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3.6 out of 5 stars
Matter
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I've just wolfed down Iain M Banks' latest novel in a couple of days, and I agree with the earlier posters that it's up there with his best work. All the pleasures you'd expect from a Culture book are present and correct: the unstoppable inventiveness, the political machinations, the sense of a universe so vast that it defies understanding. But to me there seems to be an extra element (or perhaps I was just too blind to notice it in his previous books) of acute and thoughtful reflection on very serious and current topics concerning the relationship between more and less developed nations (species, in the book) and how these issues play out in present day world affairs. It's an excellent book, and a showcase for the contention (implicit in much of Banks' work) that science fiction is absolutely as capable of engaging with serious and relevant themes as writing in any other genre.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2008
I would agree with those who have said that this one's slow (by Banks' standards) until the last couple of hundred pages (when it focuses more fully on the Culture's involvement in the plot) in which it absolutely zips by. In the first section of the book, detailing the goings on on the Eighth level of the Shellworld, we have to make do with short interludes and the descriptions of the Shellworlds themselves for our dose of Hard Sci-Fi - the rest of it is all a bit 'swords and chainmail'.

Don't get me wrong, it's still a decent read, but Banks' Sci-Fi will always, for me, be marked against his very best Culture work, and against those standards it falls a bit short, hence only three stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
er by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read all of Iain M Banks Books and this one Matter #8 in the Culture series is a good strong tale of familial strife set against the background of impossible planet sized structure.

To recap The ten books of the Culture are: Consider Phlebas, 1987; The Player of Games,1988; Use of Weapons, 1990; The State of the Art, 1991; Excession, 1996; Inversions, 1998; Look to Windward,2000; Matter,2008; Surface Detail, 2010; The Hydrogen Sonata, 2012.

The tale of Matter is the tale of a strange homeland called a Shellworld. This is described on p63 as:

The Shell Worlds are mostly hollow. Each had a solid metallic core fourteen hundred kilometres in diameter. beyond that, a concentric succession of spherical shells.

Each of the shells forms a level of the Shell world, and distinct civilisation live on each including water worlds, gas worlds, fixed stars and moving stars. The levels are connected by vast lifts, and sometimes the custodians of the Shellworld allow the inhabitants of different levels to pass from one to another, sometimes with evil intent.

As always with Banks culture stories e have an amazing unthought-of science fiction setting, and this is just the start. A prince is falsely accused of fratricide, who has to flee... So starts a long journey to find a long lost sister and ultimately to save his world.

I really liked this book. I liked the artefact at its heart. I like the way it is only partly understood, and quarrelled over by great powers of the galaxy. I loved the story of the innocent fleeing finding himself on the most amazing pan-galactic road trip.

Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 December 2008
I've read most of Iain M. Bank's output over the last few years, and for me this story holds up well compared to all but a few of those that came previously. The authors imagination is clearly running on top form and this book is a treat for readers who enjoy detailed and immersive descriptive writing.

Unlike some other reviewers, I particularly enjoyed the contrasting plot lines of hard sci-fi alongside medieval political intrigue. Maybe it's a sign that I need to branch out into some serious fantasy reading, not a genre I have paid much attention to before.

There is a vast kaleidoscope of characters, human and alien (although I wish I had discovered the glossary at the end of the book while reading it!) While everything starts off light and humourous, as the story progresses a dark intensity takes over. It's probably wise to pace your reading so you get to the last 1/3 of the book at the start of the weekend, if you are like me you will need to read that part in pretty much one go.

So, I can't justify much in the way of criticism as I was unable to put it down and have spent most of the last few days absorbing myself in the fantastic world it has created. However, on reflection, it is a 'typical' Banks culture novel, there is a strong taste of formula here. It's obviously one that creates sucessful books, but maybe it was just a little too predictable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
While I like the idea of the novel, its execution is too verbose and badly edited. It's a shame because the denoument is superb, vintage Iain M Banks action. I have a lot of time for the Culture and its AIs and on the plus side one comes away from the novel suspecting that even the main heroine was manipulated by The Culture to the point of her own destiny. However it seems to take far too long to get there and the main napoleonic style culture really grates. It relys on cliched plot devises and characters (the faithful, abused and wily retainer; the evil usurper; the fay second son; the pompous generals). So much so that it sometimes reads like a very poor Sharpe pot-boiler.

