on 6 January 2004
Having received the book for a birthday present I felt compelled to read it. So far I have mananged 85 pages and I am unlikely to reach 86. I agree with the other reviewers, where is the story? The author seems to have jumped on the 911 bandwagon and manufactured a dry and agressive monologue of all that he thinks is wrong with the world.
I cannot carry on with it, every whinging line seems to drain me of the will to live....if I ever hear the phrase 'shock jock' again I will simply scream. Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggghhhhhhhhhhh.
on 9 August 2014
I have read all of Iain Banks books and I normally read them in the year they were published. As Iain Banks fiction is very much of its time and full of contemporary references, its nice to have read them 'in their time' and to understand how Iain is living very much in the same world as we are. And to listen to how he intelligently reflects on and mirrors the years of our life even as we live them.
Dead Air is one such book. Published in 2002, the book is mute with the shock of 9/11. A shock so raw, Iain Banks does not reference it in any way except to show the event on a television screen at the start of the narrative.
Dead Air is a good reflection of Britain in 2002. London was a boom city brim full of money and drugs. Shock jocks were new and loft-living was all the rage.
I did not really like this book mainly because I did not like the hero Ken Nott, his rants and drug and booze lifestyle. However it was a compelling read and I saw it through to the end. As always with Iain Banks, I thought it had much to recommend it.
on 21 September 2002
Having read several of Iain Banks's non-SF novels, I think it's safe to come to the conclusion that his style has changed in the later ones to the earlier itterations. Whereas in novels like "Walking on Glass" and "The Bridge", there was a key concept, or an underlying idea which drove the myriad events in the story forward, events interlocking beautifully, with an unexpected turn at the end of the novel; more recent ones such as "Complicity" and "The Business" are not 'concept' novels - these instead focus on the central character and follow them through their lives, usually as they're touched by some out of the ordinary events. "Dead Air" falls into this latter category. And this really needn't be a bad thing.
The book has been met by various reactions. As my mark suggests, I opt for the positive approach. "Dead Air" does not enthral like Banks's earlier books have, with a spiralling plot and tangles of ideas which the reader is left to unravel and understand for themselves - this, like his more recent novels, is about real life. It's less SF than the earlier mainstream novels tended to be. Focussing on shock-jock Ken Nott (and what a fine monicker), the narrative ostensibly follows him through various parts of his life and interactions with people he knows. However boring that may sound, it really isn't. What some readers/reviewers may have failed to pick up on is that this book is about themes. It is about paranoia, betrayal, the nature of truth, morals, and the intrinsic fallibility and double-standard manner in which every person exists. There's lots of lies in it, and lots of ranting: but this is all to underline the these themes, not just "a platform" for Banks to let off steam about issues of the moment.
In a way, "Dead Air" isn't anything like as massively imaginative as Banks's previous works. But his style remains, driving onwards with a wry humour, but now it is much more grounded in reality. A harsh reality - and this is what comes across the most in the novel; Banks is not writing imaginative fiction, so much as he is weaving together aspects of everyday reality and presenting it to the reader devoid of all its faux-securities, in his inimitable style.
There is no twist at the end. There are no flights of fantasy in dream sequences. There is a world which is only too familiar, and very much contemporary in its focus; the issues raised. The events of 11th September are brought into the book because of the shadow they have cast over everyday life since then - it's not a selling point, merely telling the truth about the way life is. Terrorism is questioned by Nott in the novel, and then he himself becomes the victim of a form of it: yet his reactions are very telling in relation to those of the world at large. He acts selfishly, and only for his own continued happiness and prosperity. What may seem like simple, dull events, are always symbolic in "Dead Air" of a much wider picture of the modern world.
So, then, is this Banks at his best?
Yes - he rarely isn't. However, whether you think the "reality-novels" are better than the "concept-novels" is entirely your own opinion. I like them all, and would prefer that this brilliant author's readership was more open-minded in its approach to his constantly intelligent, and incredibly well-written works.
