More glitz of SC and Minds, less of The Culture in general (3/5)
From December 1, 2010
Inside flap synopsis:
"Lededje Y'breq is one the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power it without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is it a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.
"Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful thought it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one if its most powerful--and arguably deranged--warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure whichside the Culture is really one. A war--brutal, far-reaching--is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.
It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether."
Banksian SF is the plethora of characters strewn across the galactic
plane, who have a unique plot line and are fated to be joined together
in extreme circumstances in the last 10% of the novel. That sounds about
right, doesn't it? Most characters in SD are somewhat flat: generically
evil like Veppers, fairly morbid yet motivated Quietus agent Yime, the
sarcastic and blood-thirsty AI of Demeisen and the sulky yet revengeful
Lededje. The real highlights of the spread of aliens, humans and
pan-humans are the hellish plights of Prin and Chay (escaped from hell
and stuck in hell for perspective lifetimes, respectively) and the
trials and mindset of the cute and conniving Culture-fan of the GFCN
species, Bettlescroy. Two separate books could have been written about
these characters alone!
Veppers annoyed me the most, undoubtedly.
I've read enough of easily unlikable characters that I now know it's
pretty simple to create such a beast (aggressive sexual acts ala The
Algebraist or maniacal single-mindedness ala Dark Background). Veppers
takes on both these traits as well as being filthy rich like King
Quience of Inversions but also has an added distasteful trait of acting
just like and amoral, spoiled king. This character has been made again
and again by Banks and the current version of evil in the guise of
Veppers is tried, tested and now getting quite dull.
As for the
supposedly galaxy-spanning plot... well, not so much in SD. There's a
brief scene on a Hub, horrific depictions of a virtual hell, uninspiring
terrestrial life on a bland planet which Veppers resides and a vague
description of a series of orbital factories abandoned by an extinct
alien species which isn't explored to its fullest. Most of the novel is
aboard a few Culture ships or alien vessels, where the plot is talked
about and their intentions laid out in full. There were no large
surprises behind the intentions of the major caste and the only
excitement rally came about via the war-loving, sardonic AI named
Demeisen. There are some frivolous and interesting scenes of exotic
alien architecture (like the said Tsungarial Disk orbital factory and
another derelict monstrosity).
Granted, there were a number of
exotic ideas which held my interest and imagination even while at work
or exercising, but most of the novel was just uninspiring and untried:
the virtual hells should have been better explored to a greater degree
but Banks limited it to a single hell, the NR level 8 species is of
similar level as the Culture but was left wholly undetailed, and the
broader greatness and sustaining quality of the Culture wasn't delved
If another Culture novel is written, I do hope Banks steers
away from the "glitz and glamor" of Special Circumstances and sticks
to grassroots Culture civilization, which is what is draws me back to
his universe again and again. Thankfully, Banks has had his fingers diligently pecking away at the keys and has another Culture novel coming out on October 4, 2012: Hydrogen Sonata. I'll be first in line.