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Surface Detail (Culture Novels) Paperback – 26 May 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 264 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit (26 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841498955
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841498959
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.7 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (264 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,124 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

One of the most entertaining Culture novels for a long time (SFX)

Famed for his profoundly dark and intelligent humour, Iain M Banks has succeeded in weaving another intricate tale that offers fascinating insight into the human condition (SciFi Now)

Book Description

SURFACE DETAIL is Iain M. Banks' new Culture novel, a breathtaking achievement from a writer whose body of work is without parallel in the modern history of science fiction.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Real people - real cultures - are never simple, and are not likeable all the time. Having created the Culture: one of the most blissfully competent and (possibly) altruistic interstellar societies in science fiction, Banks has worked hard in his books to present many different aspects of it, always interpreted through its interaction with the lesser, equal or more advanced races that it inevitably rubs up against in his vividly-imagined galactic community. We have had the Culture as combatant, as meddler, maker of lives and destroyer of dreams. It has acted as a god and also like a technically-obsessed and frighteningly uninhibited auntie. Now, in Surface Detail, he gives us yet another view of the Culture, and this time it's not a particularly comfortable one. We are shown an underlying harshness that Banks has always hinted at, and he reveals the Culture's self-interest and cynicism much more clearly than ever before. Those communist aliens seem particularly like us this time round and things don't appear to be so - well, so effortless for them. There is no Kabe Ischloer here to shake his head indulgently over the endearingly strange ways of Culture citizens. There are no self-aware chuckles from its apologists about how splendidly crazy its people are.

There is, however, a lot of blood, violence and a central, screaming vision of virtual reality turned to horrific purpose that should make us all stop and think. It certainly gave me the shivers.

The book is, for me, a great return to first class science fiction writing by Banks, although I was starting to worry a little at the beginning.
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By Ripple TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
It is perhaps appropriate for a book that centres around the battle for the afterlife to begin this review with a confession: this was my first encounter with Iain M Banks' Culture series of science fiction novels. At first, I worried that this put me at a significant disadvantage as for the first 100 or so pages, I spend most of the time being completely confused about what was going on. However, as the strands started to come together, it became apparent that this is partly Banks' style and indeed it's one he uses in his non-science fiction books too. Keep going, it does come together.

As in his non-sci fi works, Banks juggles stories and characters with dazzling effect. He takes a number of characters whose stories may or may not ultimately come together and switches between their stories. And just when you think one line of story is not going anywhere in particular, he twists it round and it all makes perfect sense. The confusion is compounded by the fact that he is covering both the `Real' and `virtual' worlds, and particularly in the virtual worlds, characters may take on different roles and identities. Sound confusing? Well, it is at first but it's also highly entertaining, not to mention clever.

To the uninitiated, the Culture is a fictional interstellar enlightened, socialist, and utopian society operating amongst other, less benevolent and lesser civilized civilizations. This is at least the eighth book to feature the Culture, which first started with Consider Phlebas (The Culture) featuring the Culture's religious war against the Idiran Empire. We are told that the events of Surface Detail occur a millennium and a half after this war.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a great addition to the Culture series of books - was very much looking forward to it, and enjoyed it an awful lot. I won't go into the detail of plot, characters etc. any more than saying that it was great, they were interesting, etc.

As a book, it deserves five stars. The hardcover version would have got this from me.

However, I read the Kindle version, and the Kindle version has been lazily put together, I'm guessing from an earlier manuscript version. It has missing or half completed paragraphs. Very frustrating.

It flows quite often from one sub-chapter to the next without a line break to let you know - you're reading the dialogue from one perspective, get confused after a few lines and a paragraph later realise that you've got to go back as it's actually another character's dialogue.

There are spelling / word usage mistakes - not hundreds, but definitely 30+, which sometimes you can skim past but a few had me furrowing my brow trying to think what Banks actually meant/wrote.

In short, I still enjoyed it, but am putting in a complaint to Amazon about their shoddy work.
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By P. G. Harris TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
Iain Banks is a consistently engaging and creative writer. Ok not all of his books live up to the quality of his best, but there is (almost) always something to enjoy in his writing. I have had the feeling over his last few books that his best work has been reserved for his, Sci Fi, Iain M Banks manifestation. He has sought never to repeat himself with books such as Inversions (fantasy) and the Algebraist (almost Asimovian) lying at different ends of his ouvre.

However his most enduring work has always been set in the Culture, a fiercely egalitarian galaxy-spanning civilsation of people and intelligent starships whose approach to the universe is best described as imperialistically liberal. It cannot help itself from seeking to spread its cosmos-view to other cultures and civilisations. Its tools in doing this are the outwardly benevolent diplomatic arm, Contact, and the darker and shadowier Special Circumstances.

The good news for lovers of M Banks' culture novels is that this is the best for quite some time, maybe not up there with the very best (Player of Games which I would rank among the greatest works of Sci -Fi ever) but certainly ahead of most (and ahead of nearly every other current Sci Fi writer.

The major new addition to the universe in this novel is a digital afterlife. Having developed beyond (in most cases) religious belief, space faring societies have created their own afterlives into which the personalities of the dead are uploaded. Over millenia different societies have linked their afterlives into one whole. But there is discord in heaven, or rather there are some societies which still feel that the threat of punishment is necessary to control their civilisations in life, and so have created hells.
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