on 14 September 2002
I've read all of Iain Bank's works, so I guess I'm a fan, but I found this book disappointing. The main character - as in Complicity - is left-wing, works in the media, takes drugs, is sexually active. Unlike Complicity, there is little or no real story, instead the vast majority of the book is spent listening to the narrator's views on what is wrong - and right - with the world.
Now, I'm a Guardian-reading liberal who would agree with over 80% of the polemic in this book, but listening to the main character's diatribes becomes tiring. I was turning the pages looking for a story, a twist, a revelation, and ultimately I was not rewarded.
Iain, if you read this, I think you are a wonderful writer and I share your viewpoints but please next time bring more of your story-telling arts and capacity for drama and humour to the party, and leave the rants at the state of the world behind.
Finally, why do I appear to be the first person reviewing this book ?
on 18 May 2003
This is the best Iain Banks story to have been published for years and is a reminder of the quality of writing, wit and ideas that he brought to earlier classics (The Bridge, The Crow Road and Espedair Street). This is straight fiction (as opposed to the SF he writes under Iain M Banks) and follows the life of a radio DJ in London. While there is plenty of social and political comment and dash of thrills, this is essentially a love story.
And while the protagonist Ken, is without doubt a philanderer, his quick wit keeps him interesting and engaging to the reader (well to me in any case). The other characters aren’t so well fleshed out, but as it is written in the 1st person by someone who is rather fond of their own voice this is perhaps forgivable.
Set post “September 11th” and with politics that Michael Moore might well agree with it may not suit everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it.
on 26 May 2014
‘Dead air’ is radio talk for unwanted silence when on air. The book’s Scots hero Ken Nott (35) never shuts up. He is a radio DJ, rarely lasting a year in earlier jobs for his controversial take on the world. Now he is a true shock jock upsetting listeners from a London commercial radio station just before and after 9/11, 2001. In the quite cinematic first chapters, Ken emerges as an early detractor of the UK going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ken’s dialogues with his best Scottish friend Craig, his black club DJ buddy Ed and his producer Phil (on air and in the pub) are quite ok. So are the excerpts from his phone-in late morning radio show reproduced in many chapters. It shows him as what the French call a ‘râleur’, a contrarian moaner about persons, political parties, countries, religions, etc., but also about the perils of riding a bike in London. He likes to be labeled a militant Liberal and has his own wall of fame with framed first complaints, death threats and other negative job-related trophies. Another aspect of his radio career is his being Scottish, which is highlighted off and on air, to some delight to this reader.
What propels the novel forward is his professed love for his three friends and for the real, female kind. Ken was married once and has been quite opportunistic and successful since. Until he meets beautiful Celia, married to a ruthless crime boss, whose many businesses have almost become mainstream… No more from this reader about their affair, which dominates much of the book.
Weaknesses: (1) Iain Banks, not an economical writer by nature or choice, wrote chapters that are way too long for me; (2) Found Ken not someone to bond with as the story progressed, and (3) Banks’ increasing concern with Ken’s thoughts and fears led me to skip, or read in a FFW-way the more action-packed second half.
Many fantastic bits cannot undo later tedium. Good winter book.
on 6 April 2014
The plot is quite simple; We follow Kenneth (Or Ken Nott) a radio DJ on a moderately popular radio station in the time right after September 11. 2001. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, I am not quite sure yet – Ken is quite unaffected by the whole terrorist attack.
Public service announcement: This article does not contain any spoilers.
Dead Air – written by Iain Banks
published 2002, by Little, Brown publishing. (which, incidentally, is owned by time warner books. When will we see the film?
When I first was introduced to Iain Banks, I was amazed by his sheer storytelling power. Since, I have started reading a Banks book as every second book I’ve read. When I discovered my local supermarket had a deal on hardbacks, and especially when I found banks’ book, I was hooked.
The plot is quite simple; We follow Kenneth (Or Ken Nott) a radio DJ on a moderately popular radio station in the time right after September 11. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, I am not quite sure yet – Ken is quite unaffected by the whole terrorist attack.
