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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 4 July 2016
I read the reviews of this book before buying it and was a little put off by them. However as Iain is no longer with us, it was my last chance to read one of his amazing SF novels and I am so glad I did.

The opening is a swirl of different characters that coalesce into a riveting story of an organisation ('The Concern') operating in a multiverse where they are interfering in different timelines to steer the total civilisation. I will mention no more of the plot to avoid spoilers but the ideas, characters, plot and pace are everything you would want. It left me wanting more - much more.

Bravo Iain, you are sadly missed.
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on 21 June 2017
This Iain Banks should almost certainly have a M in it. It is not only a great SF story but some of the political parallels, especially in 2017, I found scary. I have not read any of his non M books, this was full of politics and philosophy and I felt exposed a window into his thoughts. Parallel worlds and alternative realities all too real all too possible. It is all tied together with a good story and great characters, pictures, places, just as you would expect from the great man. Sadly missed but greatly appreciated.
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VINE VOICEon 7 December 2010
...Well, it is really; so not sure why the "M" isn't there. Frankly it doesn't matter, though. This is an excellent book. The disparate characters seem never to have a chance of meeting. The mystery character (not giving anything away) seems destined always to remain so and had me guessing. There are sequences (dolls) where Banks seems perfectly to have conjured onto the page scenes from a nightmare with the same disjointed sense of hyper-reality / fantasy, readers will have experienced in their heads (oh, is that just me?).
Loved the denoument. Loved the idea of the eclipse. Loved the visualisation.
My favourite book this year.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 September 2009
This book 'transitions' the split between Iain Banks' non-sci-fi output & Iain M. Banks' vast space operas, presenting a sci-fi tale with a contemporary setting.

It is based on the premise that a virtually infinite number of parallel dimensions do indeed exist. The inhabitants of one of them have discovered that by ingesting a drug called Septus, they can transport their consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting people in other dimensions & thus meddle with the socio-political development of other Earths. They have therefore formed The Concern - an organisation designed to strictly control the use of 'transitioning' & ensure it is used to benefit other worlds. But since The Concern's High Council plays its cards suffocatingly close to its chest, can they actually be trusted? Or could some of its members have agendas of their own? And how can anyone decide what constitutes the greater good anyway? These are questions one of The Concern's assassins has to find answers to when he becomes a piece in a deadly game between his employers & an enigmatic renegade.

The Concern echoes the interfering, egalitarian Culture of Banks' sci-fi novels but as its members are all merely human, The Concern is murkier & harder to trust. The idea of parallel worlds has been used before, notably in The Adventures of Luther Arkwright but never with Banks creative flair & ability to analyse the deeper implications in an entertaining & thought-provoking manner. Yet despite the virtually infinite variety this backdrop provides, the plot is a relatively straightforward one.

Quite appropriately, given the books' subject-matter, the narrative consists of separate threads from different characters' points of view. Banks has really gone to town with this approach, starting with 3-4 such perspectives but later adding more. This is a style which ordinarily results in the reader racing through sections relating to characters/plotlines they like & glumly wading through the rest but in Transition, I found each thread to be equally captivating & enjoyed working out how the disparate pieces fitted together in the overall picture.

I have found that many of Banks' novels (such as The Business) consist of a story which can be summed up in 100 pages, fleshed out with 300 or so pages of florid descriptions & background details. Transition, however, never meanders far from the main plot. It's an expertly-crafted, entertaining & thought-provoking read, which remains gripping throughout. In my view, it's one of his best.

In short, the transition from prologue to epilogue was a thoroughly enjoyable one.
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on 18 July 2012
I re-read this book recently after getting to thinking I must have missed something the first time round. The central idea of the novel is ambitious and impressive, dealing with multiple characters across a myriad of realities (the "many worlds"). Tackling the multiverse was never going to be easy, and I'm surprised by some of this novel's brighter reviews in the national press.

The page-to-page experience of the novel is generally a good one. Banks is an excellent writer, and there are some brilliant pieces of description and ideas. The characters, however, are not well formed. Adrian Cubbish is the worst of these. He's from up north but has set himself the challenge of playing a barrow-boy-banker. The sections of the book written from his viewpoint are the most stereotypical and predictable. Lots of "know what I mean?" and "But I was the golden boy, wasn't I?"

