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 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.
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 21 September 2002
Having read several of Iain Banks's non-SF novels, I think it's safe to come to the conclusion that his style has changed in the later ones to the earlier itterations. Whereas in novels like "Walking on Glass" and "The Bridge", there was a key concept, or an underlying idea which drove the myriad events in the story forward, events interlocking beautifully, with an unexpected turn at the end of the novel; more recent ones such as "Complicity" and "The Business" are not 'concept' novels - these instead focus on the central character and follow them through their lives, usually as they're touched by some out of the ordinary events. "Dead Air" falls into this latter category. And this really needn't be a bad thing.
The book has been met by various reactions. As my mark suggests, I opt for the positive approach. "Dead Air" does not enthral like Banks's earlier books have, with a spiralling plot and tangles of ideas which the reader is left to unravel and understand for themselves - this, like his more recent novels, is about real life. It's less SF than the earlier mainstream novels tended to be. Focussing on shock-jock Ken Nott (and what a fine monicker), the narrative ostensibly follows him through various parts of his life and interactions with people he knows. However boring that may sound, it really isn't. What some readers/reviewers may have failed to pick up on is that this book is about themes. It is about paranoia, betrayal, the nature of truth, morals, and the intrinsic fallibility and double-standard manner in which every person exists. There's lots of lies in it, and lots of ranting: but this is all to underline the these themes, not just "a platform" for Banks to let off steam about issues of the moment.
In a way, "Dead Air" isn't anything like as massively imaginative as Banks's previous works. But his style remains, driving onwards with a wry humour, but now it is much more grounded in reality. A harsh reality - and this is what comes across the most in the novel; Banks is not writing imaginative fiction, so much as he is weaving together aspects of everyday reality and presenting it to the reader devoid of all its faux-securities, in his inimitable style.
There is no twist at the end. There are no flights of fantasy in dream sequences. There is a world which is only too familiar, and very much contemporary in its focus; the issues raised. The events of 11th September are brought into the book because of the shadow they have cast over everyday life since then - it's not a selling point, merely telling the truth about the way life is. Terrorism is questioned by Nott in the novel, and then he himself becomes the victim of a form of it: yet his reactions are very telling in relation to those of the world at large. He acts selfishly, and only for his own continued happiness and prosperity. What may seem like simple, dull events, are always symbolic in "Dead Air" of a much wider picture of the modern world.
So, then, is this Banks at his best?
Yes - he rarely isn't. However, whether you think the "reality-novels" are better than the "concept-novels" is entirely your own opinion. I like them all, and would prefer that this brilliant author's readership was more open-minded in its approach to his constantly intelligent, and incredibly well-written works.
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 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.
on 6 January 2004
Having received the book for a birthday present I felt compelled to read it. So far I have mananged 85 pages and I am unlikely to reach 86. I agree with the other reviewers, where is the story? The author seems to have jumped on the 911 bandwagon and manufactured a dry and agressive monologue of all that he thinks is wrong with the world.
I cannot carry on with it, every whinging line seems to drain me of the will to live....if I ever hear the phrase 'shock jock' again I will simply scream. Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggghhhhhhhhhhh.
on 9 August 2014
I have read all of Iain Banks books and I normally read them in the year they were published. As Iain Banks fiction is very much of its time and full of contemporary references, its nice to have read them 'in their time' and to understand how Iain is living very much in the same world as we are. And to listen to how he intelligently reflects on and mirrors the years of our life even as we live them.
Dead Air is one such book. Published in 2002, the book is mute with the shock of 9/11. A shock so raw, Iain Banks does not reference it in any way except to show the event on a television screen at the start of the narrative.
Dead Air is a good reflection of Britain in 2002. London was a boom city brim full of money and drugs. Shock jocks were new and loft-living was all the rage.
I did not really like this book mainly because I did not like the hero Ken Nott, his rants and drug and booze lifestyle. However it was a compelling read and I saw it through to the end. As always with Iain Banks, I thought it had much to 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.
I always anticipate a new novel from Iain Banks will be provocative, thought provoking and usually make me laugh.
My favourite ones of his too date are 'Player of Games' (Iain M.) and Complicity (Iain) and while I enjoyed Dead Air I ended up not getting involved in the book in the way I have with previous books- the chief character is not sympathetic - he had good things to say about hipocrasy, but basically seems to be amoral with no principles what so ever.
The starting point of 'Dead Air' is the terrorist attack on the 11th September but the majority of the book is taken up with the personal life of the 'hero' and there seems to be little linkage between the two - so you end up with two strands to the story that don't seem to be linked (at least that is how it seems to me).
The story strand with the right winger who denies the Holocaust ever took place just fades away and I think that could have been expanded to take a hard look at the opposing extreme views (ie it never happended to it excuses all subsequent actions)
Having said that a 4 star Iain Banks is better than 95% of other authors and I read Dead Air is two days - the story cracks along at a brisk space and I did want to see if the gangster caught up with the hero and what happended - don't want to spoil that for you.
The comments of the shock jock hero are not that shocking really - no worse than I hear on the radio these days .. certainly no worse than appears on the Brains Trust ..
In conclusion - a good read, not his best