Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, June 8, 2012

1999: The Business (Banks, Iain)

All a little interesting, but doesn't synergize (3/5)

Though having read sixteen other Banks novels (four of which have been without the "M."), I must say that The Business is the most linear plot thus far, almost bordering on vapid when taken in its general sense like looking at a lifeless body, but its pulse can be found upon close inspection, which reveals a growing characterization of the heroine/femme fatale Kate Telman. The backdrop for Kate's growth isn't only The Business where she is employed, but it's also the entire world with financially impoverished fictional countries whose warm innocence and charm can melt the icy facade of a corporate queen.

Rear cover synopsis:
"Kate Telman is a senior executive officer in The Business, a powerful and massively discreet transglobal organization whose origins predate the Christian Church. Financially transparent, internally democratic, it want to buy its own State to gain a seat at the United Nations.

Kate's job is to keep abreast of current technological developments and her global reach stretches from Silicon Valley to the remote Himalayas. In the course of her journey Kate must peel away layers of emotional insulation and the assumptions of a lifetime. She must learn to control the world at arm's length.

To take control, she has to do The Business."

Kate was raised in western Scotland by an alcoholic and careless mother, which left Kate to find her own street-smarts while mum was away. On one fateful occurrence when she was eight years old, Kate was approached by an older lady. Kate's effortless business skills and cleverness impressed the lady, who organized a meeting with the mother. Thereafter, their lives improved with her mother getting steady jobs and Kate getting an excellent schooling--all for free. Kate was on the fast track to becoming part of The Business.

Now thirty-eight years old but still a vixen with the men, Kate has risen high on the tiers of Business control to Level Three. Her instinct for predicting trends on technology have boosts her influence within The Business and her influence isn't limited to her Level Three tier--she woos men of lesser tiers and wins the admiration of others in Levels Two and One. She finds herself slowly being enveloped in a developing Business scheme involving not only the upper Tiers of The Business, but also the heads of state for various tiny nations.

The father figure of Uncle Freddy (Level Two) cannot mention much of her place in the scheme of things, but it does take into consideration the Business's feigned interest in the island nation of Fenua Ua and the landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Thulanh. Level One Mr. Hazelton has his fingers in many Business pies and Kate will later question the motives of his grand weasel-like motions. But beneath her involvement in procuring a nation for The Business, there's something fishy going on in a chip factory under the influence of The Business. Kate can't pinpoint the odd behavior of the factory staff, but one room within draws her attention.

Her influence with other members of male Business staff in obvious with Mike... an agent who has recently had random teeth knocked out and replaced at a Parisian dentist. The circumstances are bizarre and Kate feels that he's simply a muddling fool, but will later attachment great importance to the missing molars matter. Then there's Stephen... a morally obliged man dedicated to his wife through the sacrament of marriage. Kate finds herself continually attracted to the man even though he denies all of her blatant advances. She'll eventually try to dissect the relationship when she comes into possession of a sex tape that will have a huge impact on Stephen. She treads lightly.

Unexpected external factors force Kate to internalize her own pleas for attention; reassess her place in The Business, the lives of others, and the world; and when and when not to stick to your prerogatives.


When the reader is introduced to Kate, she's a powerful woman in many regards: she controls many Business operations, she is well liked by her peers, and her self-confidence is high as she struts, flirts, seduces, and lays. Her gratefulness for her rise from the slums reflects her appreciation for the job she has. Kate uses her business oriented mind to propel her through the rungs of Business hierarchy and puts little between her and her success but still maintains a loyalty to the people within the organization.

Later, through the plot twists of her personal trials and tribulations, Kate is transformed into a woman of sympathetic human action rather than materialistic gain. With a growing window of insight into others' subjective worldviews and the doors of greater responsibility knocking at her door, Kate finds herself not only at the start of her midlife crisis, but at a crossroads towards either (1) an external personal advancement in doing what is right for The Business or (2) an internal personal advancement in doing what is right for the parties involved. This change in outlook is what characterizes Kate to such a degree that she can make changes in the centuries old Business and in the budding kingdom of Thulanh.

Obviously, the science fiction element to the novel is The Business itself: pre-dating Christ, the commercial interests on the organization spans centuries and has always been financially transparent yet hermetic in allowing membership and advertising its existence. Its profits are shared among the tiers of authority (Level Six to Level One) but the individuals are unable to transfer Business-derived income to their family, thereby amputating descendant plutocracy. The Business's interest are widely varied, ranging from an ultra-exclusive cigar factory in Guantanamo Bay to investment in Hollywood movies to property investment. It's wildly interesting at first as a science fiction concept but it tapers off when the focus s shifted to the characterization of Kate. Not an all together bad switch, but a tad unfortunate.

Being one of the most non-traditional Banks-ian novels, I was expected to be baited, hooked, and reeled in but the plot plods along on a globe-trotting trek from Scotland, Nebraska, the Indian Ocean, and the fictional kingdom of Thulanh (a country similar to Bhutan). Everything is easily understandable: the characters, the locations, the cars owned by Uncle Freddy, the long history of The Business, and the movement each piece plays on the fictional global chessboard. The slowly progressive plot moved all the plot pieces and people pieces in synchronism to form a coherent conclusion but, sadly, it didn't have a drastic effect on this reader. The ultimate truth of the situation fell flat; it just wasn't spectacular enough to invest 392-pages of reading simple structure with implications spanning the entire globe... *poof* *fzzzzt* *pop*

This definitely isn't one of Bank's most delightfully convoluted novels nor one of the most intricately structured. The internal growth of the character of Kate is the apex of the novel with little else supporting the book besides the limited interest of The Business itself. Banks drops names of more fictional nations but the names are only cursory with detail only being focused on the mountainous Thulanh:
[...] places like Dasah, a trucial state on a small island in the Persian gulf, [...] or the Zoroastrian People's Republic of Inner Magadan, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Arctic Ocean, or San Borodin, the only independent Canary island. (51)
Like the fictional nations names, most things are cursory while Banks takes an active pleasure in describing the engines and specifications of famous sportcars and even takes a stab or two at British and American politics--these real life element fold the reader into tepid fictional plot, albeit, also, at a very cursory level. If Banks were to expand this either into a 600-page novel with more of a science fictions slant, it may have peaked at 4 stars, but there's just not much plot-point tinder under the fire to light the logs of greater interest.

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