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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of the Machines
In this book, for the first time in Iain M's work, the people are clearly less important than the machines. But who cares when he writes such brilliant machines? Let's face it, the amount of detailed characterisation Banks puts into the principal players - mainly spaceship Minds and a few drones - hugely exceeds that which most writers of self-consciously "literary"...
Published on 13 May 2003 by Dr Frazer Anderson

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not brilliant
This book starts of well then starts to get confusing with ship talking to ship, then jumps in time frame which left me wondering what was happening. Does not seem to be one of his best in this series
Published 12 months ago by P. Nimmo


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rise of the Machines, 13 May 2003
This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
In this book, for the first time in Iain M's work, the people are clearly less important than the machines. But who cares when he writes such brilliant machines? Let's face it, the amount of detailed characterisation Banks puts into the principal players - mainly spaceship Minds and a few drones - hugely exceeds that which most writers of self-consciously "literary" fiction bother with for their human characters. Even the opening few pages of rather off-putting and heavily cryptic inter-ship communications turns out to be useful and entertaining a few chapters later. As always in Banks he invents an alien species who play a critical part in the plot but are probably there mainly to allow him some extremely funny scenes - the story of how this species came to be known as "the Affront" is one of his best.
The Excession itself - a powerful artefact beyond the Culture's understanding - is a bit of a McGuffin, because the main story is about how the Culture behaves when it wants something really badly.
Overall, Excession is a highly entertaining read, probably second or third place in his output - which means better than most other science fiction writers could ever manage.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His finest SF work to date, 17 Jan 2005
This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
I may be slightly biased towards Excession, as it was the first Banks SF novel i read (i have since read them all).
As it was my first (and hence i had no idea what 'The Culture' was or what it was about), the first few pages completely baffled me. However, sticking with it, i was blown away.
There is no doubt that the minds are the stars of the show, so to speak. I found it warming that entities of such immense power that can think millions of times quicker than humans can be petty, vindictive and deceitful (and above all, they just 'wanna have fun' (The land of IF)). The human/alien characters, taking something of a lesser role, were also excellent. Byr/Ulver/Gestra, whilst living in a perfect society, all have their own little quirks. The Affront are a creation of genuis (i loved the history of how they got their name). The Excession itself remains an enigma throughout, with only cursory details of its abilities. Banks plays his cards very close to his chest here.
To sum up. The plot is tight and intricate, and the dialogue is excellent (not to mention, very witty). Above all though (and for me, this is the marker of any great book), i approached the last few pages with a feeling of impending dread, because i didnt want the novel to end.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very sophisticated reading for very demanding readers, 21 Sep 2007
By 
ANNA OIKONOMAKI "Anna" (Athens, Hellas, Europe) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
I hadn't read a Culture novel in a long time. Searching through my Amazon recommendations, I saw the title and immediately remembered the impression books like "Consider Phlebas", "The player of Games" and "Use of Weapons" (but also his non-sci-fi "Wasp Factory") had made on me years ago. So I bought it... and now I am hooked again. Banks is a great writer. His books are entirely believable, the language and general writing style is masterful and the plots are deliciously convoluted. You can't read Excession absent-mindedly, you need to devote your attention to it, but the resulting reading pleasure more than compensates you for the effort.

What I particularly liked about this book was that the moral/ethical dilemmas of war vs peace, action vs inaction, secresy vs publicity, the good of one vs the good of millions faced by the protagonists of the book were extremely interesting, very well incorporated in the plot without being thrown at our faces but also, thankfully, their "judgement" was left to us readers, as Banks kept his opinions to himself, although of course we are free to guess them. I also immensely enjoyed his non-human and yet so human protagonists, the Minds and Ships... If this is what the future holds in store for us, then I can only use Shakespeare's words "oh brave new world that has such creatures in it"!

