Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Matter by Iain M Banks

Iain M Banks' Sci Fi novels novels are a romp through the ideas of Science Fiction – always interesting and always surprising. In that he resembles E E Doc Smith for the sheer exuberance of his writing. Fortunately he does not have Smith’s obsession with projectile weapons.

Banks’ novels often centre on a socialist society – known as “The Culture”. It is a society of abundance in which there is no poverty or war. "Matter" concerns how The Culture relates to the rest of the galaxy where war and poverty have not been abolished.


The Culture is a society where artificial intelligence has reached its highest expression and is regarded as equivalent to human beings – or vastly superior depending on your viewpoint! The wit and wisdom of the AIs and their relationship with the human members of the culture is part of the novel’s attraction.


The Shell Worlds are a theme of this novel. They are artificially created worlds which host a variety of life forms. One character from a shell world joins The Culture and then returns home to the relatively primitive society into which she was born when her father is assassinated. However in her absence she has become a member of the part of the Culture called “Special Circumstances” – an organisation of humans with enhanced powers. Special Circumstances alternately upholds and violates The Culture’s principle of non-interference with other life forms at every turn.

Instead of going back to grieve for her father she ends up with a mission to save the world. This is a book for science fiction fans and socialists. Iain M Banks is always good value for money.

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