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75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks at his most inventive & daring
This book 'transitions' the split between Iain Banks' non-sci-fi output & Iain M. Banks' vast space operas, presenting a sci-fi tale with a contemporary setting.

It is based on the premise that a virtually infinite number of parallel dimensions do indeed exist. The inhabitants of one of them have discovered that by ingesting a drug called Septus, they can...
Published on 20 Sep 2009 by Sam Woodward

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm sure I'm missing something
It has been suggested that Iain Banks lastest offering is a crossover novel meeting his sci-fi alterego, Iain M Banks halfway. Having never read Iain M Banks I can't comment on that but it is ceratinly a shift from Banks' normal output.

His past books have always been intricate and complex, The Crow Road & Garbadale being good examples, but with Transition the...
Published on 8 Oct 2010 by Fraser the Frank Fish


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Original, 2 Feb 2010
By 
T. J. Smith "Tim" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
This is the first Ian Banks novel I have read and it will not be the last.

I don't want to give any of the plot away as some other reviewers tend to do. Basically, it is a little bit Sci-Fi but don't be put off by that if you are not a regular Sci-Fi reader.

The novel is written in a very original way with many characters taking on the narrative in different forms. The story line is also original and has several twists- as you would expect from a decent novel. The writing style is very good and I found it to be very gripping and entertaining.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My first Banks book, 1 Jan 2010
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This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
This is the first book I read from Ian Banks (or Ian M. Banks). I had some big expectations that were not completely fulfilled. Banks tackles the topic of multiverses, and throughout the book we follow a set of very distinct characters, whose life's will converge towards the climax (that's how it is presented to us). The problem is that the climax is instead an anticlimax, and we are left with many loose ends. Maybe the loose ends are left on purpose, for a sequel, but I confess that I was expecting a bit more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multiversal Travel FTW!, 4 Dec 2009
By 
H. Callaghan "Alice in Wonderland" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
I finished Transition by Iain Banks and while I enjoyed it, I'm not entirely sure I understood exactly what happened to the protagonists at the end. I strongly suspect that there is some kind of Culture SC thing going on, but it's never explicitly stated. Some fabulous set-pieces in it though - my favourite is a palace on top of Everest in a deserted Earth where everyone's been killed by a comet.

And of course he plays tricks with narrative which I think is one of the things I admire most about him and where I find him most influential, which is impossible to discuss here without being violently spoilery. But the book is itself a kind of full circle, a narrative palindrome where events are retold at the end and the added context makes it make sense.

It was also nice to see that we agree that access to multiverse travel always always ALWAYS leads to increased levels of murder, shagging, and exposure to Fascism. I approve.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars in two minds, 29 Jan 2010
This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
Really can't decide on this book. I agree with the reviewer who said this is like an early draft, because it certainly reads like that rather than a final manuscript. It is a novel of ideas, though whether great and brilliant ideas or rather ideas 'thought' to be brilliant after a night at the pub I'm not sure! It has the potential to be a great novel, but the ideas need honed and re-shaped, and it definitely needs a better story to hang them on. I nearly gave up midway through the book but kept going more out of determination than enjoyment. There are some great sections but they are few and far between. One for fans I think, as I doubt anyone new to Banks will be convinced by this. Oh, and its science fiction, no way this is normal fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best, 9 Sep 2013
This review is from: Transition (Paperback)
Transitions is, in my humble opinion, one of Iain Banks' best books on either side of the fi / sci-fi divide. It is mind-bogglingly imaginative and challenges the reader with disparate Le Carre-esque strands that only later reveal their interconnection to the central theme. Absolutely superb.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multi-versatile work, 15 July 2011
This review is from: Transition (Paperback)
I don't know if you can accuse a writer of plagarising themselves. I suppose it is something that is never really mentioned it is normally discounted as a writer going over similar themes and ideas developed in slightly different ways. For example there is a criticism of Philip Roth's last few novels that he has engaged in this.

But when you write in two completely different persona as Iain Banks does (his science fiction is written by Iain M Banks) I suppose the p word becomes a possibility. Iain M Banks is the name adopted by Banks (his full one!) when writing his science fiction which he has done as long as his more traditional literary fiction.

