personal development to that of a culture is striking. There is a full involvement with the lives and emotions of the central characters which gives a rounded understanding of these protagonists. Their interests and struggles offer sufficient insight into the larger story of nations to be able to infer a long span of the history of this world from the events of a short period. The combination of formalized style for the novel and the writer's informality work well together. The writing flows easily and the story rapidly draws the reader in. Inversions is an interesting alternate in Banks' science fiction, both for its viewpoint and its formal framework, and as such has much to offer.

Purchase this book at fatbrain.

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    According to something I read today, he has a new book coming out around August 2000, called 'Look To Windward', and it's supposed to be another Culture novel. I'll definitely be looking out for it. Check out The Culture [] for some news of his stuff.

    If you like his science fiction stuff, I'd recommend trying his other (non-scifi) stuff too. Complicity, Espedair Street or The Wasp Factory would be good ones to start with.

  • > As for telling a good story, read "Espedair
    > Street", "The Crow Road", or "Complicity"
    > and try telling me he can't.

    Alternatively, read "Whit" and watch him prove that sometimes he can't.

    I loved "The Wasp Factory" and "The Crow Road", enjoyed "Walking on Glass", "Complicity" and "Espedair Street" (but have no urge to reread them), couldn't get into "The Bridge" (the mad Scots accent did it for me) and stopped reading "Canal Dreams" after the bit where they shoot the hostages, repulsed by the violence (but that's probably just me). Banks is a very inconsistent author. Be warned, people.

  • Yeah. The whole book written in a "Culture inversion", and you notice the way the doctor seems just a little too smart for everyone else on the planet? And how at the end she disappears off the face of the world from inside a locked room on a ship?
    *cough cough* displaced out? I think so. He did something similar in (IIRC) one of the short stories in State of the Art, where there were a few culture agents on Earth undetected by the population at large and then they left suddenly. This setup's a bit more involved, and nicer in the way it leaves a lot unanswered at the end, but it's the same sort of thing.
    Really good book, but then I enjoy all his stuff. I think "Use of Weapons" is my favourite. Lovely sting in the tail of that one.
  • No, you just missed all the earlier "Culture" indications.
    For example, in the torturer's dungeon when the doctor administers some "medicine" to the prisoner to put him out of his misery, the guard makes her taste it first. She can deal with it because of the Culture glands she has.
    And in case you think it really was medicine, notice how she tries to give some to the torturer who she despises..
  • I'd like to see someone try to make "Excession" into a film. Given that most of the visuals are either unimportant (spaceships coming and going) or crucial but impossible to depict (a perfect black object connected to infraspace /AND/ ultraspace). And most of the dialogue is pretty much e-mail between space ships (they don't talk to each other in realtime...)
  • I hated Song of Stone, and wasn't very fond of The Wasp Factory, but thought that Whit was fascinating. As others have mentioned, The Crow Road and Espedair Street are probably his best non-SF books. Of his SF books, Player of Games and Excession are my favorites.

  • It maybe not a troll, but the comments are also incorrect (I think we can assume that someone submitting a review might avoid stating the obvious).

    The interesting style referred to may not be something that Ian M. Banks has just invented, but neither is it that common (or indeed something I have seen before).

    The viewpoints alternate, by regular chapter between the two characters, in strict rotation, and _only_ those two viewpoints are used. They tell two almost unrelated stories. There are some common events (distant ones, that tend to have an impact on only one of the viewpoints) touched upon between the stories, so the reader can 'synchronise' their timelines, but even then (IIRC, it's been a while since I read the book), the two viewpoints do not completely overlap in time. This is a deliberate and obvious literary device used by the narrator of the story (see below, there is seperation of author and narrator).

    Finally it turns out when you get to the end of the book you discover that both viewpoints are being related to you by a single character, who is trying to record a period of history through his/her's own viewpoint, and that of someone far away, whose story (s)he has had to research.

    The major Inversion the reviewer refers to (that of a "Culture intervention" viewed from the perspective of those being intervened with), is something that is not strongly telegraphed: the narrator of the two histories is unaware of the intervention, (s)he just presents evidence that those who have read other culture books can make the inference from.

    There are probably quite a few other tricks going on that I have either forgotten, or just not had the wit to observe.
  • Use of Weapons is exsquisite in its pain.
    Consider Phlebas is gigantic in its backdrop but never loses site of the individuals in its universe (the fleash eaters and the hero's escape will always be stuck in my mind).

