Inversions Hardcover – 4 Jun 1998
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Science fiction readers know that Iain Banks writes "respectable" novels (such as The Wasp Factory) while his alter ego Iain M. Banks produces equally well-written but often more playful sci-fi--most famously, the gaudy and galaxy- spanning Culture series. In Inversions, Banks is being tricky again. Besides extra moons in the sky and stories of devastating meteor showers that toppled a former Empire, this novel's squalid, preindustrial world seems to have no sci-fi elements. The two entwined stories feature a woman who becomes personal physician to one kingdom's absolute monarch, and the male bodyguard of a rival and more "progressive" country's Cromwell-like Protector. Both protagonists are mysterious outsiders from farther away than the King or Protector can ever imagine. Readers of Banks's other science fiction will spot the clues to their origins. Others may be slightly puzzled, especially by a seeming miracle which intervenes when the doctor faces torture--but can still enjoy the elegant narrative reversals, reflections and echoes. There are also generous helpings of blood, violence, poisoning, ingenious deceits and high excitement, spiced with political philosophy. Banks continues his pleasant habit of never repeating himself. --David Langford
A fantastic, awe-inspiring book ... I can't imagine anyone not being won over by this deeply entertaining, thought-provoking and humane story (EXPRESS)
Taut, hilarious and wicked (MAIL ON SUNDAY)
Compulsive Banksian reading ... thoughtful, intelligently bloody stuff (SFX)
Captivating ... incisive ... as sublime as ever (TIME OUT)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
This book is a departure for Banks in his exploration of deeper motivation and characterization than is usual in the intelligent but very bloody space-opera that he does best (Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons). There's some wonderful writing in here. But hard SF it is not -- it is straight fantasy. The cynic might say that Banks is trying to reach a wider market: readers who would not read either hard SF (a declining number) or literary fiction (probably ditto). Fantasy continues to sell by the shedload. That aside, Inversions may be enjoyable to fantasy fans -- though I confess I am not one of them.
Inversions contains playful references to Banks's universe of 'The Culture' as seen in many of his earlier hard-SF novels. The Doctor is plainly a Culture agent, or perhaps a thrill-seeking tourist slumming it on a barbaric planet. But the parallel story of the Bodyguard foxed me entirely. Who is the Culture agent here -- the Bodyguard himself, or his colleague, the concubine Perrund? I have read almost all Banks's SF and should get the Culture references, but I don't. Is Banks being too subtle here?
A final point -- Banks is trying the extremely difficult literary device of conveying events to the reader through the eyes of the Doctor's assistant, Oelph -- a person who does not really understand what is going on. In this task he is only partially successful.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Two love stories, a whodunnit, whatdunnit, try and work out what's real in this marvellous tale. I highly recommend it.Published 15 days ago by biggest
I'm blinkered - for me Banks' Culture novels are the work of a genius. I have read this one 3 times and am 1/3 rd through my 4th reading. Read morePublished 2 months ago by baguasrr
It has taken me a while to decide what it is exactly I don't like about this book, but I think now that I see it: This book started out originally as two unrelated novellas that... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Julia
A thoroughly engrossing read. As different from previous books in the series as it could be. But superbly written and wonderful fun to decipher.Published 10 months ago by Mrs. S.
No one here seems to have pointed out that this book makes no sense at all. If it was a standalone fantasy book then OK, but it is supposed to take place in the culture universe... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Aidan M
Classic Ian M Banks - always mind-blowing, always thought-provokingPublished 10 months ago by Mr. John Butler
I can't get enough of Iain M Bank's "Culture Series". It's such brilliant mixture of space opera, philosophy and "hard science" extrapolated all rolled into a... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Gustaf Eriksson