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3.8 out of 5 stars
Inversions
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 September 1999
I found the book engrossing and "got it" quite quickly, but it's obvious from other reviews that readers new to Banks were right there with Uelph in having no idea what was really going on. For example, how the Doctor was able to eavesdrop on conversations when she was nowhere near, how her enemies were bumped off, and how she was miraculously saved from rape and torture, were inexplicable to non-Culture fans. The story is about how two Contact agents of the Culture appear to occupants of a "primitive" planet - I think it's "Use of Weapons" that best explains what's going on here, but all the other Culture books will add to the background information you need to get the most out of this book.
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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Plenty has been written here already about the storyline, and anyway in my view less is more when it comes to knowing the plot in advance.
What I look for in these reviews, and what I attempt to give back, is some clue as to whether I personally will enjoy the book. In this approach I end up saying why you might not like it. A reverse recommendation if you will. An inversion.
First off, Inversions is not a classic Culture novel. By classic, I am thinking of the novels of scale. A Player of Games springs to mind. It deals with the Culture on a macro level. We are privy to the bigger picture as the story is recounted. In fact, the storyline is merely a device to introducing to us the nature of the Culture as a whole. Storyline as tour guide.
Inversions does it differently. It deals with a subset. A story within a story, a personal account of what happened. We are not given the bigger picture, there is no macro level narrative. We have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. Such a story can only make complete sense if you know the Culture already.
The story does not fail if you are not Culture-wise, but without that wider understanding your view is blinkered.
Secondly, as mentioned above, this book is a personal account. Rather, it is two personal accounts. The focus is on the people, on the characters - this is pretty much an obvious consequence of such a narrow focus. It is a book about people not things.
As an aside I heard someone on the radio suggest that women like people and men like things. A bit generalised, but enough truth in it to be worth remembering. Inversions is a more feminine book.
So my second 'warning' is that you are not going to revel in GSV's, Superlifters and Plates. Even less Minds, CAM and tightbeam transmissions. Im pretty sure most fans of Iain M Banks will not be put off by that, but some will. On a certain level it could be said that this is not even sci-fi, although I would contest that point.
There is a danger that I am making Inversions sound like a huge departure for Banks. It is not. But it is a little different. Some people will think this is his best novel yet, and others his worst... and hopefully I have provided some clues to which camp you might be in.
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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 2002
I've read a lot of the Iain Banks' novels but this was my introduction to the *M* and thus his Sci Fi. And yes - I was a bit confused. I liked the story but now - having read more of his Culture novels - I like it much better. I would say that to get central points, and not just plot wise, you would have to be at least familiar with the Culture.
The story works on its own level: We follow two people, cousins from a very distant place to where they are now. One is a doctor, one is a body guard. Both serve the rulers of almost medieval courts, although not in the same place and without being aware that they are in fact on the same planet. Their relationship is never fully revealed. Just like a lot of other aspects you have to work it out for yourself, but the clues are all there.
Certain parts of the plot are basically unexplained (and unsatisfactory) if you are not familiar with the Culture: How the doctor escapes from certain rape, torture and death, how a number of people are killed, how she vanishes and the origins of the Never Never Land that the body guard keep telling stories about.
Reading it for the first time I considered this a fantasy novel. Now it clearly belongs with the Culture novels: It compels you to be the judge of how a civilisation that considers itself superior should treat cultures on a much lower level. Do you interfere? Or do you leave it alone in the trust that its members will find their own way?
The doctor and the body guard disagree (and have done so since childhood). She believes in interference - and through her very subtle methods actually succeeds in making a better than average ruler a very good ruler (a symbol of this is his turning the torture chamber into a wine cellar!). The doctor basically tries to educate, to influence, to argue. She doesn't use force except to protect herself. To readers of the Culture novels it becomes clear that she is in fact an agent, armed with a knife missile or a drone or some other technological wonder from her homeworld. Eventually she has to leave, extremely unhappy on a personal level but with her mission accomplished.
The body guard believes in not interfering directly, only to see that everything he tries to protect falls apart. Had he intervened he might have prevented the suffering of thousands. He gains his own happiness but not the greater good. Which one of them did the right thing?
The real trick here is that it is all seen and described through the uncomprehending eyes of the 'innocent natives'. Interesting viewpoint and highly relevant in these days: Should we allow any culture to play cop to the World? And how do people in the 3rd World consider our standards and values? How to explain technological wonders when you don't know what they are?
This is not for the idle brain and Iain M. Banks does - as often - demand that you fill in part of the story yourself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2009
This is a beautiful and poignant book, but much more so if you have read any of 'The Culture' series of books!