Ken Nott outspoken 'shock jock' rants on about various political & social issues, takes a lot of drink & drugs and fights off (some of) the numerous women who want his body. Somewhere along the line there is a little bit of a plot which is speedily and ridiculously resolved - whoever I 'd rather lost interest by then .
Ken is clearly Banks alter-ego - same opinions, same taste in whisky, wine & football teams - and I quite enjoyed the ranting for a while mainly because his opinions largely match my own. However, a novel of this length requires characters and a plot to keep it going and this has none that rise above the obvious cliché.
The problem is that his great books, Complicity, The Crow Road & Espidair St are vastly superior to Dead Air so expectations are (or at least were) high when I start a Banks novel. However his life of affluent indolence as detailed in the non-fiction Raw Spirit seems to have detached him from any need to write other than to mouth off his own opinions. Perhaps he should become a Scottish Michael Moore.?
If you are new too Banks then you are lucky there is much better stuff than this to enjoy.
on 27 October 2011
It's the first Iain Banks book I've read so I can't compare it to any earlier or later work. As a story I didn't find it particularly gripping and it's certainly not a page turner although does pick up in the last 1/4 or so of the book. A lot of the dialogue/narrative is very drawn out and it adds up to a book that is a lot longer than it should be. You feel sometimes that you're wading through the book rather than flipping the pages in anticipation.
The main character Ken Nott in my opinion doesn't really appeal and I found myself a bit indifferent as to whether things worked out for him or not.
While I wouldn't recommend it I wouldn't pan the book either but certainly won't be hoping there's more Iain Banks in my christmas stocking this year.
on 15 September 2003
Knowing that Dead Air took Banks only 6 weeks to write sheds fresh light on the narrative's giddy immediacy. The voice of likeable but selfish protagonist Nott is unlikely to be far from the real-life concerns and obsessions of the author, which is both blessing and curse. It lends the novel the essential ring of truth, whilst occasionally veering into self-indulgent ranting, thinly disguised as Nott's on-air, shock-jock riffing on subjects as diverse as racism and sci-fi movies.
The first half of the book meanders pleasantly through the narrator's various infidelities, friendships and worklife. In the second half, however, Dead Air becomes a different type of novel altogether, and turns, as if the author is finally gathering himself together, muttering "best get on with it, then," into a break-neck thriller. Unlikely, even cliched situations are dispatched with such brio and bravura that we reach the final chapters clinging onto the ride, unable to believe that there can possibly be a happy ending for the man who has become our flawed but appealing friend.
The narrative's pace, initially baggy in parts, tightens progressively- and this is the key to the book's ultimate success. The apocalyptic, post-9/11 setting is almost a red herring- whilst providing fuel for the polemical chapters, the real story focuses, as do all the best and most timeless stories, on one man's will to live happily- and ultimately, simply his will to live at all.
For his next trick, it would be fascinating to see Banks publish a book of essays. That way, he'll get all the humorous ranting out of his system first- and save his energy to make his ensuing novel even tighter.
on 2 August 2008
Have to say I have mixed feelings about this story of the life of fictional shock-jock, Ken Notts. For one thing, I can't stand it when authors discuss or express political views through the dialogue between their characters, and this is frequently the case in this novel as Notts embarks upon long, uninteresting rants on politics, society and sport. The character felt nothing more than an excuse for the writer to express posssible views of his own that would have seen him linched if this wasn't a work of fiction. In the end I skipped them all until he took the reader back to the narrative. The dialogues also slow the novel right down, too.
The other thing I don't like about the novel is what I'd consider a blatant exploitation of the 9/11 disaster, for there's very little reference to, connection with, or discussion, on the tragedy at all in the book. It has simply been used to attract the attention of the reader, which I find very bad taste, and has put me right off Iain Banks.
The first half seems to drift nowhere in particular, with nothing of note other than the accident, the introduction of Nott's affair with a gangster's wife and the kidnapping, though these don't really hook you because of the distractions of the dialogue from the narrative.
