Iain Banks, Matter (the beginning)

Posted on | February 5, 2009

I’ve been reading Iain Banks’s Matter, and I have to say that while I’m only on chapter 4, Banks’s new book is edging dangerously close to being a book easy to put down and never pick up again. Chapter 4 features one of the longest infodumps I have yet to read in a Banks novel, a long if colorful description that seems no end with Banks smirking at his audience saying, “This is my setting. Isn’t it cool?”

Actually, Iain, no, it’s not cool. Superstructures are old hat, as are abandoned giant manufactured worlds, even ones that occasionally kill you. I’m sure you’ll do something interesting with your usual mix of characters, ending with some wry observation on human nature that may or may not be completely off base, and possibly attempting to reach for some crowning moment of awesome that quite possibly will leave some of your audience starstruck and the rest of us going, “Yeah, that was almost as good as Karl Schroeder dropping a house off the edge of a ringworld in Lady of Mazes.”

Anyway, Matter feels like a classic Banks chess game: lining up all his pieces and then playing them off one against the other, kings, queens, knights, bishops, and pawns. I’ll read it all the way through, I’m sure. Banks’s literatary skills are good, honed so sharp even a formulaic Culture novel can survive being formulaic. The info dump is heralded by four pages of a dialog between two aliens in which just enough is revealed to make you want to read the infodump just so you’ll know what the hell those two are talking about, and followed by the characters resuming their conversation as if any listeners were now fully educated, although with some foreshadowing so painfully obvious it had better red herring in the end.


4 Responses to “Iain Banks, Matter (the beginning)”

  1. Hfuy
    February 6th, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    Very interested in your opinion of Matter. I read the hardback a few months ago and was less than usually impressed, for all the reasons you mention, but I’ll refrain from spoiling.

    To abruptly swerve the subject onto something completely different – re Journal Entries, what on earth is a Tindal, beyond what information is already there?

  2. Elf Sternberg
    February 6th, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

    A tindal is an early species in Ken Shardik’s repetoire. They’re humanoid, of average human height, slightly bulkier, with a bluish fur that tends to medium hues but can trend to very dark colors like black or indigo. They have extremely large ears, and a pale film covering their eyes gives them a blank expression, and thin, black lips. The most striking characteristic of a Tindal, however, is the arms are multisegmented, like tentacles, and end in a mitten.

    While it might seem to suck to be some mad genetic engineer’s art project, Tindals seems to have an astounding amount of empathy, often verging on telepathy, and have incorporated themselves into the Pendorian mainstream much more successfully than some other species might have, like the Vulpin or Ssphynx, both of which are somewhat reclusive and both of which had much slower growth curves than humans or Felinzi, the two most successful of Shardik’s productions.

  3. Hfuy
    February 8th, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    Thankee kindly.

    Makes me wonder what Greta Rumbel felt like after popping out of the Hall, if you ever had the inclination to write it.

  4. Salam
    November 20th, 2015 @ 3:30 am

    Absolutely gutted. My heart goes out to him and his famliy. One of my favourite authors, both mainstream and SF, and one of the select few writers whose narrative voice seems to chime in a spooky way with my own internal voice (does anyone else get that with certain authors?).The Bridge is one of my favourite books of all time ever, although if you are new to Iain Banks and a SF fan, I’d suggest going first to one of my two favourite Culture books: Use of Weapons, or Player of Games. They’re both great. You will probably then be intrigued by the Culture, so I’d suggest going back to Consider Phlebas which is set earlier in the Culture’s timeline, explains a bit more about it, and features a kick-ass galactic war— although arguably lacks some of the light-touched complexity of his later work.Not so much a SF fan? Then start with the Crow Road, which is engrossing and has all his mainstream novel trademarks: famliy secrets, dark humour, love, and somewhat disturbing violence, tempered by surprising humanity and tenderness. Liked that? Then go straight to his most recent mainstream novel, Stonemouth, which does all of that and more and is possibly even better. I will have to re-read The Crow Road soon to decide which one is best.OK, regardless of whether you’ve started with SF or mainstream, now might be the time to turn to The Bridge, which blends mainstream’ literature with fantastical/SF elements in a completely original and engrossing way. Just read it. It’s still his best.Then there are the unusual ones, which may not be to everyone’s taste. The Wasp Factory, for example: it’s certainly disturbing and weird, but perhaps a little too uncomfortable for me— it lacks some of the redeeming warmth of some of his later, but equally weird, efforts. Back in SF, there’s Feersum Endjinn, which features a stunningly imagined far future world. A large chunk of it is written phonetically, so it takes some getting used to, but it’s well worth it and I would certainly place it in my top 3 of his SF stuff (not a Culture novel, though). And a string of novels that tread that curious line between mainstream and SF: The Business, Song of Stone, Transition, for example. But all his novels are good— all interesting and different, although similar themes do recur (not all of them comfortable ones). I strongly urge all of you who haven’t read any of his stuff to start now, so you can thank him while he’s still with us. Here’s hoping for a very long several months’.

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