I didn't give Excession 5 stars, which I reserve only for masters such as Herbert and, in another genre, Tolkien, but I do wish Amazon allowed a 4.5 rating. Overall, this is a great book, and, for me, a reason to re-read my old copies of other Culture books and, in general, re-start reading Banks. If you like books not only for the plot, the imagination, the characterisations and the amusement, but also for the sheer pleasure of reading, I suggest you do the same.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond sci-fi, 3 Oct 2004
This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
Iain M Banks is clearly blessed with what I can only describe as the most richly powerful imagination that I have ever encountered. Having been a devotee of "standard" fiction for years (and having read the majority of his Iain Banks works) I was finally persuaded to read Consider Phlebas by a friend, which I thoroughly enjoyed; however, Excession (which I finished last night) is one of the finest books I have ever read. I count it among the best of Murdoch, Fitzgerald, Peters, Waugh and all the other literary heavyweights: Banks conception of the Culture and the little of the surface he allows you to scratch is pure genius.
The strange thing is that the plot (though being original in its detail) is not such an extreme idea: anarchic, hedonistic, even perfect society hundreds of years in the future is presented with the ultimate threat, an entity which they cannot control, and which threatens to destroy them. However what Banks acheives is to maintain a high level of cutting edge sci-fi (the Minds, neural laces (I want one!)etc.), a gripping, convincing plot, and the ultimate page-turner, sympathy with the characters. The philosophical arguements amongst the minds, the idea that even in a idealised culture there can still be selfishness, conspiracy and betrayal make the whole of the book greater than the sum of its parts.
Complicated? You bet. Hard work? At times, yes; but this is not only one of the UK's finest authors at his very best, it is an eye-opener. Just imagine Britain, seen from a mile or so up. Then imagine a spaceship that measures the same distance from London to Coventry in length and from Oxford to Cambridge in width... Sceptical? Then read the book and blow your mind.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi on an epic scale, 18 May 2002
By 
Anthony Lynas (Leicester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
The funny thing about Iain Banks' sci-fi novels is that, generally, they are better than his "straight" fiction and deal with much deeper issues. "Excession" is the pinnacle of his art; a space opera on a grand scale full of subtle plot turns and moments of breathtaking imagination. If you only read one Banks' sci-fi novel it should be this one, and if you read this one you'll want to read them all.
The novel itself weaves intricate sub-plots in and out of each other as, around them, a major conflict escalates alarmingly and a mystery force comes to threaten everyone. Even if it weren't so marvellously well-written, and so full of marvellous ideas and (for once) genuinely believable science, the apparently standard basis of the book is completely subverted by what is, simply, the most ingenious ending of any sci-fi novel anywhere.
Sci-fi fans should read this, and then go and check out Feersum Endjinn, The Player of Games by the same author and Neuromancer by William Gibson. Non sci-fi fans; buy this, read this, and then go and buy Feersum Endjinn, The Player of Games & Neuromancer as well.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mature, multi-layered and magnificent sci-fi, 16 Mar 2008
By 
Rowena Hoseason "Hooligween" (Kernow, Great Britain) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
Any book by Iain Banks is going to be worth reading, but his Culture novels are always a massive treat. Excession is one of the best, although it might not be the easiest of the series to start with.

If you're familiar with the Culture universe then you'll quickly be delighted by the development of the Ship Minds in this episode. Although there's a set of human protagonists, outrageous and entertaining alien antagonists, and the usual endearing drone, it's the Minds who steal the stage. The Culture has to cope with an unusual entity, and in reacting to that possibly dangerous 'thing' the Culture itself reveals opposing factions, plots within plots, and the difficulty of being the advanced civilisation in a galaxy full of stroppy young 'uns.

However, Excession is a much more mature work than the blood-soaked, plot-twisting early Culture novels. It's just as complicated and rewarding, and has a stand-out action sequence for people who like their spaceships to come out all guns blazing, but the resolution of the core issue is less brutal than the endings Banks used to write. Instead of coming away from the ending feeling as if you've been mauled, you put down Excession feeling satisfied and rewarded by the experience.
(Or if you were feeling really picky you could say it cops out like an episode of Star Trek, and ends pretty much back where it started. But that would be to miss much of the plot and character development -- especially what happens to the Grey Area...)