    I still have to read the Player of Games.
    Check Banks out. He is both deeply interested in the future and somewhat skeptical.
    Good mix for us geeks to be exposed to.
  • AFAIK Mr. Banks is now carrying out his oft expressed plan of releasing ALL his books as Iain M. Banks, regardless of content.

    Having just received The Business, his very latest, for Christmas, I have to cast doubt on your assertion. The Business is boldly attributed to Iain Banks (no M.).

  • I agree with the recommendation, but you need to be aware that the first 15-30 pages (not sure,it's been awhile) are an almost unreadable history of detailed church history leading into the story. Unfortunately, you can't just skip it, because it's crucial to the plot (eventually). Bear with it, struggle through; it's not that way through the whole book.
  • If you're new to Iain M Banks work, read "Use of Weapons" or "Consider Pheblas" first of his culture novels. "Inversions" and Excession" are much better read once you understand the culture background.

    Very true. Much of Inversions will not resonate properly without an appreciation of (M.) Bank's earlier work.

    I suggest that Player of Games is a better introduction to the Culture though. Use of Weapons, also my favourite so far, is another that I would save for a second or third book. Start with Consider Pheblas or Player, in my opinion.

    Kind Regards,

  • Any other suggestions out there for books to explore?

    Anything by Gene Wolfe, but particularly his Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete. Also, The Book of the New Sun must not be missed.

    Cordwainer Smith aka Paul M. A. Linebarger, just beacuse. A short story collection, The Rediscovery of Man was reprinted by Orion/Millenium last year.

    Stanislaw Lem clearly inspiered Banks. Read especially Memoirs Found In a Bathub.

    Of course, you already know about Philip K. Dick, "James Triptree Jr.", Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin and Roger Zelazny, Right?

    Kind Regards,

  • Sadly, I read an interview where Banks claimed he was abandoning Culture for fear of being pigeon-holed into it.
    Banks' next book (out this summer in the uk) will be a Culture novel. It's called "Look to windward", these being the words immediately preceding "consider phlebas" in the poem which the latter title was lifted from.
  • "...but also has a very interesting writing style."

    And that would be...? If you are referring to alternating chapters set in different viewpoints, you need to get out more. That's pretty old--"standard" you might even say.
    Here is the result of your Slashdot Purity Test.
  • WTF?

    Has no one here read "Permutation City", "Lord of the Rings", or the Foundation Series? All of these (and many many more) juxtapose two cultures/mileus/scopes some in alternating chapter format, some in slightly different formats. For crying out loud, the fscking X-FILES has done this. Fact, not troll: THIS IS NOTHING NEW.
    Here is the result of your Slashdot Purity Test.
  • Yah I remember at the end think it was interesting how his name wasn't revealed but never gave it much thought. I am going to have to see if I can figure it out. :)

  • a puzzle?
    i didnt pick up on that.
    how is the puzzle described?
  • I've read most of his works, and of the non-SF books I think "Wasp Factory" and "Canal Dreams" are the best ones. "Canal Dreams" is very much a rather straightforward action novel set in the near future.

    Right now I'm reading "The Bridge", and it is very grandiose in its setting (the whole world is a never ending bridge), and it has a very good love story in it that sort of reminds me of the one in "The English Patient", but the parallell plots are quite confusing, and even though I haven't finished it yet, it feels like he wasted it by trying to be too clever.

    Many of his books could easily be made into films, and it amazes me that it still has not happened.

    The best SF writer in Europe, I think.
  • While I realize that individual impressions of Banks' books vary hugely from person to person, I want to take exception to the "gratuitous deus ex machina".

    The presence and function of the drone is telegraphed for at least half of the book, and in fact does not save the Doctor, at in that her "quest" is effectively doomed by the event in question. That her ideals live on in the society s a furtherance of the themes of outside cultural influence which the book is about (the direct method fails, but "converting" individuals works)... even though she thinks she's failed.

    On reflection, the drone is not "unexpected technology", but is a central element to her character.

    I have to say that I was a bit nonplussed by the ending (after a number of enthusiastic moments during the reading), but thinking over it afterwards, I've only revised my opinion upwards. I'll have to see how it fares after a re-read, once the rest of my book pile shrinks a little :)
  • I haven't read Iain's latest book, The Business, yet, but it might explore some of these themes. Check it out on for the reviews...
  • Iain Banks is one of those science fiction authors that people either love or hate.