The book starts with Ken and some friends at a party. A moving-away party for some posh friends of theirs. In a state of loads-of-drugs-and-alcohol, Ken decides it is a good idea to throw fruit down from the balcony onto the carpark below, seing the fruit splatter. Eventually, their game evolves into throwing televisions, beanbags, and all kinds of other junk over the edge.
Which is when they start noticing something on television. A plane, crashing into atower. And another one.
From here on, things just get more and more interesting… Ken witnesses a traffic accident, gets involved with a crime boss, goes on national television, doing something completely outrageous against a holocaust-denier, gets kidnapped, nearly gets killed, but lives happily ever after. All these plot points are finely interwoven in a style no less of what you’d expect of Banks.
Why this book just might be worth reading.
Primarily? It is a cozy book. It is probably one of the most light-hearted things I have ever read by Banks - no unspeakable horrors (wasp factory) or insane twists in the plot, just a largish dose of nice, clean fun.
It helps that Ken Nott is a pretty damn witty man with some incredibly sharp comebacks. His rants and ideas about life are reasonably politically correct, but at the same time quite thought-provoking. The book is about people - people interacting in private lives and in the workplace. Mostly in a funny way, but also very believable in many ways; Suspension of disbelief is limited to a minimum.
As the reader, you get a pretty good insight into the world of radio journalism and DJing. Based on my experiences in the field (limited as such, but still), it seems fairly accurate as well.
The book reads very much like a film, actually: It is very detailed in all the points where you would expect a film to be detailed, and you can just see Brad Pitt or one of the other big ones sprout the snappy conversations. In addition to that, I found myself skipping paragraphs just to get to the point faster. Some of the sections are incredibly exciting and lay very close to that of a thriller.
I read the first fifty pages of this book in a week or so. The rest of it (total of 400-odd pages) I ploughed through in less than two days, effectively leaving me without sleep for three nights in a row.
I like this book. A lot. It lacks that unsuspected Banks twist, but because of the sheer storytelling power, it does not really matter.
Without adding anything significant to the literature world in term of philosophical or literary value, this is still a book worth having a look at if you would like to kill a few hours on a journey, by train, or bus. Or even on a plane, if you can stomach the occasional references to terrorist threats. Or just in your favorite comfy chair in your journey of life, if you will.
on 18 October 2003
Reading this book is like watching your Dad dancing at a wedding disco. I am a great fan of Iain Banks' earlier works, particularly The Crow Road, The Bridge, and the Wasp Factory but I can't help feeling that he is losing his touch. Reading "Dead Air" made me cringe.
Why? Leaving aside the weakness of the plot and the cliched stereotypes of the main characters, my main impression of the book was that Iain Banks was trying to prove something - or several things. The sexual content is graphic, crude and gratuitous. It adds little to the story and seemed to me like it should belong in some sort of dodgy airport "erotic novel." As mentioned in other reviews here, the political rants appear to be thinly-veiled attempts to get Banks' own views across. The smutty radio-chat sections are woeful (or maybe I just missed the irony there). And the cultural references just seemed to be trying much too hard to show Banks is (still?) cool.
All in all, it lacks substance, it's trashy, and therefore a real disappointment. I can't decide if it's me or Banks' writing that has changed since I so enjoyed his earlier books. I hope it's the latter - so that there's the possibility of a return to form with his next book.
on 12 July 2003
I have a strange relationship with the books of Iain Banks. Some of them I love, others I really dislike. "The Bridge" is one of my favorite books by any author, and "A song of stone" I couldn't even finish reading.
I was pleasantly surprised to read "Dead Air". I had seen some reviews being rather lukewarm to the book, but I found myself really liking it. The dialogue is as sharp as ever, and the plot twists nicely and keeps you guessing what's going to happen next.
If you like books like "The Bridge", "The Crow Road", "Complicity" and "Whit", my guess is you'll also like this one. I highly recommend it.