There's so much for sci-fi fans to love abut Iain Banks' universe. The Affront are a great creation, but the Ships and Drones are too. If you haven't read any Culture novels then stop faffing and dive in. Excession is a more subtle, more refined Culture novels than its forerunners. There's less whimsy and it's a bit less playful than, say Use of Weapons, and if you don't know how this universe works then you may struggle to keep up at first. So one of the earlier books might be a better place to begin.
But if you're familiar with the set up then give yourself time to read Excession in full (even the bits that don't make sense to start with, cos they always play a part in the final resolution). Excession rewards careful reading: it's a book to treasure, not one to grab in 10 minute snatches. And although there are fewer comic drones and droll jokes, the Ship names are a delight...
Solid 9/10
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science Fiction at its best, 27 Jan 2006
By 
L. Davidson (Belfast, N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
"Excession" is a highly impressive novel , exquisitely written by Iain M Banks. However "Excession" is also a demanding read; it is full of surreal, vividly imagined , yet entirely convincing ,worlds and landscapes set in a universe where genetic engineering and AI techologies have been taken to incredible new extremes and where groups of colossal spaceships (Ship Minds) act as a form of pan-galactic government. The plot of the novel is intriguing and well-developed and most of its characters are interesting , intelligent and witty. Some of the theories and philosophies about the nature of the universe and the future development of humankind that Banks introduces in "Excession" are simply breathtaking. The only criticism that I would make is that perhaps there are too many Ships Minds in the book. At times it was hard to separate one from the other as they didn't really have sufficiently distinct personalities from each other. Nevertheless ,"Excession" is a quite fantastic and thought-provoking piece of science fiction,well worth a read by anyone interested in the topic.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SF on a grand scale, 2 Mar 2004
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
Epic - that is the only word that comes anywhere near discribing the depth and scope of this book. I have read a lot of SF, and this I would say is the best of the lot (my previous favourite was Farenheit 451 - an absolute classic).
The culture series has earned a huge following, and deservedly so. This book really takes you to the heart of the culture. The interaction between the ships Minds (beautifully described in another review as like Greek Gods, with absolute divinity and all the human failings you could imagine!) is superb. Hell, this book is worth buying just to read the names of the ships!
The story goes along at one hell of a pace, the characters are all excellent, and there are enough twists and turns to keep everyone hooked right up to the last page.
This book is so good it hurts. If you only ever read one SF novel, make it this one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this as soon as you're able., 7 Feb 2002
By 
Mr. Mat Gray (Southampton, Hants United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
I've been a fan of Iain Banks since the Wasp Factory, and this book has reinforced my belief that he's at the top of the pile.
The guy's width of imagination is truly remarkable. Usually he deals in fairly cosmic terms, but in Excession he goes a step further and introduces the notion of extra-cosmic interference with our own spatial domain.
I just love the Minds. They're like the Greek Gods: virtually divine but with all the human failings you can imagine.
Banks is a comedian, a philosopher, and probably the best Sci-Fi writer I have ever encountered. He's at least up there with the Asimov's and Heinlein's. You've just gotta read this book. If you're new to Banks, I would however recommend reading 'The Player of Games' first.
Excession is another book in the 'Culture' series. The Culture is a futuristic, hedonistic, and hugely advanced galactic society. They have all the arrogance and self indulgence of the Romans, with all the techno-trappings (and many many more) of Star Trek's Federation.
Believe me, once you've read a Culture novel, you'll want more, and more. And some more.
Enjoy!
Matt
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You should begin to get it on about the...fourth reading., 30 Oct 2003
This review is from: Excession (Paperback)
Disclaimer: Before you read this, pleased be advised that this is my review of my favourite book. Rest assured it will be rather biased.
The first time I read this book (and I'd read 'Player', 'Phlebas', 'Inversions' and 'Background' before I got to it), I thought it was rubbish. It's because I wasn't in the right mindset. I was used to not unwinding with Banks books, and even having to concentrate a little more than usual, but wasn't aware of the mental calasthetics I would need to employ to get the most out of this book. Quite simply, if you miss, scan, or even misread a page - one page - you're going to crash and burn.
If you actually rez-up your brain, and devote time and effort to reading this, you will suddenly realise just how unbelievably, beautifully, immaculately, dwarf-scaringly vast it truly is. One of the type-byte reviews describes Iain's "Stunning imaginitive energy", and when this book clicks with you (probably around the third or fourth reading, as mentioned above), you will be forced to agree, if you hadn't already.
I won't go into the plot - I'd hit the word limit by the end of the first 50 pages. Suffice to say, there is enough of it kicking around inside 'Excession' to fully flesh out a 5 hour film. It switches betweeen a schizophrenia inducing number of storylines, does entire sections in the complete absence of narrative, does others completely in absence of conversation, and others that will leave you going "wait a sec...eh???" and flicking back because you've forgotten a plotline.
The first time you read it, you won't get it. The second time, you'll start to, and go "AHA!" right at the end. The third, you begin to remember some of the plotlines as you get to them, rather than having to process them on the fly, and you'll begin to see how good it is. The fourth time, you'll almost be able to remember what's coming, and you'll see how what happens later ties in nicely with what happens at the start.
I've read it six times, and I'm still finding something new.
If you are into reading for brain-shutoff, mindless relaxtion and generally the sort of things associated with television, don't bother, and you will never, ever know what you're missing. If you give this time, and don't give up when it seems impenetrable, you'll slowly find out how much of a genius Banks truly is.
Congratulations Iain: This is as good as there has been in the history of literature. Six, seven, eight stars - keep going. There won't ever be enough to describe this.
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Excession
Excession by Iain M. Banks (Paperback - 15 May 1997)
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