Unlike the other Culture books this doesn't say 'A Culture Novel' on the front and in fact the Culture is never mentioned explicitly. The novel hangs together without knowing anything about The Culture, but if you know that the two main characters are in fact from The Culture (one as a drop-out ex-Culture citizen 'going native' and one as a SC agent) then you'll get alot more from the novel.

The stories at one stage explains how one of the characters would prefer not to interfere with a blossoming civilisation and how one would indeed interfere directly to try and save lives and help people. As the novel progresses each ends up using the others ideal method (hence the title).

This is a wonderful read, up to Iain M Banks usual very high standard, but if you're new to Iain M Banks start with another novel - without a doubt the best to start with is actually his newest, Matter!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Being an Iain M Banks' work, the reader naturally expects this to be a further episode of the Culture sci-fi series.

At first sight however, Inversions appears to be a straightforward tale of love, war and Machiavellian intrigue set in a brutal medieval environment. The story unfolds in separate but strangely complimentary alternate instalments, describing the adventures of the beautiful, vastly knowledgeable but mysteriously other-worldly Dr. Vosill and the powerful and lethal but profoundly sensitive bodyguard DeWar. The plot is further complicated by the questionable veracity of the narrator. Thus we have stories within stories, and when DeWar starts speaking in allegories things become decidedly complex!

After each chunk of story I found myself speculating on whether to take the narrative at face value or dredge for hidden depths. Sometimes I felt obliged to revisit earlier chapters in case I'd missed a clue, sometimes a flash of realisation would hit me hours later. There are tantalising but elusive echoes of scenes from earlier IMB novels and believe me, you will get far more from Inversions if you have also read Consider Phlebus, Player of Games, State of the Art and Use of Weapons.

So what drove DeWar's obsession with the fables about the fantasy land? Who were Sechroom and Hiliti? Was Vosill a Culture dilettante, covert ambassador, or simply a love-struck foreigner? Was sorcery, sheer chance or a miniature Culture self-defence drone the architect of the astonishing scenes that led to Oelph's and Vosill's salvation in the torture chamber? Which of the alternative endings is most plausible or satisfying? IMB forces the reader to think long and hard about these conundrums and much more.

