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This is one of those horribly complicated books that is simultaneously strong and weak in the same exact areas at the same time groan I mean, it starts off strongly with fantasy type trials and tribulations in the empire, a king dying and his son being supplanted by the king s best friend, taking over the kingdom Pretty standard but then the whole other part of this novel is chock full of purely wonderful heavy SF ideas that isn t entirely obvious at first but then becomes an infodump masterpiece of oddness and wonder and a world that really belongs as a movie just because the visual elements are completely amazing.The world Oh my lord, the world Layers and layers and layers with ancient species and high tech and even ascended species These humans are only on some outer layer The infodumping doesn t do it justice Just wow Plus there s also different factions of the Culture, Special Circumstances against the rest, and no one seems to agree how to deal with people And then there s the rogue Culture fragments that may or may not be in with the actual culture either side , and the sister of the poor deposed kingling decided to quit Special Circumstances to help him out.Everything else just devolves into a huge technothriller with huge stakes and ships and some really amazing descriptions and adventure.So why am I only giving this a 4 star Because while the ideas are amazing and this author is known for his wonderful characters and his ability with traditional fiction, too, the character s names are too difficult and the ideas are too info dumpy rather than a flowing masterpiece.And to be entirely fair, I don t know how he could have done it better except by turning this novel into something much longer and gentle So it feels flawed and utterly brilliant at the same time Which is a shame I really want to LOVE this novel, not just appreciate it to death Which I do Hell, I want to kind of worship it, but I can t quite LOVE it How frustrating.I ll keep going For straight ideas, Banks is one of those grand masters of SF His characters, for their flaws, are still some of the most richly imagined The plots are usually mind blowing.And if he could ever keep it all flowing and working together right without tripping over each other, I might start worshipping the man as a god. Matter starts out with some baroque steampunk fantasia with grim political dealings that reminds me of Jack Vance, George R.R Martin, and Mervyn Peake Than it switches to a wide screen galactic romp and winds ups as a apocalyptic high tech thriller withthan couple elements from Alastair Reynold s Revelation Space There is three pronged story moving through these stages involving three siblings The relation between Ferbin and his servant Holse is filled with odd couple comedy like Cervantes or Wodehouse, Djan travels home through morphing political climate, and Oramen has a fight for survival ripe with bitter irony The book is tragic and funny in equal strides and quite dark and violent with action scenes that manage to be tense and absurd at the same time The eerie scenes on the planet Bulthmass are one of many highlights But, really there a lot as can t quite remember having this much fun reading a book in awhile, as it is that mix of serious and entertaining I love With recognizable allusions and similarities to Hamlet, Revelation Space, Song of Fire and Ice, Vance s Dragon Masters, Lovecraft, Dr Who, and Douglas Adams, it might seem that this is a hodge podge but it felt cohesive with great characters, self referential wit, brutality, and astounding imagination This may not be a better novel, than say, Use of Weapons but I think it might befun. Swirling patterns Weird, vaguely familiar, futuristic music Is it the Doctor Who theme tune Slowly the camera pulls back to show the title Celebrity Death Match Special Blackadder versus The Culture and we realize it s an unusual setting of the Blackadder song.Dissolve to ROWAN ATKINSON and HUGH LAURIE, who looks rather unhappy ATKINSON Is everything alright, sir LAURIE Oh yes, rather, absolutely spiffing, top hole, couldn t be better Except for one little thing.ATKINSON And that is LAURIE Well, I made a rather foolish bet with a chap named Iain Banks I m afraid I lost, so I need to write him a full length science fiction novel by tomorrow Otherwise I m going to be dropped in a block of concrete and buried for the next twenty million years.ATKINSON Dear me, how very unfortunate Please accept my commis LAURIE So you think you might be able to take care of it ATKINSON To be honest, there are certain technical LAURIE Excellent, excellent, I knew I could count on you Well, I m just off to dinner at my club I ll drop by and collect it later onExit LAURIE Enter TONY ROBINSON as BALDRICK ROBINSON I couldn t elp overhearing that.ATKINSON Baldrick, what are we going to do ROBINSON I ave a cunning plan.ATKINSON I might have guessed.ROBINSON No, really sir, it s very cunning I took this collection of old novels by Mr Banks, and I fed them into this computer, and I told it to cut them up and make us a new one.ATKINSON Baldrick, don t