46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the idle brain
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...
Published on 10 Sep 2002
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intrigued ...
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...
Published on 21 Sep 2001
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2.0 out of 5 stars Love Banks, don't love this,
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor formatting for eBook reader,
This review is from: Inversions (Kindle Edition)The story is great and to the standard we would expect from this author. However the text was clearly formatted for a paper book and then simply transferred to Kindle format so that hyphenation appears in the wrong place. This makes it annoying to read.
Mostly though it is aggravating because a 'proper' publisher should not make such a schoolboy error and still expect us to pay full price.
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but definitely not Banks' best,
This review is from: Inversions (Kindle Edition)Whilst I have been a huge admirer of Iain M. Banks' books since I first bought a copy of Consider Phlebas back in 1988 whilst on a business trip to Sheffield, I didn't buy Inversions when it first came out. I suppose the main reason was that I didn't really fancy the blurb on the sleeve of the book, especially since my love of Banks' work stems mostly from a love of space opera. And Inversions does not fall into this particular pigeon hole - at all.
However, now that I have my new Kindle, I decided to check out Inversions, and whilst it is far from my favourite Banks work, it is certainly an intriguing novel in that it poses far more questions than it answers. The two protagonists just might be Culture agents planted in a pre-industrial civilisation, but then again they might not. The dagger carried by one of the characters might be a Culture knife missile, but then again it might not... and so on. As all these hints and clues as to the identity of the protagonists pile up, I found that I really needed to get to the end of the book to find the answers, and I was more than a little dismayed when none are offered. We even get an alternative ending for one of the story threads to muddy the water even more. This means that rather than be entertained, I felt I was being teased.
This means that the reader has to work with the writer and provide his or her own answers. In this sense Inversions works more like a poem than a novel in that the reader has to provide his or her own interpretation of the narrative.
Banks has readily admitted in the past that he actually does write many short stories, but most of them get incorporated into his novels. Inversions is an obvious case in point. It is clearly two novelettes that have been generously padded out to novella length and then intertwined to form a twin-viewpointed novel. I say "padded" advisedly because there are many scenes that simply do not push the plot forward or develop any of the characters. Having said that though, the character of Vossil (another remarkable Banks Babe in the strong, intelligent and ultra-feminine tradition of Perostek Balveda, Diziet Sma, Sharrow, Lededje Y'breq etc.) remains one of Banks' most sympathetic and three-dimensional characters to date. It is just frustrating that we never learn of her ultimate fate.
Shortcomings aside, Inversions is written in two very distinct styles and contains some of Banks' best and most polished prose. It's just a pity that it doesn't have the depth of plotting and the long list of sharply drawn characters that are contained in Banks' other works.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining but not the place to start with the culture series,
A recurring theme in the novels is the tension the culture perceives over the decision whether to intervene in the affairs of less-advanced civilisations. This novel is at the extreme end of the 'microscopic' spectrum, and where as other novels discuss such an intervention from the culture's birds-eye perspective, this novel details a culture intervention from the viewpoint of the civilisation on the receiving end, who are mostly unaware it is even taking place - and it's a very subtle intervention at that.
So this novel is the most restricted of all of them, containing only the barest of allusions to the culture universe itself. That said, it's wonderfully well written, and thoroughly entertaining read - but you'll still get more out of it if you read one or two of the other novels first. Otherwise you're likely to feel frustrated that you're missing some of the context which is hinted at throughout the novel. I'd recommend Look to Windward or The Player of Games as a starting point.
5.0 out of 5 stars From when Banks was not merely just 'Good'!,
Anyone familiar with Banks' work will know the Culture and Special Circumstances identify and watch many planets sending down operatives at judicious moments to influence the path of their civilisation and also that guiding a proto-sentient human species takes not months, weeks or years; the Culture are happy to meddle for millennia.
Banks shows us in Inversions a snapshot of two countries in an approximately middle-ages environment and follows the two presumably SC operatives as they work, subtly, to exert their influence. The two stories in Inversions thus play out as pure Fantasy. It may be seen as a comparative discussion on the work of agents like Zakalwe from Use Of Weapons whose own time in Special Circumstances saw him serve in many varied societies and civilisations and even saw him die many times as the Cultures meddling went awry.