    I fall in the 'hate' category, myself. I read his acclaimed book 'Feersum Endjinn' to see what he was like. It was a torture test for me. The book contained no new ideas, soft 'space opera' type science explanations, and one third of it was written as if by an illiterate child, making it painfully hard to read.

    After finishing Feesum Endjinn, I thought that maybe it was just an unusual Banks novel, and he deserved a second chance. So I bought 'Against a Dark Background'. It was much better written, and actually enjoyable in places...but the plot was slow, had no discernable direction, and the ending was unsatisfying and just plain *bad*.

    Iain Banks strikes me as someone learning to write. He tries many different writing styles in his books, some of them quite experimental and odd, as if he's testing each style to see what fits best. If you like quirky writing you may enjoy his books. But from what I've read of him, the man has no clue about how to tell a good story, and zero scientific knowledge. I may try his 'literary' offerings someday...but I will never buy a science fiction book by Iain Banks again.
  • couldn't get into "The Bridge" (the mad Scots accent did it for me)

    Being Scottish helps a lot for this ;)

    stopped reading "Canal Dreams" after the bit where they shoot the hostages, repulsed by the violence

    And you liked "the Wasp Factory" and "Complicity"???

    I think "Whit" was just him having a dig at organised religion (as was the Wasp Factory, and bits of the Crow Road ... you get the idea).

    hmmm ... three posts to this thread, this must be my "work avoidance tactics" again

  • I'm a massive fan of Iain Banks' "literary" books, but I've never been able to finish any of his sci-fi books other than "Player of Games" (which I thought it was an excellant book, probably because it's closer to his non-sci-fi books than the others I read). disclaimer: I've never been a heavy sci-fi book buff, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the odd William Gibson or Neal Stephenson is as far as it goes, so this is probably explainable.

    Banks has always experimented with his literary books. Sometimes it works (The Bridge is probably the best example of this, although it borrows heavily from Gray's Lanark.), sometimes it doesn't (Canal Dreams was directionless and obvious). Perhaps you'd rather read a book that mindlessly follows a genre without trying to explore differant avenues, but personally I think that's dull.

    As for telling a good story, read "Espedair Street", "The Crow Road", or "Complicity" and try telling me he can't.

  • Ouch, Amazon links!

    I agree on Canal Dreams, and Walking on Glass, but I must say I really enjoyed Song of Stone. What did you make of "Whit"?

  • The Business, an Iain Banks rather than an Iain M. Banks, is his latest book; i.e. a fiction rather than science-fiction though that could be considered a blurry boundary. Currently he is writing a new "straight" Culture book, to be published IIRC in August in Britain. alt.books.iain-banks is a good place to keep up to date with his pubishing exploits. The Business unfortunately is a bit on the light side as well when compared against his other books, of course poor IB/IMB is better than an awful lot of other authors output; it is still a most enjoyable book, a page-turner really. will have it. andy
  • Yes, "Player of Games" is his best Iain M. Banks novel, although you have to be Scottish to appreciate some of the "in-jokes" - e.g. Azad is the name of a chain of Video rental shops (there are more, but I forget them now).

    His best (or rather, my favourite) is "The Crow Road". Characterisation, Plot, humour, and a the denouement. All great. Avoid "Canal Dreams" unless you are a completist: his worst. Although "A Song of Stone" wasn't much better.

    Inversions I read a while ago and it was definitely in the "OK, but nothing special category".
  • Has anyone else figured out the "puzzle" in "The Bridge" - working out the narrator's name?
  • how is the puzzle described?

    More of a riddle really - the whole theme of the book is the loss and rediscovery, and one of the recurring emphases of this is the loss of his name. The books starts with the narrator as a blank slate which is gradually filled in by dreams (which are actually memories). The book ends with him recovering almost everything important to him, including his name, but you are never explicitly told it.