Despite this, there is still the heroine: I'd happily read 10 novels with her as the agent. She really does "kick ass" and I hope that she'll be back with more surreal spaceships and fewer 5 page "Tom Bombadiel" style diversions.

Talking of Tolkein, the epilogue seems to be lifted straight from Return of the King and the ultimate Mayoral destiny of Samwise Gamgee.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 21 February 2012
I'm a big fan of Iain M Banks science fiction novels. They are phenomenally imaginative, intelligent and well written. If I was to pick my favourite ones to date they would be "Excession" and "Look to Windward", however they are all pretty good. I was therefore looking forward to reading his latest "Culture" novel , "Matter". "Matter" doesn't quite measure up to Banks's best science fiction however. It is quite slow moving ,overlong and there are periods when nothing much happens. The book is set in the main within a feudal,monarchical society within a multi level artificial planet called a "Shellworld". A king is murdered by a usurper and the king's son ends up going on the run in a journey that takes him through the stars to meet up with his estranged sister,a Culture Special Circumstances agent. Together, with the aid of a few others , they set out to return to the Shellworld to remove the usurper.However an artefact is found on the Shellworld under a huge waterfall which has attracted the attention of an alien species. What is the nature of the artefact and is it friend or foe ? I didn't particularly like the swords and chainmail feudalistic element of the book- it sort of seemed too familiar and unimaginative, while a lot of the travelling about was rather pointless and uninteresting. The book only picks up in the last 100 pages or so when all the action takes place and the heroics begin. Having said all this "Matter" is still a fantastic read - what kind of genius could think all of this up ? - but compared to the high standards of Iain M Banks other Culture novels , it doesn't quite hit the mark.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I suspect that this is a book that will repay second and maybe third readings. On the first reading it feels a little bit disjointed - narratives start and then are derailed by characters' movement between worlds, there's a whole chapter where a character thinks about whether to go home or not, narratives aren't exactly resolved. The story starts in a fantasy sort of setting, a land of feudal, pre-industrial society, where a king is murdered by his closest friend and it is observed by the heir to the throne. It feels a bit like Macbeth or Hamlet or a hundred other such stories and I had a hard time getting into the story until it started moving out into the Culture. But even there things felt familiar. Another Culture story, another Special Circumstances agent, another Ship with murky motivations. And then the ending... I wasn't sure how to take the ending. It happened very quickly and forced aside all the other issues the story had been dealing with until that point.

In a way I like it. I like the idea that there are always things going on around and outside and above and below that have an effect on events and that one event is connected to a thousand others, so that shifts in scale will make that event unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But in another way it stops the story from feeling satisfying.

Maybe in a few months I'll reread the book and I'll amend this review to show how a second reading works, if knowing what you know by the end has an effect on how you read the story. But at the moment, I think this is a case of a clever point overcoming a story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2009
This is a lengthy book by Banks's standard, but I think there is too much window dressing, particularly in the first half. The whole story of medieval prince seeking justice for his father's death ends up being irrelevant to the end plot. I don't want to put any spoilers in, but people should be aware that in my humble opinion, far too much is spent over the machinations of the Sarl people, it's Regent and Prince Regent.

The flight of the late king's second son and his servant in their quest to find ex princess Djan Seriy Anaplian, who is now a member of Special Circumstances, is quite entertaining, but the end game is too short, and I felt unsatisfied at how the whole thing finished.

Banks does introduce new SF artefacts and gadgetry in this novel, but relatively little use is made of them. There is an interview with Banks at the end of the book, and in it he says that about a year before he wrote The Algebraist, he thought he was coming to the end of his SF writing days, although he found renewal when he wrote that book. Perhaps he was right in the first place.

I really enjoy the Culture universe, but not enough was made of this in Matter. It is there, along with an equally advanced race called the Morthanveld, but sits too much in the background for my liking.

