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on 18 August 2011
Hold your breath and take a dive into the Dark side of the Culture.

Bank's intricate plotting and literary style loses none of its power in his return visit to the Culture, a frightening trawl through the deeper excesses and infernal substrates of virtuality.

A clutch of sinister characters take the reader through unimaginable contortions of reality and simulation, crossing taboo barriers, leaping across where the edges of heaven and hell grind against each other, gaining pace as the intrigue unwinds. It is a roller-coaster into the nefarious world of persecution and suffering, tempered by moralistic Culture heros firmly under pressure to get the situation under control.

Perhaps there is one other hero, or heroine, but she too has her dark side and lusts revenge, and is determined cross the abyss of decency to obtain it. But can she be stopped?

Altogether an intriguiing novel that will easily take a second or third read to unfathom its deepest mysteries.

I read the Kindle version which somewhat spoiled it with its peppering of spurrious errors. Short lines, poor hyphenation, and large gaps in the text - at one point there were at least two lines missing. Does anyone ever check these conversions? Apparently not.

But, Kindle-generated gaffes aside - like warts on the backside of a princess - this novel has what it takes and I thoroughly recommend it.

Author of The W.D.P.S.
The W.D.P.S - Book One
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on 25 July 2017
At times there are so many threads that it seems impossible to bring them together,yet everyone counts,and everything counts,creating a vast utterly believable universe,grand,and frightening and dangerous and wonderful,you will not be disappointed ! !
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on 21 August 2017
Once again another fantastic flight of the imagination
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on 8 January 2011
As a devotee of the Culture novels now for some time I had great expectations of this latest offering from Iain M. Banks. I enjoyed the read for sure but completing the work left me a little deflated. There are wonderful, evocative, terrifying themes in this new space opera epic, especially perhaps the infernal topography of the cyber-Hells but Banks does have a tendency to get lost in his sub-plots. Of course all the strands are brought together by the end but some promising trajectories are cut short and others are, well, over wrought. Some are just simply pointless. The end itself was a bit of an anti-climax, entirely predictable. The most annoying aspects for me though were the rather repetitive battle porn and the Now-Not-So-Funny-Quirky-Ship-Names which have become the staple of the Culture genre. So yes, I am glad I read it ... but I am hoping that this author might apply his brilliant imagination to other SF narratives and concepts and give the Culture sequence a decent burial and a brilliant long run.
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on 25 October 2017
Great series
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on 6 March 2017
Didn't see it coming
Twenty amazing years of reading his work and still blind.
R I P Iain Banks, and thank you
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on 21 December 2014
One of his best, mindblowing.
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on 22 July 2015
Great author, good book.
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on 9 October 2010
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. The strong, driven women (tick), the strangely thick yet cunning and powerful evil overlord (tick), castles, plains and mesas (tick all three), lots of parallel storylines that you can't imagine will ever converge (tick)... so I had some doubts until about a third of the way into it, and then one of the most hilariously unpleasant yet fascinating characters he has ever created stepped in and transformed the entire tone of the novel in just a few pages. Imagine Malcolm Tucker coming to a galaxy near you, but with plasma chambers attached.

From then on, the story accelerates. The writing - already appreciably sharper and more purposeful than in Matter - grips you by the scruff of the neck and you are back in classic Banks territory, but with much more of a wry twist than usual.

The pacing of this long book is excellent and the ending much better handled than it was in Matter. The welcome lack of sentimentality and the refreshing absence of extended, self-referential musings reminded me more of Consider Phlebas and his other, earlier SF work. Some of those trademark discourses-within-sentences still worm their way into the narrative, but they work here, counter-balancing much crisper technical detail and some truly funny moments. The book had me laughing and wincing in all the right places and I personally loved some of the final ship-to-ship exchanges: snappy, witty, clever and better than anything Banks has done since Excession.

I would definitely recommend it.
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on 3 May 2011

Culture is now getting a wee bit long in the tooth in my personal opinion, but this is still a cracking good read for any Banks fan.
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