be ridiculous You can t just create a novel by cutting and pasting old ones You need characters ROBINSON I know sir I ve put in plenty of characters Me and is Ighness to start with.ATKINSON Baldrick, do you and His Imbecility look like characters from a science fiction novel ROBINSON Well sir, we could come from a backward planet ATKINSON Anyway, two characters aren t enough.ROBINSON I agree sir I also added Mr Shakespeare s Amlet ATKINSON Hamlet ROBINSON And Miss Lara Croft.ATKINSON Lara Croft ROBINSON From the video game sir Very fetching young lady Well proportioned.ATKINSON Are there aliens ROBINSON Yes sir More aliens than you could shake a stick at I ve thought of everything Ere, ave a lookHe hands over a large pile of paper ATKINSON flicks through it ATKINSON Hm Well, it s nice and thick.ROBINSON Thank you sir 593 pages.ATKINSON We might just get away with this.ROBINSON I was hoping so sir.ATKINSON You did put in an endingPause ROBINSON Ah, well, sort of sir In a manner of speakingATKINSON turns to the end and looks up, appalled ATKINSON You have scrawled in pencil, Then they killed the bad alien and Baldrick lived happily ever after ROBINSON I m sorry sir The printer broke downATKINSON is just about to start hitting him when LAURIE enters and sees the manuscript LAURIE Already finished Marvellous, Blackadder, marvellous I must say, I just don t know what I d do without you.ATKINSON I don t either sirEnd credits, music Match point Blackadder This is a book I really wanted to like, and failed I like Iain M Banks style, I like his willingness to run risks, to give you the whole punch And in this book, he barely delivers.The book are 500 pages of set up, and forty pages of resolution, and not a very satisfying one.Too many characters doing not very interesting things in utmost detail, and then the interesting parts are just glossed over Add wooden and not very new in his books characters, when part of his magic is making great inhuman characters This time even the humans are flat.The only real interest are a few imaginary locations, which are well thought and well presented But that s it, nice locations, a quite straightforward plot advancing at a glacial pace during the set up.I want to emphasize the glossing over Here we lose the high adrenaline space opera descriptions, the witty banter, the powerful messages, the moral dilemmas They are potentially there, they just are not in the text And knowing the villain may be feeling a certain unease is not a moral quandary.It is probably the Banks book I have spenttime reading, and that is a bad thing I think I will reread Use of Weapons, that explores many of the same areas much better. Another superb Culture story, and in fact one of the finest Banks usual themes of galactic inter civilization intrigue, war, the dilemma of interference non interference in alien civilizations, etc are on display, and as usual we mostly observe the Culture from the outside looking in This story adds the perspective of a technologically underdeveloped civilization and introduces the fascinating concept of Shell worlds enormous, ancient and artificially constructed planets which are essentially huge nested spheres, with enigmatic origins, each containing a multitude of species and civilizations Banks creativity is on full display, with a panoply of never before described alien species, technologies and galactic politics and history.Highly recommended For Culture newbies, note that these books can be read in any order Rather like Ursula K Le Guin s Hainish cycle, the Culture is a shared universe, rather than a series of connected stories that should be read in a particular order.Having now read all but one of the Culture novels, my ranking of the series, best to worst would be Player of GamesSurface DetailsMatterExcessionThe Hydrogen SonataLook to WindwardUse of WeaponsConsider PhlebasWith the exception of Consider Phlebas, which I consider very good, I would classify all the others as great, with there not being much appreciable difference in the greatness from the top to the bottom of the list. The 8th book in The Culture series i.e Matter was a big let down for me, because it had pretty interesting ideas like Shell word and Nest world but Banks spends so much time exploring those ideas, and giving you info dumps regarding those ideas that the story of the book takes a back seat in the whole book Also he uses a lot of complex names for his characters which after some time becomes quite irritating as you do not have index on audio book to remember all the characters.Some of the strong points of the book are1 Shell world2 Different species involved.3 A decent plot.Some of the weak points of the book are 1 Main plot goes for a toss.2 Too many characters with complex names.Let me elaborate on the above strong points 1 Shell worldThis is really an interesting concept where we have a group of planets whose core basically consists of different layers Now each layer is a world in itself and is inhabited by different species Also each layer has its own star and set of mountains, rivers and species These layers throughout the core of the planet are supported