Then, all of a sudden, the book kicks into life in the second half, becomes a fairly enjoyable read with some real moments of tension and you wonder what Banks was playing at in the first half. I particularly enjoyed Nott's confrontation with a Holocaust denier - even if this reflected a possible political argument of the author! - and how he gets himself in and out of the tight spot regarding his affair with the gangster's wife, I also liked how he Notts related what was going through his mind.
If you're the type of person that has a pile of books to get through, "Dead Air" is one to be put to the bottom until you've read all the others, since the first half makes it a get-it-over-and-done-with-style novel. If it hadn't have been for the second half I wouldn't have give "Dead Air" any stars.
I always anticipate a new novel from Iain Banks will be provocative, thought provoking and usually make me laugh.
My favourite ones of his too date are 'Player of Games' (Iain M.) and Complicity (Iain) and while I enjoyed Dead Air I ended up not getting involved in the book in the way I have with previous books- the chief character is not sympathetic - he had good things to say about hipocrasy, but basically seems to be amoral with no principles what so ever.
The starting point of 'Dead Air' is the terrorist attack on the 11th September but the majority of the book is taken up with the personal life of the 'hero' and there seems to be little linkage between the two - so you end up with two strands to the story that don't seem to be linked (at least that is how it seems to me).
The story strand with the right winger who denies the Holocaust ever took place just fades away and I think that could have been expanded to take a hard look at the opposing extreme views (ie it never happended to it excuses all subsequent actions)
Having said that a 4 star Iain Banks is better than 95% of other authors and I read Dead Air is two days - the story cracks along at a brisk space and I did want to see if the gangster caught up with the hero and what happended - don't want to spoil that for you.
The comments of the shock jock hero are not that shocking really - no worse than I hear on the radio these days .. certainly no worse than appears on the Brains Trust ..
In conclusion - a good read, not his best
on 21 April 2004
As a vehicle for what appear to be many of Banks' deeply held views,shock-jock Ken Nott is the perfect stalking-horse. And to be fair, hisforcefully argued, ascerbic debunking of many a crassly-held belief, isthe true highlight of this book. In fact, it less of a highlight than itsone redeeming feature.
With his genius debut, 'The Wasp Factory', Banks made a rod for his ownback: a standard by which all his books will be measured. He's had hismoments since: 'Complicity' was a cracking thriller, spun from a web ofintrigue and conceit. 'Whit' was okay. And 'Crow Road' was just plain. But Nott aside, this is the flimsiest of his stories I've so farencountered.
The story revolves around the dangerous liason with a gangster's moll (orwife, to be precise). The story of their relationship scans like a cheapJackie Collins love affair, whilst the dialogue crackles with all theelectric authenticity of an ITV drama. It has the occasional moment, suchas Nott's first face to face encounter with the cuckolded gangster, inwhich Banks really conveys the utter horror and tension of the moment.
Most disappointing was the fact that, at the outset, the story is framedagainst the backdrop of the September 11 terrorist attacks, before gentlycoaxing us towards some greater allegory in the book. The cover of theplane flying over Battersea's own towers and the brooding menace of thetitle suggest more too. But no such profoundity is delivered, and thebook crash lands in a field of mediocrity.
on 2 October 2002
A great read about London, the world of media and thirtysomethings all rolled in one without the shallowness of most novels in this category. It doesn't really matter that Dead Air's protagonist, Ken Nott, is Ian Banks' mouthpiece, as it's all well written: witty and sarcastic. The plot is good and unpredictable and keeps you guessing and if you're even vaguely interested in current events this book will give you something to think about. Whether you totally agree or completely oppose the views that Banks puts forward through Nott,Dead Air is a highly entertaining and fun book to read. On the downside, Nott's lenghty monologues are sometimes just too clever to sound like they really would be said by anyone off the top of their heads and it will be outdated pretty quickly because it is so specific. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad novel though.