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on 10 September 2017
Another solid outing for Special Circumstances and some good philosophical reflections on the ultimate pointlessness of human striving / power / war etc. Somewhat ludicrous scale of objects / settings, as is typical of Banks. However this is entirely irrelevant to the plot, so who cares?
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on 15 August 2017
Excellent book if you like sophisticated sci-fi.
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on 19 February 2011
It wasn't until I heard Toby Longworths magnificent reading that I realised just how good this Culture novel was. My first reading I rushed through, hoping for more Culture, getting lots of fantasy novel pastiche - fun, but a bit patchy I thought. Then after I'd read it got hold of this audio version via a Guardian offer, and was totally amazed at what I had missed the first time round. This was mainly because of Toby Longworth' s inspired reading of it. Every sentence comes out a gem. Totally amazing experience - if you didn't feel this was one of the best Culture novels just take a listen to this - it utterly enhances the experience of the novel. It almost feels like you're listening to Ian M Banks brain talking his text onto the page - witty, clever, funny and totally engaging.
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on 21 August 2016
Matter is a rattling good yarn, loved the feisty SC heroine, family connections, fab battle ending in the core of the shellworld, recommended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 July 2017
I won't reveal anything about the story but will say that Matter centres on a human civilisation similar to Europe in the nineteenth century and goes into various characters' feelings and relationships, giving it a homey feel absent from the other Culture novels.

It is one of the simpler of the Culture novels, and wouldn't be a bad place to start the series (there isn't much reason to read them in order). It is less complicated, less bold, and overall less inspired than most of the others, especially the ending. But it is also less confusing (I am thinking particularly of Use of Weapons and Excession which keep you on your toes, if not outright puzzled, most of the way through).

If you are into Audible, they made an exception with this one and didn't get Peter Kenny to read it. The new reader, Toby Longsworth is good but it sounds like he had phlegm in this throat which slightly spoiled the experience.
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on 21 May 2009
Matter is Banks' return to the world of the Culture after a lay-off of 8 years ( Look to Windward 2000) and focuses on the often mentioned mentoring aspect of the Culture, and more specifically
the shadowy Special Circumstances division within the Culture. The story focuses on the Shellworld Sursamen (Shellworlds are ancient artificial planet consisting of fourteen nested concentric spheres internally lit by tiny thermonuclear "stars", whose layers are inhabited by various different species. )

On the 8th level of Sursamen live the Sarl, a Humanoid race lead by the royal household of Hausk.
The story begins with Ferbin Hausk , prince of Sarl and heir to the throne witnessing the murder of his father the king at the hands of his friend and right hand Tyl Loesp. Ferbin is forced to flee his home with his man servant Choubris Holse and makes his way to the tower superstructures that support the individual levels within the shellworld and provide transport to the surface. His aim is to find his sister whom left Sursamen 15 years previous to join the Culture .

Presuming Ferbin dead, Tyl Loesp is installed as regent until Oramen , youngest of King Hausks children and now heir to the 8th is of age . Oramen is a studious youth , who having expected his role as 3rd son ( King Hausks oldest son was killed during the unification of the 8th) graciously accepts Tyl Loesp as his regent and mentor, having no idea of the truth behind his warlike fathers death nor Loesps true motives.

This basically Sets up the premise of the book

One part revenge and betrayal novel
One part technological tour de force
One part intergalactic travel brochure

All the great traits of a cultural novel are there, we have the amusing ship names, the quirky ship AI's , the one man army Culture suits of doom , the condescending drone and all the other fluff that comes with a Culture novel , but the books suffers massive pacing issues , and spends a large portion of the book on a sort of intergalactic travel brochure , and while it was nice to be introduced to new species within the greater universe it has little to no bearing on the main storyline and in large parts was boring . The parts of the book set on Sursamen and involving Oramen are overall enjoyable, and play out like a tradition fantasy novel ( big bad regent out to steal the boy who would be kings throne, with overtones of something sinister pulling the strings in the background)
The scenes set on the 9th level in and around the Nameless City are where the book really starts to pick up pace and really hit its stride, this final third of Matter when Holse , Ferbin and his Special Circumstances agent sister Anaplian return to the shellworld kitted out in Nano suits with arsenals equivalent to that of a medium sized nation , and accompanied by ship who may or may not be a special forces vessel with some rather neat ricks of its own. The book reaches a typically Banksian ending that will appeal to all Culture fans and to fans of space opera at large.