Although the central theme is impressive, the plot doesn't hold together in the slightest. Ideas are set out and then rubbished, and the `rules' that seem to apply to those with the ability to transition between the many worlds are all eventually forgotten, giving way to a confusing narrative where anything is possible (which makes for very dull storytelling).

This comes to a head towards the end of the novel, which has set up the premise that to visit an alternative reality there must be human bodies there which travellers can take up as hosts. Two of the main characters visit a world where an accident caused by a "gamma-ray burster" left the planet "devoid of humans". The visitors seem to have use of human bodies whilst they are there, but there is no explanation as to how. Similarly, just after setting up the premise, the central character hypothesises about transitioning into mid-air from an aeroplane and falling to his death: impossible, unless transitioned into the body of a skydiver intent on suicide. For this to happen to him there would have to be someone in mid-air over the Atlantic for him to take up as a host. These and similar inconsistencies make the whole thing a bit of a waste of time.

The novel's many worlds and characters could have been interesting. Indeed, some of the ideas continue to intrigue me. Banks sets up a great premise, and then explores about four percent of it. The inadequate characters, of which there are so many, are under explored. They never visit or come across alternative versions of themselves (wouldn't you be tempted?) and it's never quite clear what happens to host minds when they are displaced, or the original bodies of the travellers when they are left unattended (we know they are functional, but seem to lack personality - they are described as "husks" but seem to look after themselves, therefore retaining an identity (character) of some kind that isn't acknowledged). In a book with so many characters, it would be nice if some had approached the subject matter, and the central plot points of the novel, from a few more angles.
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on 30 September 2010
I think this is one of "Iain Banks'" better books for several years. I wouldn't dispute that Iain has passed his best, but and it's a very big but he's still very good at what he does.

I've found his last 3 or 4 "Iain Banks" books pretty average by his previous standards and I thought this book brought back some of the flare his early books contained.

I don't think it's an "Iain M Banks" book and it's not SF, I think people claiming so are not familiar with Walking On Glass, A Song Of Stone, and to a lesser extent The Bridge and Canal Dreams all likewise pretty far removed from reality. Such readers are perhaps not even familiar with SF itself. Having made that point it's largely an irrelevant point I think.

Admittedly the book has lots of great ideas that don't go anywhere and which he really could have developed and most authors would consider it wasteful. Also the book wraps up in a relatively inconclusive/unsatisfying fashion. But anyone familiar with Iain Banks knows he's a bit lazy that way.

Nonetheless all in all I was genuinely entertained.
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on 5 August 2010
The multiverse is real. A small group of people can travel between worlds, inhabiting the bodies of others and influencing events. This process is controlled by The Concern, a multi-versal enterprise which oversees everything. However there is discontent within The Concern, and one person wants to change things, using the tools of The Concern itself.

This book starts with a number of seemingly unrelated narratives and eventually weaves them together. To be honest, I was very glad of the synopsis on the back cover, otherwise I'm not sure I'd have followed it to start with. There is the typical Banks wit, creativity and humour, however I think there's just a bit to much of everything.

There are many fascinating ideas, each of which could have been explored more thoroughly. The whole idea of the multiverse and the relations between different realities needs more detail for a start. Are these worlds which have always existed, representing every possible reality, or are they spawned at decision points, as in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory? What happens to the conciousnesses of the people whose bodies are taken over? How come our transitionary develops his additional powers? Then there are some inconsistencies: how do The Concern transition into younger bodies but stay in the same world? If people can transition objects, why can't they transition themselves physically? Setting it between the Berlin wall falling and 9/11, and trying to link it to the recession of 2008/9 is unnecessary. And the 'big idea' which The Concern want to block is, frankly, not so exciting when you are aware of the multiverse.

So I think it needs a firm editing hand and a bit more focus. I would have been happy for it to have been longer, if it had been a bit more internally consistent and developed. As it is, it's a page turner (well, the 2nd half is)and has plenty of interesting ideas, but needs more work.

