Insidiously exquisite, ultimately essential (5 stars)
I’ve always loved Iain M. Banks’ science fiction novels, especially his “Culture” books with their huge sentient spaceships and breathtaking worlds. The Player of Games is a particular favourite. And Ive also enjoyed what I think of as his various experiments: The Algebraist, and Matter.
This isn’t a “Culture” book. There are worlds – or at least a multiverse – but no spaceships. Bits of it are about the present. The characters are all recognizably human (there are no aliens or sentient machines), which doesn’t say as much as you might think. But it’s unmistakably by Iain M. Banks.
I’ve never been able to get into Iain Banks stark and gritty fiction, like The Wasp Factory or Whit. “Dark“, “twisted” novels are just fine, up to a point, but I’ve always found that Banks goes just past that point. Friends tell me I ought to try The Crow Road, which is supposedly dark, twisted, and funny. Maybe.
This isn’t dark. It’s twisted, in many ways. The characters are all recognizable to the modern eye, which doesn’t say as much as you might think. But it’s unmistakably by Iain Banks.
At least one reviewer said that he(?) couldn’t be bothered with this, and gave up after about 100 pages. In my case, I started it on a plane, got distracted, and tentatively decided that I would wait until I got home from my present business trip to finish it. But after a couple of days I found that I couldn’t stay away. It was as though the skein of this odd book had got snagged on a hangnail, and I couldn’t shake it off. (Ugh. Try another mixed metaphor.) I found myself reading it (on my iPad, using the Kindle reader) at every opportunity I got. Over breakfast. In between meetings. In my favourite cocktail bar here in Shenzhen.
Part of me wants to proclaim that it’s the best thing I’ve read in years. Other bits of me are still confused. I think that this is a very commendable thing. More books should have these effects.
I think that will suffice. I recommend it to the curious and the flexible among you.