Iain Banks' latest Culture novel, Surface Detail, was the subject matter of the Scotsman Book Club last month.
Five readers, two of whom (including a former editor of 2000AD) had never encountered a Culture novel before, discuss their reactions over at www.scotsman.com.
"Banksâ€™'ability to combine humour and horror, the cosmic and the human, as he builds an action-packed story on a moral framework, as well as his wonderfully original characters and, of course, the lavish descriptions of weapons and spaceships, makes Surface Detail all you could ask for in a space opera. Nobody does it better."
[I'd normally link to the full article, but it's behind the Times Paywall, so there's not a lot of point.]
With the publication of Surface Detail just over the horizon (UK: Oct 7th, US: Oct 28th) a few early reviews have started to appear.
SFX Magazine said that Surface Detail is "...one of the most entertaining Culture novels for a long time".
Sci-Fi Now Magazine said: "Famed for his profoundly dark and intelligent humour, Iain M Banks has succeeded in weaving another intricate tale that offers fascinating insight into the human condition."
And TheBookBag.co.uk's Robin Leggett summed Surface Detail up thusly:
"There's double-crossing aplenty, action, revenge, love stories, virtual and real action, tech and humour and some terrific characters. But what sets this book apart is the quality of the writing and the depth of the author's imagination. Amongst all the mayhem, Banks raises some interesting questions about identity, death and the whole point of Hell."
More info over on the Surface Detail page of the site.
A new Iain [M] Banks book is always going to generate plenty of review coverage and conversation around the blogosphere and Transition, with its blend of literary and sf-nal tropes and themes, has certainly carried on that trend.
Here's a round-up of some of the pieces of online coverage that have caught our eye in the past few weeks:
"Transition is a book that makes you think, one that makes you look at the world around you in a different light, and it's also a properly thrilling read. If only more contemporary fiction was like it."
Read the full review (although be warned: there are a couple of spoilers in there) at www.independent.co.uk.
There's an early review for the new Iain Banks novel, Transition in the August 2009 edition of Prospect Magazine.
Unfortunately you can't read the full piece on the Prospect website unless you're a magazine subscriber, but the first couple of paragraphs are available and non-subscribers can take it from us that the rest of the piece draws some very favourable conclusions indeed, with novelist Naomi Alderman saying:
"Transition is a clever novel: an exhilarating read that leaves a timebomb of philosophical engagement ticking in the reader's mind."
This particular ticking timebomb is set to explode into a bookstore near you (or through your letterbox via your online retailer-of-choice) early next month...
We're just putting the finishing touches to the next Iain Banks Q&A session and are hoping to post that later today. But in the meantime, here are a few more recently-posted reviews of two Banks classics:
Hungarian webzine Ekultura has posted Bors Csaba's review of The Player of Games (the link is to an English translation). Bors concludes: "[T]he novel rocks. The plot is thick with thrills and chills, twists and turns, it grasps the reader and just won
Over at The Guardian Online John Mullan presents a summary of the recent Wasp Factory discussion panel, which was held in London and featured a live panel discussion with Iain Banks on the subject of the many and varied interpretations of and reactions to his debut novel.
The general conclusion was that the book isn't actually as shocking as its reputation tends to suggest. Iain said that it was written as a black comedy and that Complicity was actually written to be far more shocking, but tends to be written up as being far less so. Iain's suggestion was that the shock response to The Wasp Factory created "anti-bodies" that then defeated the shock value of the later novel.
Plenty more of interest from the session, over at books.guardian.co.uk.
Edit Dave H has pointed us in the direction of a podcast recording of the panel session on the Guardian website. Cheers Dave!
The Guardian has posted Iain's own take on the background to his breakthrough novel The Wasp Factory over at books.guardian.co.uk.
In the article we learn that The Wasp Factory was Iain's sixth completed novel, and that at the time he regarded it as something of a step-backwards from his dream of becoming a published science fiction writer:
"The Wasp Factory represented me admitting partial defeat, heaving a slightly theatrical sigh, stepping reluctantly away from the gaudy, wall-size canvasses of science/space fiction to lay down my oversize set of Rolf Harris paint rollers, pick up a set of brushes thinner than pencils and - jaw set, brows furrowed - lower myself to using a more restricted palette and to producing what felt like a miniature in comparison."
There's plenty more insight into the origins of the book to be gained by reading the rest of the Guardian article.
Over the next four weekends, starting on June 28, John Mullan - professor of English at University College London - will be discussing Iain Banks' The Wasp Factory for the Guardian Book Club. Iain will also write a response piece, which will be published on July 12. We'll bring you links to any online content as we discover it, of course.
Banks-fans and other interested readers can also join the professor and the author for a discussion of the novel on Thursday July 10 at the Newsroom, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1. Doors open at 6.30 p.m. and entry costs
Over at blog.wired.com/geekdad/, reviewer John Baichtal takes a look at Matter and definitely likes what he sees: "By the time I'd read fifty pages, not only was I hooked, but I was sure Matter was this year's Hugo award winner."
