on 21 June 2008
Aaarrrggghhh! You wait all that time for another Banks/Culture masterpiece, you finally get it in your sweaty little paws and what happens? Well, not much actually.
Sure the elements are all there (though in somewhat strange - and often diminutive - proportions) but somehow he doesn't seem to have knitted them all together to deliver the highly satisfying experience that was "Excession" or "Look to Windward".
Having found his last three novels all excellent (Dead Air/Algebraist/Garbedale) I suppose my expecations may have been impossibly high and destined for an anti-climax, but then I suppose I had developed a strange belief that Mr Banks had reached a point in his art where he could defy such earthbound phenomena as human fallibility.
Nevertheless, it was still a decent read, it just lacked some of the expected potency - where was the usual visionary display of technology in combat? The space-opera set pieces that tax your ability to visualise? The trademark unguessable twists that force you to pause your fevered reading to absorb what he has just revealed?
Perhaps the inclusion of a glossary gives a clue to one piece of the problem. Part of the Banks magic (in my opinion) was that he induced you to involve yourself in the story by introducing some elements without explanation, though with enough context that you could extrapolate and fill the gaps with a good guess. You then later had the reward of Mr Banks nonchalantly confirming you were largely correct in your extrapolation just in time for him to take matters off in a delightfully breathtaking direction.
This time round though, it seems he has opted for visible complexity. Sure there are a lot of elements species/locations/characters etc on display but they seem to add substance but little depth. Everything is a little too clearly defined and part of the journey is travelled for you. However, despite this slight disappointment, my faith in Mr Banks' skill remains undiminished - it may have not been the helter-skelter I was expecting but I'll still be waiting eagerly to buy my hardback-ticket for his next ride.
on 7 May 2008
It could be that Uncle Banksie has taken a slight stumble with this one - especially the machina ex deus (yes, that's intentional) ending. I can understand all the gripes I'm reading in these reviews. However, certain set pieces are classic Banks, his imagination has in no way pooped out yet, and the writing is, as always, stellar. While I preferred Look to Windward (loved it, in fact) and the Algebraist, I'd say if you're a big fan of Banks' SF, go for it, you won't be disappointed.
on 7 March 2009
I used to love Iain Banks' books but then they all started to have the same theme. They were all about people who had lots of money and didn't actually have to do a real job like the rest of us. I wonder whether this is because the author has lost touch with the real world and can only write now about his enormous wealth.
The one saving grace was Iain M Banks's books which are very good on the whole.
Only now, with Matter, I am beginning to lose interest.
It is a good story but unfortunately it is ruined by the rushed and weak ending leaving too many questions unanswered. The idea of killing virtually everyone off at the end is just lazy.
So, if Iain M Banks doesn't buck up his ideas I will not be buying any more of his books just the same as I don't bother buying any of his alter ego's anymore.
on 15 May 2010
I love some of Iain's other work, the coulture books are excelent. I often argue with my girl friend as to which is best, but one thing we both agree on is which is the worst. It could have been good, the opening is excelent, but then it just kind of mutters on, not sure exactly what it is. Then, all of a suden it all kicks off and its the end of the book in a few short chapters.
For me the biggest problem was that it might as well have been fantasy, it was all medievil with just a light smattering of sci/fi. Ok it set in a shell world, and as interesting an idea as that could be it is almost a background fact.
I am giving it 2 stars because I can't quite bring my self to give it just 1. The actual writing is good, shame the rest was just a bit to dull and hum drum.
on 13 May 2008
I guess im going to voice the words of many other reviews regarding 'Matter' but still i feel i have to in the vain hope Iain Banks might (should he ever read his reviews) take the collective response into consideration when writing his next culture book. I've long been a fan of his culture books but something just felt a bit off the mark with 'Matter'. It had some great concepts and the protagonist Djan was a well defined character whom i love to read more about in the future. There were also a lot of moments where the usual witty Banks humor came into play. But the book did seem to drone on until a sudden burst in the last few pages. before i knew it i was trying to keep up the rapidly changing events. As the story pace came together it seemed it's cohesion was falling apart.....and then it was over in a flash. The whole Indiana Jones like ancient monster thing has been done before, and if you're going to do it again do us justice of explaining it better. I dont want to use the word incomplete as there was over 500 pages, but i would say about 200 were needless. Lets take Oreman (however you spell it) when he meets his mother...she pops into the story, consumes a few pages and is never heard of again despite being mentioned so much as a driving factor in the characters mental make-up. It's little examples like this that frustrated me. What ever happened to Tyl Loesp (again whatever the spelling)??? Was he burnt to a crisp by evil temple of doom monster, survived, impaled, bla bla bla??? I've no idea? It just seemed strange to terminate such a central character so fast.
Maybe Banks is in a lull - space opera is notoriously difficult to execute well and he has many fine examples of doing so in the past. I really wanted to like this book and i did in parts. But as an overall body of work it just does not stand up as well as some of its predecessors. Saying that, i will no doubt be waiting to get my hands on the next culture book as soon as possible. Banks has taken me on the Culture journey since i was was a teenager and im not about to jump ship yet .
on 26 October 2008
Long, reasonably complex, various levels and themes, as I find with his books-all of which I have read- you cannot pre guess the outcome, the writing is intelligent and provokes thought. Bear in mind, most other decent writers in this genre owe a lot in my humble opinion to Banks.
Whether this is your favourite or not just remember that he sets the benchmark.
on 14 July 2014
Iain M Banks' Sci Fi novels novels are a romp through the ideas of Science Fiction – always interesting and always surprising. In that he resembles E E Doc Smith for the sheer exuberance of his writing. Fortunately he does not have Smith’s obsession with projectile weapons.