by huge towers through which you can move from one layer to another Also these planets were built by species who have long ago sublimed, so we do not get any info regarding their purpose At the core of the shell worlds there are believed to be dirigible behemothaur present, who are worshipped by the species on the shell world to be a world god We last encountered them in the book Look to windward.2 Different species involved.Once such shell world is the Surasmen where most of our story takes place, it is inhabited by interesting mix of species Some of the species on this world are 1 SarlThey are humanoid species who live on the 8th level of Surasmen and they have been involved in a war with another humanoid species known as Deldine for a long time.2 OctThey are the species who consider the builders of the shell worlds to be their ancestors, they are shown to be technologicallyadvanced than the Sarl and are the governing species of Sarl They are also shown to be searching something on the 9th level of the shell world.3 Nariscene They are governing species of Oct and they keep themselves aloof from any happenings which are going below their levels on Surasmen, they have a theory that species should be allowed to evolve naturally and so do not interfere in any matters.4 MorthanveldThey are governors of the planet Surasmen and are on par with Culture regarding the technological progress They are water species and live on super structures of Nest world.This is a mix of species which we get in the book, it makes a fascinating read to see how the species interact with each other politically, like the Oct seem to involve themselves in all situations which profit them while the ones like Nariscene and Morthanveld tend to remain aloof.3 A decent plot.The book starts when the Sarl are in the middle of the war and prince Fabrian sees something which will make him flee to his sister Djan Seriy Anaplian in the culture Meanwhile his brother Prince Oramen rules as puppet king with regent Tyl Loesp in complete control The plot mostly consists of Fabrian travelling with his companion servant Chubris Holse to different planets and ships in search of his sister.Let me now elaborate on the weak points of the book1 Main plot goes for a toss.As you can see from the above strong points I have written much about the different places and species present in the book without giving much into the plot of the book, this by far is the biggest issue of the book because Banks makes his characters travel so much in the book that he has to give info dumps regarding their surroundings or the different culture ships they are travelling on that the main plot takes a back seat throughout the book and keeps popping up in the middle due to which you quickly start losing your interest.2 Too many characters with complex names.Although in previous books Banks has used lot of complex names but in this book the no of species involved is quite large due to which it becomes very difficult to remember each and every character when doing this book on the audio.Considering the above points it is a weak Culture book, and I give it 3 5 stars. I d go as far as saying that this is the 3rd best novel in the series so far, after The Player of Games and Use of Weapons in that order I was blown away by the quality of the story, the interesting and well developed characters, and the sheer scale of the novel Four stars, highly recommended but if you haven t read Culture novels before, I recommend just starting at the beginning Consider Phlebas is still the weakest novel in the series, but it is the first one and sort of a rite of passage After that, it s nothing but excellence If you re into science fiction at all, these are must reads. *DOWNLOAD BOOK ✙ Matter ☠ In A World Renowned Within A Galaxy Full Of Wonders, A Crime Within A War For One Brother It Means A Desperate Flight, And A Search For The One Maybe Two People Who Could Clear His Name For His Brother It Means A Life Lived Under Constant Threat Of Treachery And Murder And For Their Sister, It Means Returning To A Place She D Thought Abandoned ForeverOnly The Sister Is Not What She Once Was Djan Seriy Anaplian Has Become An Agent Of The Culture S Special Circumstances Section, Charged With High Level Interference In Civilisations Throughout The Greater GalaxyConcealing Her New Identity And Her Particular Set Of Abilities Might Be A Dangerous Strategy In The World To Which Anaplian Returns, Nothing Is Quite As It Seems And Determining The Appropriate Level Of Interference In Someone Else S War Is Never A Simple Matter Where sprawling becomes a bad kind of sprawling, like, sprawling in the street after passing out from a night on the razz, only with less sodium lights anddragon type creatures floating around your mind, no wait, floating around your mind in a concentric kind of world within a world complete with medieval peasant types, futuristic warrior types and fey castle kingdoms, and flying dragon type things and WAR always WAR Yaargh but sprawling in that needy grasping way that only that some sprawlers supine and almost contrite with their imposition upon you can