Overall it was fun to read a book set again in the world of the culture, the book did having pacing issues however and at some points nearly ground to a halt , once into the final third the book flew along and was everything fans love about banks and his world.

3/5* would have been an 4 if the tedious section in the middle was better paced
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on 16 December 2008
I've read most of Iain M. Bank's output over the last few years, and for me this story holds up well compared to all but a few of those that came previously. The authors imagination is clearly running on top form and this book is a treat for readers who enjoy detailed and immersive descriptive writing.

Unlike some other reviewers, I particularly enjoyed the contrasting plot lines of hard sci-fi alongside medieval political intrigue. Maybe it's a sign that I need to branch out into some serious fantasy reading, not a genre I have paid much attention to before.

There is a vast kaleidoscope of characters, human and alien (although I wish I had discovered the glossary at the end of the book while reading it!) While everything starts off light and humourous, as the story progresses a dark intensity takes over. It's probably wise to pace your reading so you get to the last 1/3 of the book at the start of the weekend, if you are like me you will need to read that part in pretty much one go.

So, I can't justify much in the way of criticism as I was unable to put it down and have spent most of the last few days absorbing myself in the fantastic world it has created. However, on reflection, it is a 'typical' Banks culture novel, there is a strong taste of formula here. It's obviously one that creates sucessful books, but maybe it was just a little too predictable.
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on 19 July 2016
thought I had read all of Iain Bank's books, but found I had overlooked this one. So I have mixed emotions - on the one hand annoyance that I had missed it, but on the other, excitement that there was still a book from my favourite author that I had still not enjoyed.

This is truly a wonderful book - engrossing and thought-provoking I didn't want it to end. One of the best of his Culture novels and one of the best SF books around. If you are new to these, it is a stand-alone book, simply set in the Universe of the Culture, so you can read it without worrying about jumping into the middle of a series.

So please do
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on 25 July 2014
er by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read all of Iain M Banks Books and this one Matter #8 in the Culture series is a good strong tale of familial strife set against the background of impossible planet sized structure.

To recap The ten books of the Culture are: Consider Phlebas, 1987; The Player of Games,1988; Use of Weapons, 1990; The State of the Art, 1991; Excession, 1996; Inversions, 1998; Look to Windward,2000; Matter,2008; Surface Detail, 2010; The Hydrogen Sonata, 2012.

The tale of Matter is the tale of a strange homeland called a Shellworld. This is described on p63 as:

The Shell Worlds are mostly hollow. Each had a solid metallic core fourteen hundred kilometres in diameter. beyond that, a concentric succession of spherical shells.

Each of the shells forms a level of the Shell world, and distinct civilisation live on each including water worlds, gas worlds, fixed stars and moving stars. The levels are connected by vast lifts, and sometimes the custodians of the Shellworld allow the inhabitants of different levels to pass from one to another, sometimes with evil intent.

As always with Banks culture stories e have an amazing unthought-of science fiction setting, and this is just the start. A prince is falsely accused of fratricide, who has to flee... So starts a long journey to find a long lost sister and ultimately to save his world.

I really liked this book. I liked the artefact at its heart. I like the way it is only partly understood, and quarrelled over by great powers of the galaxy. I loved the story of the innocent fleeing finding himself on the most amazing pan-galactic road trip.

Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2012
I'm a big fan of Iain M Banks science fiction novels. They are phenomenally imaginative, intelligent and well written. If I was to pick my favourite ones to date they would be "Excession" and "Look to Windward", however they are all pretty good. I was therefore looking forward to reading his latest "Culture" novel , "Matter". "Matter" doesn't quite measure up to Banks's best science fiction however. It is quite slow moving ,overlong and there are periods when nothing much happens. The book is set in the main within a feudal,monarchical society within a multi level artificial planet called a "Shellworld". A king is murdered by a usurper and the king's son ends up going on the run in a journey that takes him through the stars to meet up with his estranged sister,a Culture Special Circumstances agent. Together, with the aid of a few others , they set out to return to the Shellworld to remove the usurper.However an artefact is found on the Shellworld under a huge waterfall which has attracted the attention of an alien species. What is the nature of the artefact and is it friend or foe ? I didn't particularly like the swords and chainmail feudalistic element of the book- it sort of seemed too familiar and unimaginative, while a lot of the travelling about was rather pointless and uninteresting. The book only picks up in the last 100 pages or so when all the action takes place and the heroics begin. Having said all this "Matter" is still a fantastic read - what kind of genius could think all of this up ? - but compared to the high standards of Iain M Banks other Culture novels , it doesn't quite hit the mark.
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