    There are, however, two apparently throw-away comments made whilst he is remembering his life that let you work out his name: I don't think this is accidental :). It took me a few reads before I twigged though.
  • It's given away on one of the fan sites, I didn't get it until I read there (didn't try hard though)
  • A gift, a gift from... a friend? the culture?, surely any reader is sharp enough to know why the Doctor is carrying such a blunt instrument as if it would protect her from all the wickedness in the world?
    There's even an Ian M Banks story called "A gift from the culture" which makes sure you know what kind of protection a Culture citizen carries when she's alone in a strange land. Unlike the character in that story the Doctor has not rejected her citizenship, she's still firmly in possession of her technological birthright. I would have cried foul if a drone had arrived (why would a drone bore itself hiding on an uncontacted planet) but the knife is non-sentient, just a smart tool. She probably used it earlier on the two lads who sought to rape her, I haven't read it recently enough to be sure if that's likely.

    Deus Ex Machina would be more appropriate if Jeffrey Archer pulled this stunt - should I also be surprised that she disappears in a locked room mystery when I already know there's several million tons of technology waiting in orbit (or is it even in orbit? A Contact vessel summoned to remove a threatened pawn could probably do locked room mysteries with its eyes firmly shut, a light year out of the system)
  • I wonder if anyone else has noticed the common theme running through Banks' work, SF and non-SF. The Culture is fairly obviously his idea of a utopian society, but the same ideals also manifest themselves in all of his non-fiction books I have read.

    His protagonists usually live a life happily involving copious amounts of drugs, booze, and casual sex and are usually living a pretty all-round contented life (or were, until something comes along to screw it up). This is fairly obviously the case in The Bridge and Complicity, and less obviously so in Whit (but if you think about it, it's almost exactly the same concept viewed from a different angle, i.e. a benevolent religious cult). In "A Song of Stone" the two main characters seemed to be living a life of happy debauchery before the war came along. I'm still working my way through his other non-SF books, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the same thread evident there.

    This is by no means a complaint - Banks is one of my favourite authors: his ability to lay out and develop a story is almost unparalleled in my experience.

    All I can say is that if Banks' real life is anywhere near this carefree and content, he is one lucky guy. If my life turns out anything like that I'll die a happy man :-)

    [ Side note: I'm surprised the reviewer didn't notice the (I thought fairly obvious) hints that Inversions was another Culture novel, inverted. Consider: the fact that the Doctor was from 'another place' and so far in advance of her peers, the bodyguard telling stories about how he disagreed with the philosophy of 'his people' with regard to intervention in societies, the Doctor's blunt knife with the missing stones which she had to 'exchange' to get her way out of trouble during her voyages, the fact that one of the stones temporarily disappears when she is rescued and later returns, the fact that she is rescued BY THE KNIFE [missile], and the fact that she disappears en route from her sea voyage. Perhaps I noticed it sooner because I was really hoping it would connect to his other body of work, but it was really obvious to me early on. Oh well :=]
  • I've been an avid sci-fi reader for close to fifteen years and Banks is my favorite writer in the genre by a good margin. The Culture universe he has crafted is enormously large and Banks has used it beautifully. In the process, I feel he used Culture to capitalize on sci-fi's greatest strength: namely freeing great authors from the constraints inherent to realistic settings. Sadly, I read an interview where Banks claimed he was abandoning Culture for fear of being pigeon-holed into it. I doubt that would ever have happened and, regardless, he was well on his way to creating a vision as expansive as Niven's, a goal I feel he ought to strive for rather than avoid.

    I agree that Use of Weapons is his best book. Actually, it is my favorite sci-fi work, period. It took me two reads to really absorb it and subsequent passes never fail to reveal more. I almost never read a book twice, but I don't know how many times I've read UoW. I strongly recommend against making this an introduction to Culture, however. I think the experience would be too overwhelming. A more appropriate starter is Banks' collection of short stories entitled _State of the Art_.
  • Sounds like a very interesting platform to base a narrative on.. I will be interested to read it!

    Gonna get right out there and pick me up a copy!

    I think that the juxtaposition of two cultures has not really been done as well as it could be done, with the possible exception of "juxtaposition" by Piers Anthony, and the Star Bellied Sneeches book by Seuss.. but I think these books DO carry something that happens to us every day, but no-one gives much thought to.

    You come out if high school and/or college, where jeans and t-shirts were the norm, the social mores, to use that term, and suddenly you are in a world where you may well be judged more heavily by the polish on your shoes than by how well you can do your job.