Inversions is never an easy read, demanding much from the reader, lest the subtle undercurrents essential to a comprehensible conclusion be overlooked. It is certainly not the best introduction to Iain Banks's work. If, however you possess an adventurous and inquisitive spirit, I am sure you, like I, will find Inversions immensely satisfying!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2000
If there is a problem with 'Inversions' it is that it is definitely NOT a stand alone piece. Instead it is more of an interesting postscript to the 'culture' novels. That said it is a compelling read in its own right, but the entire point of the story is only really accessible if you have read his other SF. Banks is clearly having some fun, trying to work in a fantasy setting and trying to produce a more relaxed, restrained novel than much of his output. He succeeds, but for readers new to Banks this will seem boring and vaguely incomprehensible.
I cannot reiterate enough the need to read other Banks novels before this one if you are to fully appreciate its subtle charms. Secretly Inversions is about duty, loyalty and love. Not every SF book needs hard science or explosions to make it worthwhile.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2001
I've read a couple of Iain Banks' novels and, being a sci fi fan, was looking forward to sampling his sci fi fare. Inversions left me confused, on many counts, not least being quite where the science was. The Doctor seemed to be a practitioner of empirical method in the corrupt politics of a medieval court (a la William of Baskerville in The Name Of The Rose), but otherwise it seemed to be nothing more than a tour of feudal politics.
The characters were engaging but the plot unfurled very slowly and, to begin with, rather aimlessly. It wasn't until the murder of Duke Walen that the story gained some direction and became a more compelling read. But I was still left with many questions unanswered once I'd finished. DeWar's tale seemed plain enough, but Doctor Vosill remained perplexing. I did feel a little shortchanged that the murders in her story weren't effectively solved when so much detail was given to their circumstances. Especially her interest in the dark bird by the window of the room Duke Walen was murdered in. What the hell was significant about that!!! Imagine an episode of Johnathan Creek where the story ends with Johnathan scratching his head and exclaiming "damned if I know!" In my experience Banks usually leaves it till the last minute to explain the plot, but this story didn't seem quite finished and I hadn't expected to be pushed into drawing my own conclusions in a Kafka-esque style.
I don't believe the other reviews give DeWars yarn much credit. I reckon DeWar and Perrunds relationship had more bite to it than the repressed love triangle between Oelph, Vosill and Quience. Vosill only appears fallible on one occasion, the rest of the time she is a rather remote figure. DeWar seemed more human and worked with Perrund on an equal footing. I thought their relationship was more interesting than Oelph's constant "yes mistress" answers to Vosill. Furthermore, I'd venture that Vosill was the only member of the Culture, though I haven't read the other novels and may well have missed some obvious references. Vosill was always aware of events surrounding her and seemed enigmatically assured in all of them. DeWar simply got overtaken by his circumstances and had none of the mysterious 'magic' that seemed freely available to the Doctor.
Judging by the other reviews of this book I'll find all the answers I want in his other 'Culture' novels (I think I've got the gist of it now). This is reassuring since I could see several sleepless ahead of me trying to figure this one out (I think everyone in the office is sick of me banging on about this already).
All in all, a pretty good read. If I hadn't read these reviews, and found out about the Culture, I wouldn't have been compelled to read any of Banks' other sci fi novels. As it is, I'm intrigued ...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2008
A lot of the previous reviews below, are quite negative about this book. I totally disagree. This is, for me, the most satisfying of all of Bank's Culture novels. It's not a straight forward SF novel and you'll be disappointed if you want a story full of Culture technology and space opera action. If you're familiar with Bank's previous Culture stuff, though, you'll recognise the various hints and clues in this story that at least one main character is an SC agent. What I really liked about this book, though, was the complexity and sophistication of the multi-layered narrative structure - the fact that the story emerges second or third hand from multiple sources (sometimes re-written or re-interpreted by others)and that none of the 'tellers' of the story can fully grasp what 'really' happened. Neither do we, the readers, emerge at the end with a fully confident understanding of what 'really' happened - some of the narrators are in some way unreliable and none of them can really know where the main two characters have come from originally. It's a clever meditation on the nature of reality, historical fact and truth. It's a book that keeps you thinking long after you've finished the final chapter - I can't say that any of the other Culture novels have had quite the same effect on me.

It's very different from Bank's other SF. Give it a go though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 November 2010
Having read the collection of M Banks sci-fi by the time this was released, I quite quickly understood in what way this book was an inversion. In fact the book is an inversion in many ways and is a multi-layered creation of beauty and elegance.

New readers ought to read at least one M Banks 'Culture' novel beforehand I feel. In doing so, they will be rewarded with what is his best sci-fi novel; a fantastic essay on what it means to be civilised and on governance of others.

Brilliant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Having read this for a book group choice and being unfamiliar with 'The Culture'. I found some of the explanations from other readers, extremely helpful in explaining several confusing points.
I would not recommend this as a first Iain M Banks book. There is obviously a lot of background needed to explain some of the finer points.

The narrative is split between the first hand account by Oelph, servant to the Doctor and taking place in the kingdom of King Quience - and his parallel account (from word of mouth) of what was happening in the lands of UrLeyn, the Chief Protector.
A seemingly unconnected fairy story, recounted by UrLeyn's body guard, DeWar, for UL's young son, provides the explanation for the relationship between the Doctor and the Bodyguard. These two characters seem otherwise quite separate.

No, I didn't enjoy it. But I certainly got a lot more out of it as a result of reviews here and the discussion that arose within our reading group.
It would doubtless be better to read other Iain M banks before this one. presumably taking them in order.
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