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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as it gets...
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...
Published on 30 Jan 2008 by G. M. Johnson

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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves
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...
Published on 21 Feb 2008 by J. Heaver


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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of two halves, 21 Feb 2008
By 
J. Heaver (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as it gets..., 30 Jan 2008
By 
G. M. Johnson "gerardmarkjohnson" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An average return to the world of the culture, 21 May 2009
By 
Allan Wells "The rusty dog inn" (Annan , Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Paperback)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't come close to the earlier books, 12 May 2009
By 
KT (Shropshire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Matter (Paperback)
One of my favourite books of all time is Consider Phlebas where I loved Horza and really wanted him to survive everything that happened to him. This book is nothing like that. Much of the book focuses on describing the Shellworlds and setting the scene. A lot of it is irrelevent though and not related to the story. I actually skipped some of it.

I didn't really engage with any of the characters like I did with Horza or Sharrow (Against a Dark Background). The terrible injustice didn't matter to me. I quite liked Oramen and the dramas unfolding around him but that amounted to nothing really.

The book was so slow and then when it got going it didn't really end with a bang, I felt it kind of fizzled out.

I loved the early books which were more character based and less sci-fi. I like to be told a story and there wasn't enough of that for me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars another one to make people argue. me - I loved it., 26 Oct 2008
By 
ANDY (CORNWALL. UK.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars flawed but classic Uncle Banksie, 7 May 2008
By 
Fudo Myo "fudomyo" (Geneva, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy for Banks' high standards, 9 April 2008
By 
D. Woodford "brockleydave" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the new Culture novel, 21 Feb 2009
This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Banks magic is there but........, 21 Jun 2008
By 
A. C. Clarke "Mr Rainland" (The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
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.
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76 of 88 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another fine Culture novel, 24 Jan 2008
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Matter (Hardcover)
While his mainstream and standard SF novels have been increasingly disappointing in recent years, the author's marvellous Culture universe has never failed to provide Banks with the ideal material for setting his imagination loose, and it has always resulted in the creation of the writer's best work. Matter is no exception.

Disconcertingly however, Fantasy elements are to the fore at the start of this new Culture novel. Set on the Eighth level of the Shellworld of Sursamen, the story is initially based around the court intrigues following the death of King Hausk of the Sarl warrior race during a battle with the Dedalyn of the Ninth level. The King's murder, by his best friend, is witnessed by Prince Ferbin, who flees for his life, while his brother Oramen is prepared for the throne. His search for justice takes Ferbin outside of Sursamen in a quest for his sister Djan Seriy Anaplian, who is now a member of the Culture, working in Special Circumstances, an agency that monitors and secretly intervenes in more primitive civilisations in the galaxy. It soon becomes clear to Anaplian that there is more going on around Sursamen than a localised power struggle on her primitive home world - there are worrying signs of activity that suggest that there are higher forces interested in the events playing out on the Shellworld.

With its basic quest outline and explorations of ancient cultures and mysterious planets that hold ancient secrets, Matter often feels like Banks's last SF novel The Algebraist rewritten as a Culture novel. Although it still leans largely towards fantasy, the whole balance however is much better here, with the several plot threads all moving towards a common purpose, and Banks working as well on the small scale characterisation of the personalities on the Eighth level of Sursamen, as he does in extending it outward into the wider scope of the Culture universe. As ever, Banks continues to expand on the almost limitless possibilities of this vast universe in his depiction of the other Optimae races - the Morthanveld, the Nariscene and the Oct - and in his marvellous creation of the fascinating and mysterious multi-level Shellworlds. The small details accumulate and Matter all builds up marvellously into an appropriately epic scale with a suitably explosive grand finale. If only all Iain Banks books were as good as the Culture novels...
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Matter by IAIN M. BANKS
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