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Excession (Culture) ペーパーバック – 1997/5/15
The story is vital and urgent and has a brilliantly subtle resolution ... wildly enjoyable ― INTERZONE
A dizzying adventure ― DAILY MAIL
Explosive but tender ― SUNDAY TIMES
First off, the Affront are just brilliant – a caricature of every Wetherspoons’ lads party turned into a space capable civilisation, their adopted name a play on the description of them offered by the culture: teenages with big ships and bigger guns! It is genius that the Culture ambassador wants to be an Affronter even as he enjoys all the pleasures offered by the more mature Culture: a comment on moving from child to adult perhaps.
On first read, I found the “couple” relationship a bit boring but now I can see how it’s importance is more to do with ship itself, which brings in one of the key concepts of the Culture, that the Minds decided it was more of a challenge to keep humans around and happy than it was to wipe them out.
The conspiracy I still find a bit contrived, although I now recognise that again it links back to the same theme as the ambassador: do you allow an individual/culture develop themselves or do you intervene.
At the other end, we have the tables turned on the Culture themselves, when faced with something so beyond them that they are humbled, and ultimately judged in the same way that they have judged the Affront.
A classic so much better, perhaps because I also have made the same journey as an person, hopefully wiser ten years on.
Fleecy Moss, author of the Folio 55 SciFi fantasy series (writing as Nia Sinjorina), End of a Girl, Undon , and 4659 now available on Amazon.
I’m probably on my 5th or 6th reading of the series now and have to say that it doesn’t get any worse for that. If you love your Sci-Fi in the form of huge, galaxy encompassing adventures, then these are the stories for you.
The Minds and their plotting is both hard to follow and the plot they are involved in seems trivial.
The ending is a giant deus et machina. Really; an adult came and stopped your fighting?
The Affront are excellent.
The human character's subplot is the biggest disappointment. Two unlikable, boring, self indulging idiots. I really didn't want to spend time with either of them
The Paige Rock subplot fizzles out.
Overall a bit of a mess of a book. That said a Banksian mess is still better than just about anything else out there. I recall enjoying it so it may work better on a first reading.
I've always enjoyed Iain Banks' sci-fi. His contemporary fiction -whilst always entertaining- seems to suffer from being too much of its time; many of his early novels already seem a tad dated due to the many time-specific references. The same detail heavy descriptions, when applied to a sci-fi context, make his fantastical environments believable and relatable. That same creative and engaging world-building is on display here. This is an author completely and comfortably in control of his writing.
Now twenty-five years old, the Culture has become a rich playground for Banks. It has a texture and depth that is now so well established, he is able to develop themes with real finesse whilst developing a rollicking good plot. As ever, there is real wit in the names and exchanges of the Culture's genius artificial intelligences, the Minds. If anything, the wonderful wordplay and banter between these city-sized egos makes the human characters seem rather pallid and uninteresting and it is certainly the sections of the book featuring the meat based characters that dragged a little for me.
Nevertheless, this is a smashing addition to Banks' output. Lasers are fired, civilisations brought to the edge of extinction and between all that the moral limits of anarcho-democratic societies are explored, the extent to which the ends justify the means considered and the comparative relevance of personal and pan-galactic tragedy contrasted.
I suspect that you have to already be inclined toward books with spaceships and reactionary, right-wing societies composed of tentacle bearing aliens to really enjoy this novel. That seems a real pity as `Sleeper Service' is a more complex and captivating character than you would find in many literary works, despite being a seventy kilometre long rocket-ship. And I challenge anyone not to love a battleship called `A Frank Exchange of Views'.
Excession was originally published in 1996 and is the fourth novel in Iain M. Banks's Culture series. As with all of the Culture books, it is a stand-alone novel sharing only the same background and setting, with minimal references to the events of other books and no characters crossing over.
A plot summary of the novel makes it sound like Banks's version of a 'Big Dumb Object' book, a novel where the characters are presented with an enigmatic alien entity and have to deal with it (similar to Rendezvous with Rama or Ringworld). However, this isn't really what Excession is about. Instead, the novel operates on several different levels and uses the titular artifact as a catalyst for a more thorough exploration of the Culture and its goals, as well as a more human story about relationships and change.
Excession is the first book in the series to explore the Minds, the (mostly) benevolent hyper-advanced AIs which effectively run and rule the Culture (as both spacecraft and the hubs of the immense Orbital habitats). Previous novels had portrayed the Minds as god-like entities whose vast powers allowed the various biological species of the Culture to live peaceful lives of post-scarcity freedom. Aside from their whimsical sense of humour and tendency towards ludicrous names, the Minds had not been fleshed out much in the previous novels. Here they are front and centre as several groups of Minds attempt to deal with the Outside Context Problem, or Excession, and find themselves working at cross-purposes. One group of Minds appears to be involved in a conspiracy related to the object's previous appearance, whilst another is trying to flush them out. Another Mind appears to be operating on its own, enigmatic agenda. There are also Minds belonging to the Elench, an alien race closely aligned with the Culture but who may have different goals in mind in relation to this matter.
Banks depicts communications between the Minds as something between a telegram and an email, complete with hyperlink-like codes (in which can be found some amusing in-jokes). Following these conversations is sometimes hard work (especially remembering which ship belongs to which faction), but worth it as within them can be found much of the more subtle plotting of the novel.
The stuff with the Minds and with the alien Affront (think of the Hanar from Mass Effect but with the attitude and disposition of Klingons) is all great and somewhat comic in tone, but the book also has a serious side. Several human characters are dragged into the situation as well, and it turns out two of them have a past, tragic connection that one of the Minds is keen to exploit. It's rather bemusing that Banks drops in a terribly human drama into the middle of this massive, gonzoid space opera, but the juxtaposition is highly effective, giving heart to a story that otherwise could drown in its own epicness.
Excession (****½) is, as is normal with (early) Banks, well-written and engaging, mixing well-drawn characters (be they human, psychopathic floating jellyfish or Mind) with big SF concepts. The book's only downside is a somewhat anti-climactic (though rather clever) ending. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.