Transition by Iain [M] Banks – reviews round-up

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:

John O'Connell, in a lead review in The Times, hailed Transition as "a reminder of how intelligent and imaginative [Banks] is ... Baroque, digressive, kinetic, teeming with big ideas and grand theories, it's a novel to get lost in ... a gripping, thought-provoking experiment."

Michael Marshall, reviewing for The New Scientist commented on Transition high-quality construction: "Banks deploys his usual complex structure, using multiple narrators, variously in the first and third person, and intricately nested flashbacks. In some of his books these structural gymnastics seem precious, but here they heighten the alien mood and help build the tension, leading to a nail-biting finale."

Liviu Suciu said, in the course of a review for "As core sf, its subtlety will be appreciated only on the reread when much more will make sense, though the novel raises more questions than brings answers and offers a great opportunity for a Culture-like cycle of novels in this extraordinary milieu."

Aaron Lavery's review for concludes that the genre-crossover works well: "Fans of Banks's more conventional work might be initially put off, but they shouldn't be; it's an engrossing, futuristic fable with plenty to say about the here and now."

'ZS' covered Transition in a review column for business website, saying "what this book offers is a disturbing, sweeping and customarily imaginative foray into the most sinister reaches of possibility" whilst also lamenting an apparent randomness and incoherency to the plot (you have to wonder at this point whether 'ZS' has encountered much of Iain's fiction before..?)

Brian J. Robb, reviewing for found a few parallels with recent TV sci-fi tropes, but still appreciated the mental gymnastics involved: "Banks presents an imagined series of worlds and puts his characters through the wringer. There are some nice games with chronology and point-of-view, which would certainly reward a sustained reading of the book in as few sessions as possible."

Nat Smith, writing for gives Transition four stars, saying "initially a complicated book, [it] quickly becomes a fascinating one."

The Ex-Communicator, writing on LiveJournal said: "It's the best SF novel I have read (listened to) this year."

Patrick Ness reviewing for The Guardian on 26th Sept muses on the wasn't quite as impressed, concluding "this is an airport novel ... You're welcome to take that for as much of a recommendation as you choose." Ah well, each to their own, eh?

Do feel free to let us know if you've spotted any reviews online that we haven't mentioned here.

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3 Comments and counting

  1. David Paul says:

    Have just finished Transition, and loved it. But why Iain Banks and not Iain M Banks? I'm confused.

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    I think the discussion about whether or not this should have been published as Iain M Banks has been overdone.

    As an Iain Banks fan, who has still not read any Iain M Banks, I didn't mind the sci-fi element. Indeed, it's probably made me more keen than ever to venture into The Culture books.

    Have posted my thoughts overall on my blog:


  3. Joe McCrea says:

    I have read both Iain Banks and Iain M Banks novels buying them as they came out over 25 years, since I first read The Wasp Factory way back in the early 90s. He is my favourite novelist by far. I am three quarters of the way through Transition and am really enjoying it, but I think it is fair that it is labelled an Iain Banks novel and not a Iain M Banks novel. It is not pure sci fi and a lot of other Iain Banks Novels (eg Walking on Glass and The Bridge) occupy this interface between conventional and scientific worlds.

    What I WOULD say is that this is the very first time I have read an Iain Banks novel and thought its ideas were not 'novel'! Essentially, this seems to me to be a 'Many Worlds Theory' novel - and earlier this year an absolutely astounding novel came out in this genre, namely Neal Stephenson's "Anathem". For ANY Iain Banks fan., I would urge you to investigate Neal Stephenson's novels. You will love them and I am sure our universe is big enough for us all to appreciate 2 brilliant novelists operating at the height of their powers.

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