It has long been a bug bear of mine (and apparently Banks) that readers who devour his work draw a line at his science fiction. This has even been the case, in my view, when in the last few years his strongest and most inventive work in terms of style, structure and character has been his SF. And given that a few of his more recent mainstream contemporay novels although OK have been treading water a bit - I'm thinking of the Road to Garbadale and the Business.

Banks has dealt with this now in a fairly obvious way now though by transposing a lot of the themes of his science fiction directly into this work. Not completely a first - he dabbled with this a bit I think with the Bridge one of his earlier novels - but never as full on as this.

Limited to Earth (or Calbafreques!) this is no space opera. Indeed the existence of alien life or humans making contact with them form an essential question of this work. Where the sci-fi comes in is the existence of an infinite number of planet Earths and humans within them. Ones where we died when we were 4 or had coffee rather than tea this morning or have blue hair or.... So for example one of the worlds has a problem with Christian Fundamentalist terrorists, this is quite well done but draws very much on Dawkins' God Delusion. This is an actual area of theoretical physics at the moment speculating over the nature of infinity and what it means for humans - but it is purely at that level - theory which makes it ripe for fictional treatment.

There are a group of individuals structured in a bureaucratic organisation - the Concern who can travel or transition across these multiple worlds and do so by entering other people's bodies. Familiar to anyone who has seen Terminator 2 or the early 90s tv show Quantum Leap, currently on just before the Tour de France! They intervene across the world ostensibly to do good; to prevent bad things happening but at the top of the organisation there is some foul work afoot with a hidden agenda or is there?The debate over intervention whether helping an individual to benefit society or indeed killing many more individuals for the same reasons is dealt with here. This is a central theme of Banks' sci fi particularly with his utopian space communist society the Culture who have to interact with a variety of worlds. That is where I get the idea of plagarism - accusation is not really a fair word though because he deals with these themes really well here. I just think he has done it before and with a lot more detail in his sci-fi work. I think it is telling the Concern is also a 7 letter word beginning with C - although a more exclusively human form. It criticises the money-grabbing aspect of a version of Earth which looks very much like ours.

And I suppose that is the difference the Culture doesn't engage with the planet Earth - its scale is much vaster than that. There is I think just one short story where the two interact. In contrast this is very much a human story - exploring how we would deal with these theoretical themes.

In that there are strong characters this is done well - Mr Oh, a transitioner who is used by the Concern and comes to his own conclusions over what to do, although his awakening near the end is a bit too close to the Matrix conclusion for me, MrsMulverhill - his lover and mentor, the Philosopher (a torturer) and Adrian (a hedge fund manager (closer than you would think in job) are all interesting creations and all drawn into the Concern.

Sometimes there is a slight tendency to crowbar a theme around a character though - the torturer (philosopher) has a dialogue with another man who has tortured for a greater good which amounts to a text book discussion of Kantian autonomy of the individual versus utilitarianism. As outlined so well in Michael Sandel's recent series on Justice. It is worthy of discussion as many of the ideas are but breaks the narrative flow.

However where the work is excellent is the study of self - what it means to be a human. It explores the vanity we have as individuals - solipsism - which suggests we are the centre of the world, bad things wont happen to us - everything revolves around us. Very much a modern Western vanity which we all suffer from including most of the characters in the book especially Adrian who really personifies the pre-2008 crash mentality of capitalism. His end though is not particularly drawn up with events around Lehman Brothers which I thought it would be. I thought these philosphical themes and their discussion show Banks at his best which he normally reserves for his sci-fi.

It also is fairly experimental in narrative structure for one of his traditional novels. The multi-narration overlaps and is difficult to keep a handle on - I think this is quite brave and well done. It dives right in so the reader will have to work, cross reference and so on. This means the conclusion could be seen as a little convaluted - I am still trying to work out if I fully understand it.
The descriptions of other worlds - which are remember essentially this one where I am typing this - also takes no prisoners in their flowing and alien detail and I wonder how much his traditional literary readers enjoyed it. The book seems to have got great reviews from the blurb though this can sometimes be misleading - because I think it shows the link between contemporary issues and philosophy which Banks expounds much more in his science fiction; but Im not sure all readers will agree.There is more in the book, perhaps too much some times, and it takes a while to get going because of the narrative style. Sometimes Banks could be more subtle - the first line whilst great is a bit undercutting of his own strength as a writer: "Apparently I am what is known as an Unreliable Narrator" It's like he doesn't have the confidence to leave this unstated and let the reader work it out - this narrative art being a central part of much of modern fiction.