Well, I think that's the sort of sentiment we can all get behind. But wait, there's more:
"The fact that so much of the background info is difficult to parse, and yet the book is so readable, demonstrates Banks' writing skill. The characterization is complex and unexpected, and the setting, despite its complexity, is totally consistent and believable. Banks has a gift for apt phraseology, especially the courtly speech of the principal characters. But it's the subtle touches that make this setting so rich."
Nicely put, Mr Baichtal. Read the full review over at blog.wired.com/geekdad/.
Four of the UK's top genre bloggers / reviewers / commentators - James Bloomer, Niall Harrison, Jonathan MacCalmont and Paul Raven - have been holding a round-robin discussion of the latest Iain Banks Culture novel, Matter.
The team-review starts with a general over view of Iain Banks' place in the respective reviewer's hearts and libraries in Part One, before moving on to the meat of the Matter at hand as they discuss the novel itself in Part Two and then concluding with an analysis of the novel's major thematic elements and central message in Part Three.
Comments are enabled on all three posts (they've been posted across three of the contributors' blogs to maximise the link-love for all, which is a nice touch) so do feel free to join in and let the contributors know what you think of their conclusions.
Gwyneth draws intriguing parallels between certain plot elements the new Culture novel and a certain ring-themed classic of the fantasy genre and also makes some interesting observations on the nature of Space Opera and the way in which Iain - whose left-wing political views are well known and thoroughly documented - handles the more violent tropes of the sub-genre:
"Space Opera is no longer out of fashion, but what about the other problem, the moral issue? There
Nick Ryan has reviewed Matter for UK newspaper The Daily Express. As well as describing Iain as "quite simply, a prodigy", he concludes his review with a ringing endorsement:
"It's grand, stirring stuff with a hint of the space opera to it. A more than welcome return of the master of sci-fi."
Read Nick's full review at www.express.co.uk.
Via Google Alerts, we learn that 'Readers in the Mist', a blog set up to allow for Blue Mountains (New South Wales, Australia) city council libraries members to share news and book reviews, has posted a short but concise review of The Steep Approach to Garbadale by contributor Vikci ('Alba'), who says:
"Alban's story unfolds with flashbacks and revelations by dotty aunts and there is a wonderful twist at the end. Family secrets, divisions and machinations are deftly described with a wee dig at corporate America."
Read the full mini-review at readersinthemist.blogspot.com.
Matt Kavanagh dropped us a line to say that his review of Matter has been posted on the Globe and Mail website. Here's what he said in his introduction:
"Named one of the top 50 writers in postwar Britain by The Times of London, Iain Banks boasts the greatest range of any of his contemporaries. Celebrated for his shocking experimental narratives (The Wasp Factory), gripping family sagas (The Crow Road) and witty dissections of life in executive class (The Business), Banks has also mastered the art of the ripping space yarn.
"In Matter, he returns to form - and the Culture - of the far-future, space-faring civilization that is the subject of his best work. Taken as a whole, Banks's sequence of Culture novels are among the most important science fiction written by anyone, anywhere, in the past 20 years."
If you want to read the full review you'll have to cough up a few Canadian dollars. We have asked Matt if he's posted the full text anywhere else, maybe on a blog or forum, but he hasn't gotten back to us just yet.
Sue Arnold really likes the new audiobook of Iain's classic debut novel The Wasp Factory. In her review for books.Guardian.co.uk Sue says:
"At last, only 24 years after it was first published, I've finally got hold of a version of Banks's extraordinary first novel with a reader who does it justice ... Peter Kenny is the one reader (I've heard five) who brings out Banks's glorious sardonic wit. Good things are worth waiting for."
[Thanks to Gary W for the heads-up]
Alongside some familiar musing on Iain's bemusingly low profile in the US market, reviewer Adrienne Martini says in her piece for the Baltimore City Paper:
"Like most other [Iain] M. Banks books, Matter twists in completely unanticipated ways and offers up ampules of philosophy along with its plot. His characters - even the most minor - are fully drawn and fascinating. A reader can feel her mind twist around Banks' more fantastic ideas and marvel at the complicated whimsy he creates. That alone is worth the price of admission."
In a lengthy and detailed review for www.computercrowsnest.com, RJ Barker says:
"Dipping back into 'The Culture' felt like a joyous return to a long missed and familiar place. Banks has such a clever way with words that he makes it seem effortless and you don't realise how cleverly he constructs brilliantly clear images."
Reviewer Simon DeDeo has posted a review of Matter up on Slashdot. Simon makes a very intriguing point about the underlying 'Britishness' of The Culture:
"Banks' prose is free-flowing and liberally dosed with a kind of cynical, post-colonial British humanism; as the Culture meddles and blunders Banks' narrators look on with a sad half-smile. The British charm appears also in his characterization of the artificially intelligent machines, who often play Jeeves to more fallible, biological, Bertie Woosters."
Read the full review over at books.slashdot.org. And check out the (long and mighty) comments threads that ensue for a wide-ranging discussion on Matter, The Culture, the best Culture books to read, other space opera authors to try, all sorts of good stuff...
[Thanks to Gary W for the heads-up]