    It is interesting that the people in power, (at least in the companys I have worked for), the ones who actually KNOW what you do seem to have no control over how far you progress, and the people who control how far you progress can only spout lame reviews like "well.. I see you wore jeans one day last year" and "now.. about the bumper stickers on your car.. we really dont feel they portray the company attitude". Never do I hear from a top level manager or anyone with "VP" in their name "thanks for keeping that system up last month" etc...

    And I think this is the kind of juxtaposition that should be explored.. it happens to most of us at one point or another, yet I dont recall being warned in school, that its not how well you do your job, in most cases, its how well the clueless people PERCIEVE you to be doing your job that matters. *sigh*

    questions? comments? FLAMES?

  • Why has this been moderated as a troll? IIRC the moderator guidelines say that you shouldn't moderate things down on the basis of personal disagreement, and I can't see anything offsensive in his comment. There have been plenty of books written in this style before.

  • For me was one of his best. You have to wonder what sort of twisted mind came up with the idea though. Worth a read, should be able to pick up a paperback copy for not that much.
  • Iain Banks' books aren't about the science and technology he uses-- in fact, he willfully glosses over that in the pursuit of what is far more interesting to him: The story. His books, and especially the Culture novels, are about the possibilities inherent in the Culture, and in the possibilities inherent in the Culture's interactions with other societies, both as advanced and less advanced. He has readily admitted that techie hard-SF writing is not his forte.

    The Culture, he admits, is a fairly dull place to live. The most interesting things he does involve looking at the Culture from outside, or from the point of view of people trying to get out of it, as in Use of Weapons. And yes, it does look like he likes to play with writing styles. This shouldn't be considered a bad thing-- it certainly keeps his books from blurring into one another.

    But don't read Banks expecting Asimov-type science... He's not hard SF at all.


  • Never do I hear from a top level manager or anyone with "VP" in their name "thanks for keeping that system up last month" etc..

    This caught my eye.. It is an unfortunate thing, and very true in too many companies. Things like this do need change, and I *hope* that as time goes on and VPs become closer to our 'technologically aware' generation, this will be a thing of the past.

    I am fortunate to be in a company that is quite young. Just the other day our CEO stopped by my office to comment on a project that we are working on with our network, and the CFO always asks how things are going on with our network and what is around the corner. I can only hope that someday every network admin can have the same recognition.
  • ...This novel could have been published in the black and white cover of a "mainstream" Ian Banks novel and would still haveretained much of its value. However, as a work by Iain M. Banks...

    AFAIK Mr. Banks is now carrying out his oft expressed plan of releasing ALL his books as Iain M. Banks, regardless of content.

    I wish him good luck dragging his middle initial out of the SF ghetto ;-)

    - Andy R.

  • I read this book a while ago (it's been out in the UK for over a year). It's certainly a good read, but I didn't feel that it had the impact of the culture novels. Throughout my reading I got the impression that something was about to happen... the writing style seemed anticipatory at times. But nothing really does, or at least nothing big. I've got nothing against books set entirely around one or two locations, but this seemed somehow too static. The Protector character also reminded me somewhat of Cheradenine Zakalwe, from the superior Use Of Weapons. Somehow, after Excession, it was a dissapointment. Still a great book, though. If anyone here wants to get into Banks' sci-fi work, pick up The Player Of Games, or check out the short stories in The State Of The Art. H-Clone Official Salted Snack
  • I have long been an admirer of Banks' work, and I thought Use of Weapons was fantastic. But I think that "Player of Games" is his best novel. Though it used no involved or formalised structure, being a straightforward narrative, the portrayal of the two cultures through the medium of the game of Azad was striking.

    The main character, in learning this game, learns not only about the culture of his rivals, but in the process gets insight into his own. I will be interested to see how this new one compares.

  • Then right at the end, a piece of the Culture's flying cutlery pops up out of nowhere and saves the day. This is a gratuitous deus ex machina that's below the standards of Jeffrey Archer, let alone E E Smith.
    While I agree that this is not even near his best, there are quite a few clues as to just what the knife is before the end of the book.
  • I've written several reviews of Iain M Banks' science fiction Culture novels at:

    My website (Vavatch Orbital) []

    I've also got some reviews of his non-Culture novels here []

  • As much as I enjoyed "The Name of The Rose", I have to say that Eco's second novel, "Focault's Pendulum", was far superior both in scope and style. Truely a stunning book from a masterful scholar.