My advice would be to stick with it for it says a lot about the nature of being human, sexual relations, materialism and alienation. There's even an inter-planet Earth chase culminating in a European tourist trap! A bit Bourne-esque. I liked this but I hope it doesn't reflect Banks draining the well of ideas from his sci-fi for his contemporary work or indeed vice versa.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Next Culture or the Nature of Existence?, 14 Dec 2010
By 
Bruce "from Brighton" (UK - England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Paperback)
Many people have already tried to summarise the plot so I won't bother as I think in this case it is almost irrelevant as this novel is about big ideas and also introduces us to "The Concern".

I must say that I had originally loved Banks' novels about Culture - but I think the concept has become a bit tired and he clearly doesn't want to go back there - so the Concern brings the same sort of idea a bit closer to home and also takes it more into "Conspiracy Theory" territory.

Banks explores the nature of existence through the shady organisation of the Concern - are events fixed in time, can they be changed by our conscious acts of will and is it the case as per some Quantum Theory, that every event creates a new universe in an infinity of such possibilities?

It's also about how we come to terms with death - some members of the Concern want to avoid it, but Banks is saying that we need death to regenerate our society and avoid stagnation.

Transition also explores what consciousness means - is it limited to our physical bodies and the big question is whether our attitude to that, means that we live too much in our minds - just waiting to be released from our physical limitations.

It's quite dangerous to slip into solipsism and much like in the film "Inception" - it would be very easy to slip into a self-imposed limbo of inaction where you will never escape.

So much for the ideas - but the style of the book is quite difficult - it jumps about and you are not sure where you are at times? But then this must be how the characters feel - Banks is creating the kind of uncertainty for the reader, that his characters must feel in world where you can jump heads. This idea is a bit like what happens in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series and is a staple of Fantasy/Sci Fi from Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" The Tale of the Eternal Champion onwards.

But Banks inserts enough personality and character to make this his own - with lovingly-crafted descriptions of places and what it means to be a particular person. The detail is important - how do we orient ourselves in this kind of situation?

I would say that the writing style is well-matched to the subject and leads us to consider what it would be like - so as I say the plot is in many ways irrelevant and it is the experience that we have, as we follow these characters across universes.

I see this as the beginning of a new strand and will be happy to read more about the Concern and Mister Oh!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Windmills of Your Mind, 9 July 2010
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Paperback)
'Transition' is a strange beast - A multiple point-of-view, multiple universe thriller, in which nothing is quite what it seems. The narrative can be confusing, and at times the plot seems non-existent, but this meandering novel is worth persevering with. 'Transition' follows several different characters in a reality where it is possible to switch between universes. The characters know about these multiple universes to a greater of lesser degree - some can travel between them and manipulate events to meet their own ends, others are ignorant pawns, blissfully unaware of what is happening around them. In 'Transition', reality is fluid, as are motive and morals.

Banks' writing is compelling - each chapter is an intriguing vignette, but they do lack focus which makes for frustrating reading. I waited patiently for a unified story to coalesce from these fragments, but was only rewarded in the final few pages. On reflection, I'm not sure that the plot holds up to scrutiny. Characters obtain powers for no apparent reason, and there is one bit-part character who has huge influence over the conclusion of the novel. You could claim that in a novel that has an infinite number of universes, anything can happen, but this deus-ex-machina is unsatisfactory.

With greed and torture being important themes, 'Transition' has that grimy feel of many other of Banks novels. Personally, I think he often overdoes these seedier details, but in this book, he only strays over the line a couple of times. Despite all this 'Transition' is an interesting read. Using his alternate realities, Banks poses interesting questions about our own world, most notably, the dubious usefulness of torturing terror suspects for information.

One can't help wondering if Banks has been over ambitious. Like a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel, the book spins towards its end, even with the vague hint that the entire novel might be the invention of one its characters. 'Transition' is bursting with ideas and confusing realities, but they all vie with each other for the reader's attention. The sheer riot of themes often overpowers the point Banks was hoping to convey. Worth a read, but not a wholly satisfactory one.