Another reviewer pointed out that this book is itself a transition between Iain Banks'work with and without the M, and I think that's a nice idea. If that's really what it's intended to be then Banks would have done himself a favour by spending a little longer refining Transition.
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on 7 September 2009
This really is a challenging one and if I'm honest it is a wee bit of a grind at times. On the surface it sounds like a winner, a multiverse, a shadowy organisation, Christian terrorists and the coming together of Iain Banks and Iain M Banks. What's not to like?

Well too many of the plot lines don't seem to go anywhere; there are enough ideas in here for a couple of books and they are cramped in this one.

I have read that this book is Iain's answer to critic's complaints about an increasing gulf between his science fiction and mainstream fiction. I hope that's not true as I don't like the thought of one of my favourite authors being that easily swayed.

Despite what I've said above I genuinely like this book. You can see Iain's politics coming through and he raises some nice philosophical comments on greed, torture and terrorism among others.

A second reading could well be in order.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2010
Many people have already tried to summarise the plot so I won't bother as I think in this case it is almost irrelevant as this novel is about big ideas and also introduces us to "The Concern".

I must say that I had originally loved Banks' novels about Culture - but I think the concept has become a bit tired and he clearly doesn't want to go back there - so the Concern brings the same sort of idea a bit closer to home and also takes it more into "Conspiracy Theory" territory.

Banks explores the nature of existence through the shady organisation of the Concern - are events fixed in time, can they be changed by our conscious acts of will and is it the case as per some Quantum Theory, that every event creates a new universe in an infinity of such possibilities?

It's also about how we come to terms with death - some members of the Concern want to avoid it, but Banks is saying that we need death to regenerate our society and avoid stagnation.

Transition also explores what consciousness means - is it limited to our physical bodies and the big question is whether our attitude to that, means that we live too much in our minds - just waiting to be released from our physical limitations.

It's quite dangerous to slip into solipsism and much like in the film "Inception" - it would be very easy to slip into a self-imposed limbo of inaction where you will never escape.

So much for the ideas - but the style of the book is quite difficult - it jumps about and you are not sure where you are at times? But then this must be how the characters feel - Banks is creating the kind of uncertainty for the reader, that his characters must feel in world where you can jump heads. This idea is a bit like what happens in Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series and is a staple of Fantasy/Sci Fi from Moorcock's "Eternal Champion" The Tale of the Eternal Champion onwards.

But Banks inserts enough personality and character to make this his own - with lovingly-crafted descriptions of places and what it means to be a particular person. The detail is important - how do we orient ourselves in this kind of situation?

I would say that the writing style is well-matched to the subject and leads us to consider what it would be like - so as I say the plot is in many ways irrelevant and it is the experience that we have, as we follow these characters across universes.

I see this as the beginning of a new strand and will be happy to read more about the Concern and Mister Oh!
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on 15 July 2011
I don't know if you can accuse a writer of plagarising themselves. I suppose it is something that is never really mentioned it is normally discounted as a writer going over similar themes and ideas developed in slightly different ways. For example there is a criticism of Philip Roth's last few novels that he has engaged in this.

But when you write in two completely different persona as Iain Banks does (his science fiction is written by Iain M Banks) I suppose the p word becomes a possibility. Iain M Banks is the name adopted by Banks (his full one!) when writing his science fiction which he has done as long as his more traditional literary fiction.

It has long been a bug bear of mine (and apparently Banks) that readers who devour his work draw a line at his science fiction. This has even been the case, in my view, when in the last few years his strongest and most inventive work in terms of style, structure and character has been his SF. And given that a few of his more recent mainstream contemporay novels although OK have been treading water a bit - I'm thinking of the Road to Garbadale and the Business.

Banks has dealt with this now in a fairly obvious way now though by transposing a lot of the themes of his science fiction directly into this work. Not completely a first - he dabbled with this a bit I think with the Bridge one of his earlier novels - but never as full on as this.