Banks’ novels often centre on a socialist society – known as “The Culture”. It is a society of abundance in which there is no poverty or war. Matter concerns how The Culture relates to the rest of the galaxy where war and poverty have not been abolished.
The Culture is a society where artificial intelligence has reached its highest expression and is regarded as equivalent to human beings – or vastly superior depending on your viewpoint! The wit and wisdom of the AIs and their relationship with the human members of the culture is part of the novel’s attraction.
The Shell Worlds are a theme of this novel. They are artificially created worlds which host a variety of life forms. One character from a shell world joins The Culture and then returns home to the relatively primitive society into which she was born when her father is assassinated. However in her absence she has become a member of the part of the Culture called “Special Circumstances” – an organisation of humans with enhanced powers. Special Circumstances alternately upholds and violates The Culture’s principle of non-interference with other life forms at every turn.
Instead of going back to grieve for her father she ends up with a mission to save the world. This is a book for science fiction fans and socialists. Iain M Banks is always good value for money.
Stories from the Mirror of Eternity
on 20 February 2013
In his ongoing series of "Culture" space opera science fiction novels, Iain M. Banks has revived the genre by infusing it with themes and literary styles more commonly associated with mainstream literary fiction, which as Iain Banks, the writer of such notable novels as "The Wasp Factory", he has garnered ample critical and popular acclaim. His novel "Matter" must be seen as among the finest he's written for his galaxy-spanning "Culture" saga; an engrossing blend of Graham Greene espionage thriller and philosophical speculation of the kind seen in Neal Stephenson's memorable first contact space opera science fiction novel "Anathem", coupled with a most intricate plot replete with riveting, often relentless, scenes of battles on land and in interstellar space, memorable characters and exceptional prose, and yet, it is a space opera science fiction novel which explores the natures of reality, justice, and even, sibling love with a level of sophistication rarely seen in this science fiction subgenre. For these reasons alone, "Matter" is not just a great space opera science fiction novel, but also a great work of contemporary mainstream literary fiction, and one which should interest those who have read only Banks' well received mainstream literary fiction. On a remote planet that is well known throughout the galaxy, Prince Ferbin witnesses a horrible act of betrayal; the cruel murder of his father, the king, by the king's most trusted aide. Condemned and pursued by those acting in the name of that aide - who has assumed all of the deceased king's powers as Regent - and Ferbin's younger brother, now the Prince Regent - whose own life is threatened by treachery and murder - his only hope of salvation is the young sister he hasn't seen in years, Djan Seriy Anaplian. However, she is no longer the naïve young girl he remembered, but an elite secret agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, in charge of high level interference in the internal affairs of the Culture's galaxy-spanning worlds, as well as those of others. For Anaplian, returning home will mean returning to interstellar space controlled by the Culture's enemies - and keeping her specialized skills hidden - and returning to a planet where she must decide what matters most in discerning what is most relevant with respect to justice and reality. "Matter" is destined to be remembered as one of the finest space opera science fiction novels ever written and an important landmark in Banks' literary oeuvre.
on 15 June 2011
I have been an avid sci-fi fan since I was about eight, not the cowboys in space variety but one in which imagination and possibility are let rip to create complex, coherent, integral systems and histories that, no matter how exotic make sense. In finding this book, a serendipitous improbability if ever there was one (Heart of Gold wake anyone?), I have experienced a can't put it down rollercoaster oh my great spacegoat I'm getting close to the end and it will all be over week the likes of which I haven't enjoyed for many a year.
Politics, Sociology, War, Psychology, Philosophy, oodles of gorgeous technology painted against a backdrop as big and as old as the galaxy itself, and with brushes as quirky, as quaint, as obnoxious, as naughty, as bohemian, as narcissitic, as hedonistic, as conniving and as full of joy and doubt as there are different personalities of people and aliens (corot implies so!)
This isn't fast food future fantasy, this is a sumptious banquet, a three day Indian wedding rather than a Vegas quickie. In reading it I remember back with fondness to weeks spent between the pages of William Gibson, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchet, Clark, Heinlein, Tepper and Eric Frank Russell.
I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who is serious about sci-fi, or who just wants to get away from what humans have become and live in a universe where we could become something so much better.
Now it's off to order the entire Culture series back catalogue and start from the beginning. Happy times.
Banks does it again with a measuredly paced but still pretty damn satisfying chunk of hard space opera!
OK so the story is perhaps a tad slower than some of his previous masterpieces (most notably the magnificent Consider Phlebus, Use of Weapons and Look to Windward) but it still gets you there in the end. In fact, the last 60 or so pages are amongst the most stunningly brilliant that Banks has ever penned. I admit that I struggled a bit to stay the course and Matter almost certainly took me longer to consume than any other Banks novel but the pay-off is immense and I am very glad to have read this novel. There's a lot of humour in here, not the least of which derives from the bafflement of Ferbin and Holse when faced with technology way beyond their comprehension. There's some wonderful use of language too - what a stunningly simple but effective turn of phrase to describe gravity as lead epaulettes! But it is the sheer humanity contained within the main plot lines that truly draw you in. The Machiavellian plots of the Sarl (a people roughly at the British empire's 19th century level of development) are all consuming - until they begin to comprehend what tiny bit players they are compared with the games being played by far more advanced species. And then they too pale into insignificance compared with the brutal assault on an entire world and on its very god.
The bonus material includes an interview with the author and the first couple of chapters of Consider Phlebus - I have to read it again very soon!
Stay the course and you will be rewarded. Matter is a cracking good read!