As a curious aside, I have read three novels in the last couple of months, all touching on the many-worlds theory. Bizarrely all three involve a visit to the site of the Chernobyl disaster - Yellow Blue Tibia and The Sun and Moon Corrupted are different in style and tone to 'Transition', but both are worth a look.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's the 'M', 30 April 2010
By 
Stephen M Blank (Altrincham, Cheshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
I'm a great fan of Iain M Banks, writer of some of the funniest and cleverest SF there is. I've also read novels by Iain Banks, also witty and clever. This is a science fiction novel, not totally original, written with his usual wit and with a lovely twist sorting out one of the less pleasant characters. However the overall plot is obscure and I have no idea why this book would be the one to lead Mr Banks to drop the 'M'. It's not close enough to a 'straight' novel nor far enough away from his SF form.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Back to his Best?, 3 Dec 2009
By 
A. Brown "oneexwidow" (Bristol) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Transition (Hardcover)
14 years ago, I read "Complicity" by Iain Banks. It's a darkly comic novel about a journalist who is drawn into investigating a series of bizarre (and graphic) tortures and murders. So began my love of Banks' general fiction. (For those who don't know, Banks writes contemporary fiction as Iain Banks and Science Fiction as Iain M Banks).

I followed up Complicity with The Wasp Factory (Bank's first novel, and a very highly recommended read) and gradually worked through the rest of his books. Having caught up and read them all, I'm now re-reading them, slotting in his new works as they come. And so to Transition...

My anticipation for this book was tempered with some trepidation. Banks' last two fiction books - 2002's Dead Air and 2007's The Steep Approach to Garbadale had failed to impress me. The latter was particularly disappointing as advanced publicity seemed to suggest he was back on form. Had the magic touch deserted Banks for good, or could he produce something in keeping with his reputation?

Transition is set on a series of parallel worlds, all of them earth-like, some more developed than others. An organisation known variously as The Concern or l'Expedience has discovered and harnessed a drug-induced ability to "transition" between these realities. As many of the realities are slightly more developed versions of others, the effects seen on the leading Earths can be averted by changes in a lagging versions. The Concern exists to manage these benign interventions.

At least, that is the message given to those in "Open" worlds where most people are aware of the multiple realities and existence of The Concern. Those in Closed worlds have no such awareness and are therefore at the whim of the decisions of the central council.

The novel revolves around a power struggle between Madame d'Ortolan and Mrs Mulverhill. d'Ortolan is the dominant figure on the council and has her own ideas about the purpose and intent of The Concern. Mulverhill was a senior member in the Transitionary Office who feels The Concern has gone to far. The central narrator is former pupil of Mulverhill's who acts as a Transitionary acting on orders from the council. His interventions range from saving lives to taking lives.

As with some of Banks' best works, he is not afraid to play around with the conventional structure of a novel. The story is told through a series of different narrators, who by turns advance the story and relate the history of the concern and the central characters. Gradually these come together, although as with the best books and films, there are still some questions at the end.

So, what did I think? Well, it isn't the perfect novel; there are some ideas that are introduced and not developed - one of the realities is in the grip of a threat from Christian Terrorists. There are also, perhaps, too many narrative strands. The character of Adrian, who is in some ways a standard Banks' character, could have been introduced through the narrative strand of Mrs Mulverhill, for example. While it does have flaws, though, none of these are fatal.

Overall, it is an enjoyable read set in a series of strange, yet often familiar, realities. Once the book establishes it's rhythm of alternate narrators, it is also an easy read (albeit with some uneasy passages). While some of the political and social issues may not be explored fully, the book does, ultimately, have a satisfactory feel of justice prevailing.

When I read a novel, I would normally decide on completion whether it is a book I would want to re-read, and therefore keep, or whether it is bound for Oxfam. Had this been a novel by any other author, I suspect I would keep it, which is not something I'd have said for either Dead Air or The Steep Approach to Garbadale. On that measure, therefore, I am happy to recommend it.

Where does it come in relation to Banks' other work, though? Well, laying aside the question as to whether this belongs in the Iain Banks or Iain M Banks canon; I think it's his best book since A Song of Stone, and possibly earlier. It's certainly an easier read than A Song of Stone, which is written entirely in the third person.
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