Not a bad book, but not a page turner for me.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2009
Nobody does sci-fi opera better than Iain M. Banks, and nobody denies that having the wit and imagination to conceptualise it is a difficult trick to pull off successfully. But on the strength of this under-powered outing, Banks may be losing his sci-fi crown.

Many people will buy into this book because the marketing people have billed it as the "new Culture novel', but the Culture's role is only coincidental through one of the characters.

The actual story is one of Bank's weakest, with most of the action set in a steam-powered quasi-medieval world of swords and armour, a long way from the techno-gadgetry of the Culture. Things get off to a quick start with the murder of a genocidal king by his henchman of 30 years. The next 400 pages grind past in tedium as the characters are slowly brought together, presumably to bear on the usurper tyl Loesp.

Mid-way through I started wondering why the reader or an ultra advanced civilisation like the Culture should care about the murder of a genocidal and parochial king, his 3 surviving bastard children, and their attempts to claim back the throne. The answer is I shouldn't have cared - the author seems to lose interest and hurries to kill off the book with a sacrificial ending that comes out of a nowhere and has nothing to do with the rest of the story.

If you're a fan of the Culture series, give Matter a miss and wait for the next 'proper' Culture novel.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2009
Matter is Banks' return to the world of the Culture after a lay-off of 8 years ( Look to Windward 2000) and focuses on the often mentioned mentoring aspect of the Culture, and more specifically
the shadowy Special Circumstances division within the Culture. The story focuses on the Shellworld Sursamen (Shellworlds are ancient artificial planet consisting of fourteen nested concentric spheres internally lit by tiny thermonuclear "stars", whose layers are inhabited by various different species. )

On the 8th level of Sursamen live the Sarl, a Humanoid race lead by the royal household of Hausk.
The story begins with Ferbin Hausk , prince of Sarl and heir to the throne witnessing the murder of his father the king at the hands of his friend and right hand Tyl Loesp. Ferbin is forced to flee his home with his man servant Choubris Holse and makes his way to the tower superstructures that support the individual levels within the shellworld and provide transport to the surface. His aim is to find his sister whom left Sursamen 15 years previous to join the Culture .

Presuming Ferbin dead, Tyl Loesp is installed as regent until Oramen , youngest of King Hausks children and now heir to the 8th is of age . Oramen is a studious youth , who having expected his role as 3rd son ( King Hausks oldest son was killed during the unification of the 8th) graciously accepts Tyl Loesp as his regent and mentor, having no idea of the truth behind his warlike fathers death nor Loesps true motives.

This basically Sets up the premise of the book

One part revenge and betrayal novel
One part technological tour de force
One part intergalactic travel brochure

All the great traits of a cultural novel are there, we have the amusing ship names, the quirky ship AI's , the one man army Culture suits of doom , the condescending drone and all the other fluff that comes with a Culture novel , but the books suffers massive pacing issues , and spends a large portion of the book on a sort of intergalactic travel brochure , and while it was nice to be introduced to new species within the greater universe it has little to no bearing on the main storyline and in large parts was boring . The parts of the book set on Sursamen and involving Oramen are overall enjoyable, and play out like a tradition fantasy novel ( big bad regent out to steal the boy who would be kings throne, with overtones of something sinister pulling the strings in the background)
The scenes set on the 9th level in and around the Nameless City are where the book really starts to pick up pace and really hit its stride, this final third of Matter when Holse , Ferbin and his Special Circumstances agent sister Anaplian return to the shellworld kitted out in Nano suits with arsenals equivalent to that of a medium sized nation , and accompanied by ship who may or may not be a special forces vessel with some rather neat ricks of its own. The book reaches a typically Banksian ending that will appeal to all Culture fans and to fans of space opera at large.

Overall it was fun to read a book set again in the world of the culture, the book did having pacing issues however and at some points nearly ground to a halt , once into the final third the book flew along and was everything fans love about banks and his world.

3/5* would have been an 4 if the tedious section in the middle was better paced
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