So in Inversions we follow the story of the new doctor serving at court and suffering both the spiteful jealousy of her colleagues and the machinations of other courtiers as they vie for power and favour. In the other story the Protector is shadowed everywhere by his bodyguard; alert always to threats against his master. In both stories we get a glimpse of how culture agents operate in different societies and with different strategies; how some methods of influence and interference succeed and some fail.
The two stories themselves are separate and exclusive of each other in all but the smallest regard, and there is no great whizz-bang of lasers, no snobbish drones, substrates, aliens or eccentric GCUs. In many ways Inversions isn't a Culture novel as we'd expect: It's not about the Culture, it's not even about the Culture in action. It's Fantasy, but essential Culture reading nonetheless.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Banks again,
Unusual format as the story is told in alternate chapters by alternate authors, but just as compelling.
Definitely worth reading
5.0 out of 5 stars Dear God! What a sad end...,
The novel follows two storylines, both accounted by the same person. That person is Oelph, Doctor Vossil's apprentice, and he tells their life while they're treating Haspidus's King. The other story told by Oelph is about a bodyguard, with the name of DeWar, and he guards General UrLeyn, the ruler of Tassassen which is near Haspidus.
Vossil and DeWar are, at least, Culture citizens, because of Vossil's knife (a knife-missile) and DeWar's stories of the allegorical Culture. And I think they're taking vacations, because in one of DeWar's stories he says that in Lavishia, metaphorical Culture, people take vacations from the luxuries into the wild (among other details). So live 300 years in a perfect get-all-you-want society, and maybe dangerous or even near-death situations in an alien world is the only thing that will give truly vivid, clear and powerful sensations. (I'm not saying that things are like this, I'm just extrapolating from the data given in the book).
There's a lot of intrigue concerning Vossil and DeWar, due to their odd and peculiarly advanced behaviour and knowledge. In fact, most people don't like or hate them, leading to many awkward situations, being basically the drive of the novel.
The end... well, is sad and bittersweet, but satisfying in its way.
Recommend it and not only as a sci-fi book, but also as beautiful and genreless book.
Till next time,
5.0 out of 5 stars My Favourite So Far,
The story-within-story structure and the imperial court setting gave it an 'Arabian Nights' feel should make this a good read even for those unfamiliar with Culture novels.
Banks has a very entertaining and productive imagination and stories can twist in all sorts of unexpected directions. It's not often you can say that about a writer, is it?
Violent? Touching? Funny? Menacing? All of the above?
It'll probably make more sense after his other Culture novels, but go ahead and read it anyway. I hope you'll agree there's no one quite like him.
4.0 out of 5 stars A good stand-alone novel from the Culture universe.,
The story is written from the viewpoint of a later inhabitant of the planet who finds the two stories. From the title I was expecting a much more dramatic outcome but the book is much more subtle than this and that is why the ending is not obvious.
I liked the book but I did not love it. It is clever and well written and I think you can read this without reading the other culture novels but while the characters are appealing and in particular you empathise with the doctor the world they are on is not very sympathetic and I suppose that is why I only gave it four stars, but that is a very personal bias.
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story but is it scifi at all?,
The story is about two well placed individuals who it becomes clear are attempting to subtly trying to interfere with a worlds politics and history by respectively healing (the doctor) and protecting (the bodyguard) their respective patrons. Indeed, the chapters are named either 'the doctor' or 'the bodyguard' letting you know who we're focused on. There are a few moments where technology or its presence is hinted at and implied but there is not a single description of anything counting as high technology and you'll only recognise the hints if you've read the other Culture books.
This is a fine story but its more fantasy than sci-fi and the ending leaves a little to be desired. An epilogue about the two agents set in the Culture proper would have been nice but does not appear. If you really love the books of the Culture you'll probably want to get this, too but its the black sheep of the Culture books and lots of what people read those books for is entirely missing from this book.
I'll give it 4 stars because its good, on its own terms and certainly not boring, I came to care what happened to the king, the protector and those around them but its just not a regular culture book. If you've read; 'consider phlebas', 'the player of games', 'use of weapons', 'excession', 'look to windward' and 'matter' ('state of the art' too if you like short stories) and still want more, then go ahead and read it. Since the Culture is such a utopia its been said that stories within it would be dull and so the stories have been about people outside its boundaries or on the fringes of its society, an enemy of it in 'consider phlebas' and a mercenary in 'use of weapons'. This for me, was a bit too far from the comfort of an orbital and a sentient starship.
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Inversions by Iain M. Banks