I read this just after i read The Wasp Factory and well... let's just say this is a very different story, both in content and quality. Don't get me wrong, Banks is a fantastic writer and it shows in this book, thus the 4 stars. The plot is tense, the dialogue witty and the characters likable. Above all, it is intensely realistic, and that is where my doubts first come in.
It is almost too realistic. When reading people like to escape but this is way too close to home, set as it is in contemporary London, dealing with terrorism and so on. This is one of those texts where you just wish the lead character would get a break and something good would happen but instead he just comes up against misfortune upon misfortune right up to the end.
The sex scenes feel overly seedy, the true love that is behind them not shwoing through enough although aside from that are are quite a few moments of genuinely charming interaction between various characters. Also, like another reviewer said, prepare yourself for major social/political views to come flying at you - it is quite clear the author likes to invest his characters with what he thinks and it shows all too clearly. Now, as best i can remember, i didn't object to his views overly, they't just a bit in your face and are they really the thing you want to read about when you pick up a novel?
I'd still recomend this book though as it is fascinating and it'd make for a great film. Bank's gift at realism is incredible and it is worth reading his book for that alone.
on 27 July 2003
The plot of this book is actually very tricky to sumarise because for the vast majority of the novel it doesn't actually have one. Instead we are invited to sit back and enjoy the ride as shock-jock DJ Ken Knott freefalls through his life. Actually, it is a reflection the quality of Iain Banks' writing that you imediately do, enjoying yourself every step of the way. He slips in and out of situations and predicaments, often funny, often deadly serious, often both at the same time. It is only in the last two chapters or so (out of ten) that the book suddenly aquires the momentum of an express train, bombing along to a teeth clenching, nerve jangling conclusion that will have you literally unable to tear your eyes away from the book.
The book isn't perfect; it occasionally meanders a little too much and some themes aren't really explored properly, but by the end you won't careone iota. A great book, flawed, but brilliant.
on 29 March 2004
Whatever's happened to Iain Banks? Where's the dazzling master of structure and form who gave us "Use Of Weapons" and "Walking On Glass"? - the bleak humourist of "Canal Dreams"? - the experimental visionary of "A Song Of Stone"?
I'll tell you what.
Someone adapted "The Crow Road" for television: the cash tills rang; and since then, with both his previous non-SciFi novel "The Business" and with this, "Dead Air", Scotland's (nay, Britain's) Great Hope For Serious Popular Contemporary Writer has at last sold out to the highest bidder. Whereas Banks once seemed capable of wringing the humanity out of believable, rounded characters, in uniquely dark but equally plausible situations, here we he gives us two or three typical set-pieces surrounded by cubic yards of padding. This is usually in the form of self-consciously "witty" author-toned dialogue, the sort of whole sentence coherence coming from two-dimensional caricatures that you hear in TV soaps, the same clichés and phrases issuing from all as though they're all the same person.
Iain Banks should go out and do a bit more living before he gets his wealthy behind back on the chair in front of the AppleMac. He's lost touch with his former vision. If you liked "The Business", you'll like this thin tale of the shockjock who gets the girl despite being an A1 nincompoop; if you remember and yearn for the skilled authorship of his earlier works, then just reread those, or stay tuned for the next SciFi.
Disappointing. Really, really disappointing.
Much has been made in the publicity of this novel being a reaction to the events of September 11th, but thankfully this amounts to little more than background colour, (most noticeably after what appears to be a homage to Ballard's High Rise with the opening chapter). Instead we have what amounts to a very small scale Banks-ian thriller, whose plot can be quickly summarised as “Radio DJ embarks on foolhardy affair with gangsters wife”. It’s a slight plot, but Banks fluid style keeps things building nicely, and there’s plenty of humour to be found amongst its over the top characters. Rather less successful are central character Ken Nott’s frequent political diatribes, which too often have the feel of the author using the character as a mouthpiece.
It’s not earth shattering, but Dead Air is still a damn fine read.