  • That was a spoiler. For those who have purchased the book without realizing its a CULTURE BOOK. The realizition of culture involvement (come on this has to be a culture novel... come on..) before the accident was truly wonderfull. And when the gizmo appeared, it was right in time to finally concieve myself of the book being a culture book.

    I read book prewiews only after reading the book, but if someone does it other ways around i'd like to see spoiler tags on comments like this one.
    Sorry ,)
  • Banks is one of the greatest scifi fictionalists of our age, and those of you who like banks, or wnat to try something bizarre should see how banks writings work on cyberpunk/gibsonisque atmosphere (or cryptosphere)
    Feersum Endjing being one of his most finest books. It plays in the field of cybegenetics and human mind algorithms, havin pretty feary ideas like hiding virus into psyche. Its pretty clever and I shoud say its the best banks i've read. It has somehow accuired a similar feeling than Dune byt mixed it in the world where everything from the walls to the animals belongs to the cryptosphere (matrix/afterlife) slowly dying in the warmht of last flames of encroaching sun.

    It a book of a journey.
    and the ending is fearsome.
  • I think you're right about the love him or hate him as an author point of view. Personally, I loved Feersum Endjinn even though it was one of the hardest books I've forced myself to get through in the last 5 years. Right up there next to Cryptonomicon which, even though I'm enjoying it, is not an easy read. He's got a pretty quirky writing style that I find amusing. I've read all of Ian M. Banks scifi works and none of his more main stream stuff. If you really want to get into Ian M. Banks as a SciFi writer you should start with his books about the Culture and move into other stuff from there. His character development in Use of Weapons and Consider Phlebas makes both books worth reading. The stories themselves deal with a lot of societal issues and I love some of the ideas that he introduces in his books like the idea that ships have names like "Love is Hard" and personalities that match their names.
  • I'm surprised no-one has mentioned Iain Banks other multi-threaded novel, Walking on Glass. It was the second Banks novel I read, after Consider.., and was blown away by it.

    I've remained an avid Banks fan since, however, I have to admit to growing bored reading Whit (never finished it, you could see what was coming), and I've still yet to finish The Business, which I put down over 2 months ago, and haven't picked up again.


  • I need to second the recomendation of _Tigana_; it truly is a stunning read. Guy Gavriel Kay's other books are really good as well, but _Tigana_ is his masterpiece (And, unlike most fantasy these days, it's all in one novel).

    Back on topic, I've found Iain M. Banks' work to be very good, but he does fall into the typically british problem of wordyness, at least in the opinion of this resident of the Southern U.S.

  • Use of Weapons is his best book.

    However, I would say that Consider Phlebas is a better introduction to the Culture...

    When it boils down to it, actually, all of his books are pretty damned good. UoW, CP, Player of Games, Excession, Feersum Endjinn, State of the Art, Against a Dark Background... All terrific.

    Another Iain Banks (i.e. without the M; non-scifi) book worth reading is 'The Business'. check it out, v.good.

    Inversions spoiler!
    A lot of people don't realise that the Doctor is a Culture operative, and the bodyguard is ex-Culture (kind of going it on his own in the same way as Zakalwe tried to do at the start of UoW) and had a relationship in the past.


  • If you like Iain Banks then Wasp Factory is a must. that book floored me and now I find it necessary to read everything by him. The Bridge was also extremely fascinating. Haven't read Inversions yet though...
  • Lord, I read Feersum Endjinn and then Trainspotting (I. Welsh) directly after. I couldn't spell properly for weeks and picked up a scottish accent.

    Be warned!

    Seriously, though, Inversions is pretty good, but the best of the culture books has to be Use Of Weapons.

  • I find it hard to believe Inversions was written by the same author who brought us a novel as shocking as Wasp Factory, as fun as Player of Games or Consider Phlebas and as fascinating as Feersum Enjinn (sp?). Banks is one of the few science fiction authors I have read where I feel that the author is intelligent and thoughtful but doesn't show this merely by flashing around his knowledge. And yet in Inversions he seems to have brought us nothing more than a fairly ordinary fantasy novel. Formal structure? Pah! There are a thousand novels with far more interesting formal structures (and Banks's own books are among those thousands). Banks is a great writer and I hope that in writing Inversions he was having a rest before writing something else truly great!
  • That was a spoiler.

    Yes, maybe. I hope I haven't spoiled it for anyone (and I don't think I have) but I certainly wouldn't give any more detail than that.