Limited to Earth (or Calbafreques!) this is no space opera. Indeed the existence of alien life or humans making contact with them form an essential question of this work. Where the sci-fi comes in is the existence of an infinite number of planet Earths and humans within them. Ones where we died when we were 4 or had coffee rather than tea this morning or have blue hair or.... So for example one of the worlds has a problem with Christian Fundamentalist terrorists, this is quite well done but draws very much on Dawkins' God Delusion. This is an actual area of theoretical physics at the moment speculating over the nature of infinity and what it means for humans - but it is purely at that level - theory which makes it ripe for fictional treatment.

There are a group of individuals structured in a bureaucratic organisation - the Concern who can travel or transition across these multiple worlds and do so by entering other people's bodies. Familiar to anyone who has seen Terminator 2 or the early 90s tv show Quantum Leap, currently on just before the Tour de France! They intervene across the world ostensibly to do good; to prevent bad things happening but at the top of the organisation there is some foul work afoot with a hidden agenda or is there?The debate over intervention whether helping an individual to benefit society or indeed killing many more individuals for the same reasons is dealt with here. This is a central theme of Banks' sci fi particularly with his utopian space communist society the Culture who have to interact with a variety of worlds. That is where I get the idea of plagarism - accusation is not really a fair word though because he deals with these themes really well here. I just think he has done it before and with a lot more detail in his sci-fi work. I think it is telling the Concern is also a 7 letter word beginning with C - although a more exclusively human form. It criticises the money-grabbing aspect of a version of Earth which looks very much like ours.

And I suppose that is the difference the Culture doesn't engage with the planet Earth - its scale is much vaster than that. There is I think just one short story where the two interact. In contrast this is very much a human story - exploring how we would deal with these theoretical themes.

In that there are strong characters this is done well - Mr Oh, a transitioner who is used by the Concern and comes to his own conclusions over what to do, although his awakening near the end is a bit too close to the Matrix conclusion for me, MrsMulverhill - his lover and mentor, the Philosopher (a torturer) and Adrian (a hedge fund manager (closer than you would think in job) are all interesting creations and all drawn into the Concern.

Sometimes there is a slight tendency to crowbar a theme around a character though - the torturer (philosopher) has a dialogue with another man who has tortured for a greater good which amounts to a text book discussion of Kantian autonomy of the individual versus utilitarianism. As outlined so well in Michael Sandel's recent series on Justice. It is worthy of discussion as many of the ideas are but breaks the narrative flow.

However where the work is excellent is the study of self - what it means to be a human. It explores the vanity we have as individuals - solipsism - which suggests we are the centre of the world, bad things wont happen to us - everything revolves around us. Very much a modern Western vanity which we all suffer from including most of the characters in the book especially Adrian who really personifies the pre-2008 crash mentality of capitalism. His end though is not particularly drawn up with events around Lehman Brothers which I thought it would be. I thought these philosphical themes and their discussion show Banks at his best which he normally reserves for his sci-fi.

It also is fairly experimental in narrative structure for one of his traditional novels. The multi-narration overlaps and is difficult to keep a handle on - I think this is quite brave and well done. It dives right in so the reader will have to work, cross reference and so on. This means the conclusion could be seen as a little convaluted - I am still trying to work out if I fully understand it.
The descriptions of other worlds - which are remember essentially this one where I am typing this - also takes no prisoners in their flowing and alien detail and I wonder how much his traditional literary readers enjoyed it. The book seems to have got great reviews from the blurb though this can sometimes be misleading - because I think it shows the link between contemporary issues and philosophy which Banks expounds much more in his science fiction; but Im not sure all readers will agree.There is more in the book, perhaps too much some times, and it takes a while to get going because of the narrative style. Sometimes Banks could be more subtle - the first line whilst great is a bit undercutting of his own strength as a writer: "Apparently I am what is known as an Unreliable Narrator" It's like he doesn't have the confidence to leave this unstated and let the reader work it out - this narrative art being a central part of much of modern fiction.

My advice would be to stick with it for it says a lot about the nature of being human, sexual relations, materialism and alienation. There's even an inter-planet Earth chase culminating in a European tourist trap! A bit Bourne-esque. I liked this but I hope it doesn't reflect Banks draining the well of ideas from his sci-fi for his contemporary work or indeed vice versa.
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