sprawl, like, suffocatinga hand grabbing your trouser cuff, an old friend you try and shake off because he s not who you knew, the whole affair leaving a bit of a Bad Taste, reluctance to treat with the chap any , butdamnit he s a mate can t give up on him because of one little public indiscretion.So Matter SPOILERS So Matter Requisite Final Fantasy 7 ultimate boss fight at the end, requisite everyone dies at the end complete with heroic WW2 esque I m going in self sacrifice elements complete with King Lear ish fratricidal brothers but minus the dramatic dignity of good old Shakes, plus flying dragon things and chase elements from flying dragon type things I think as well as dragon things, this also had aliens made from gas, insectoid aliens maybe next Banks we ll get aliens made from aliens, aliens made from toilet paper if it still exists in the what the f year is it anyway century The Culture is set in the usual intelligent ships, aliens that hate each other, a smidge of espionage and bad girl made good too Fun for all the family, right No, not quite right See, I like old Banks I know we can t have Consider Phlebas again, but lately Banks has fallen prey to inflation Not of ego, or wallet or um spacetime all of the above may be true but of plot and idea Knowing he needs to write for the fans, he chucks everything and the kitchen sink in It s gone all Stargate SG1, where they started to have, like SG team 18 and SG Atlantis and pyramids flying round space and by the 5th series it was just nuts, and I hated it, so much so that I can t recall anything much about the later series than the big pyramid things in space, and Amanda Tapping being kind of a babe They made 214 episodes, says Wikipedia 214 This book reads like an episode about 198, where its like nothing the first series ever was because its so bloated and full of wanky shit, shineys to make you think woooo not seen that before Gone are the simple geodesics, the shortest distance between drama and event Gone are the slick and screamingly awesome passages that helped Phlebas blow apart British sci fi in the 80s Gone is the majestic urgent voice of a writer who deliberately tries to dazzle Now instead of the slick legerdemain of early Banks we have an older paunchier prose, the patter of it not quite fitting the trick it tries to pull We have little castle kingdoms, forced dramatic irony of aliens looking down on said castle kingdom world, aliens made from gas and all that, witty spaceships, The Culture looking down on the gas aliens looking down on the world looking down on the peasants and c Maybe the gas aliens were big water beings I forget I just recall they needed environment suits or portable ecosystems Here Banks grasps, convolutes, invoulutes himself into chains of story that are coiled not so much double helix, compact, elegant, efficient, composed of elegant building blocks encoding information, building a neat, stable whole but laid before us well, in aspaghetti like melange if you tug hard enough, a strand leads to a strand, but some just terminate, all loose ended, like Matter is all detail and no substance, it tries the dazzle, tries to pass of substance by showing of simple abundance of material but the misdirection misfires,the patter runs out of steam, we re left knowing the trick and the trickster too well to be taken in IN FOURTEEN WORDS Maximalist Banks, good for a few days amusement, but by far not his best. There is an interview at the back of this book in which Banks says he was thinking of giving up writing SF but he set himself the task of creating a completely new context for a novel The Algebraist, Banks best novel for years resulted.With Matter Banks returns to the Culture and that is a mistake Every worthwhile idea relating to the Culture has been expounded multiple times already there has been no need for a new Culture novel since Use of Weapons and the quality of them has been deteriorating ever since It seems likely that Use of Weapons will be the best book Banks writes in any genre, ever This means that when we are exposed to yet another rehearsal of the arguments for and against interventionist politics, it is just boring Banks fans could present both sides of the argument without having to think by now Some of the characters are also Banks cliches and all of the main characters spend considerable time merely travelling from one place to another before they can meet up for a climax that is too short and unfortunately predictable, at least in general outline.Once again the book is too long for its own story if ruthlessly pared down to half its length it might move fast enough not to lose the interest of its readers This affliction is so widespread amongst contemporary authors that one must suspect that the publishers editors must find it somehow desirable.One aspect of the book, is superior to The Algebraist, at least there is very little reliance on crude jokes to bulk up the story, which is about all that the middle part of the Algebraist consists of.Is Banks a spent force It seems the man who shook up hard SF and made it a powerful force again may have been overtaken by newcomers to the genre.