    Was the Culture telegraphed from halfway through the book ? Well I don't know what cover you had in the USA, but the UK cover screams "Another Culture Novel" all over it (and Iain "M." Banks is a big hint). Then you read it; there's no use of the Culture (one of Banks' better inventions) and you sit through most of the book waiting for it to happen. The final revelation is poor, ineffective and IMHO gratuitous. It would have been a better book without the Culture involvement -- after all, it added nothing. If the Culture was to make an appearance, then it should have been a full-blown invasion of Arrakis scenario, with helicopter drop-ships and a commanding officer obsessed with medieval jousting, "I love the smell of middens in the morning. Smells of -- feudalism". The Amazon links have some Slack (yeah, strange concept). They're auto-generated inside my browser, with a bit of code I wrote to deal with writing pages of book recommendations that needed associated links. Enter the title, set it off and another browser window goes off and searches, then pastes the ISBN back (maybe I should patent the concept 8-) ). Yes, I hate Amazon's patent usage, but I'm in the UK; we don't have FatBrain and BOL doesn't carry enough tech books.

  • If this book had been written by someone other than Iain Banks, it would have been slated as a poor pastiche of Banks on a bad day.

    This is Banks writing very poorly, in a manner that has no originality left and all he can do is re-hash threads that he was already in danger of over-using. It has all the old Banks favourites in there; the slightly-suppressed horror, the grimy dungeons, but it's unusually light on polished steel spaceships.

    Then right at the end, a piece of the Culture's flying cutlery pops up out of nowhere and saves the day. This is a gratuitous deus ex machina that's below the standards of Jeffrey Archer, let alone E E Smith. Any fool can write space opera if you're allowed to simply save the plot by arbitrary invention of unexpected technology.

    I never liked Iain M. Banks as much as Iain ~M. (just not my taste), but even the non space-opera hasn't been so good in his last few books. He always was variable :- compare The Bridge [] against the similar, but less well executed, themes of Walking on Glass []. His best books; Espedair Street [] or The Crow Road [] maintain an (often hilarious) dramatic narrative, whereas A Song of Stone [] or Canal Dreams [] are frankly dull.

    Mind you, if you liked Espedair Street, read Bill Drummond's 45 [] for the story of what it was really like.

  • As others have said, setting off two or more different viewpoints in a sustained formal structure is a device Banks has used to good effect in several of his books -- though I have to admit he is such an involving, immersive writer that I've never yet managed to read all of Espedair Street without jumping ahead to stay with one thread or the other.

    An earlier novel which uses the same trick is Ursula le Guin's "The Dispossessed" (1974), a stunning meditation on the nature of cooperation and society. Le Guin is a much more distant and impersonal author than Banks, but I have often wondered whether she isn't quite an influence.

    Of course, "Consider Phlebas" especially can sometimes seem like a gloriously written high-acceleration remix of just about *everyone* from the best '70s and early '80s SF, with all manner of good ideas getting a look in and then taken a step beyond.

    There's definitely something of Le Guin's Hainish Ekumen ("The Left Hand of Darkness") about the Culture. But as with everything else in Banks's books the Culture soon comes over as an entity with a much more developed and interesting character (and also, one possessed of a definite sense of humour!)

  • by tjwhaynes ( 114792 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @07:26AM (#1228059)

    Reading through this review reminded me of several other books which might be of interest. Set at about the same time at the end of the medieval period is "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco, which also deals with a society, in this case a monastic one, reacting to a world of learning on the edge of many advances.

    If you enjoy tales with a twist (and if you like reading Iain M. Banks I think that's given) I'd also suggest Guy Gavriel Kaye's 'Tigana' as being a worthwhile read.

    Any other suggestions out there for books to explore?


    Toby Haynes

  • by rogerbo ( 74443 ) on Friday March 03, 2000 @06:49AM (#1228060)
    Iain M Bank's most unusually structured novel and IMHO his best sci fi novel is "Use of Weapons".
    One story starts in the past and works forward, the other starts in the present and works backwards, and of course they meet in the end. You have to read it as least twice to really piece together all the subtleties in it.

    If you're new to Iain M Banks work, read "Use of Weapons" or "Consider Pheblas" first of his culture novels. "Inversions" and "Excession" are much better read once you understand the culture background.

A bug in the hand is better than one as yet undetected.