Grade: Δ — Solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre.
Set in his Culture Universe, Matter is a mediocre offering by one of the best writers around. It has strong characters living in a well developed universe and a rich and complex plot that avoids being convoluted. If only his sentence structure had managed to similarly avoid such convolution, this book could have been one of his best yet. That is saying something, since normally his flow of language is one of the strongest elements of his writing. Even so, though I feel this is his worst work to date, it is still worth reading by Science Fiction fans, particularly those who love the Culture Universe.
The Culture Universe.
Iain M. Banks is one of my absolute favorite authors. His works span both literary and Science Fiction, and rank among some of my favorite reads of all time. His style, though always complex, usually flows beautifully. Sadly, in this case complex gives way to convoluted. His second sentence contains sixty-three words and four clauses, and for the first few chapters, the complexity only increases from there.
Now, I should note, that I normally love compound sentences with complex ideas placed into a flowing text. I find that, with Banks in particular, it pulls me more deeply into the depth of his mind. Unfortunately, Bank’s normally lyrical language fails in this instance, pulling me out of this story. I found myself frequently re-reading the same sentence, focusing my concentration on what the words meant rather than on what he was saying. In fact, it felt more akin to reading a site report or technical journal than it did to reading a work of fiction.
Where this from any other writer, I would have put the book down by page fifty, it is a testament to Banks’ other works that I muscled my way through nearly six hundred pages of Matter. It was, in the end, worth the effort. I did, in a sense, enjoy this novel and found that where his normally superlative prose was left lacking, his wonderful ideas and brilliantly complex plotlines remained intact.
In short, I felt the whole book really needed another good edit. Still, this goes to show that even a mediocre offering from a true master writer still makes for a good read for someone who enjoys the genre. I continue to look forward to his books, and indeed am presently reading Surface Detail, which already reads far more eloquently.
- Iain M. Banks: Upload for everlasting life (newscientist.com)
- Read the first chapter of Iain M. Banks’ new Culture novel, “Surface Detail” [Books] (io9.com)
- Iain [M] Banks talks to James Rundle for SciFiNow (iain-banks.net)
- Welcome to the Culture, the Galactic Civilization That Iain M. Banks Built [Books] (io9.com)
- Iain M Banks talks to The View From Here (iain-banks.net)
- Sci-Fi Writer Iain Banks Talks Surface Detail’s Hell, Creationists’ ‘Heresy’ (wired.com)
- Meet the tattooed heroine of Iain M. Banks’ new Culture novel! [The Culture] (io9.com)
- Surface Detail, By Iain M Banks (independent.co.uk)
- ‘Surface Detail’: Maybe the Best ‘Culture’ Novel Yet? (theawl.com)
- Surface detail hides deep questions in new Banks novel (newscientist.com)
Great review…. I can’t convince myself to actually procure on his novels — maybe I’m just in love with old paperback books smell — hahahahaha
Cheers. Actually, I think you might like the Algebraist. It has a number of nods to the more classic period Sci-Fi, while remaining totally Banksian in its nature.
Of course, one REALLY positive element of even his Culture books is that they may be part of the same world, but they Aren’t Serial. It really doesn’t matter much which order you read them in. I’d just highly recommend that you don’t start with this one.