The New York Times bestselling Culture novel...
The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.
An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.
Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted - dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago.
It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous.
This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks s far-future semi-utopian society. The Gzilt, a civilization affiliated with the Culture, is only days away from leaving this reality for the Sublime, a condition of intense, hyper-real wonderfulness, when some of the Culture s self-aware spaceships catch hints that the Gzilt s decision to enter the Sublime may be based on a hoax. Vyr Cossont, a young, four-armed Gzilt musician, falls into the conflict as ships and their avatars try to figure out what s going on and then decide what to do about it, while powerful opponents attempt to stall the inquiry until time runs out. The action tumbles along at a dizzying pace, bouncing among a fascinating array of characters and locales. It s easy to see why Banks s fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites.
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While I won't take issue with this in the same way as the reviewer who apparently can't grasp the "fiction" part of science fiction, I must admit to being very disappointed by this one.
Frankly - and after his previous two Culture books this came as a surprise - it was dull to the point where I had to force myself to finish it. I almost got the feeling that the author was trying to make a point - either to show those people who complain about what have been called "female SC agent and drone" story lines, or that he got sick of people asking for books about subliming and decide to write one.
There were some interesting ideas explored, admittedly, and I can't say it was badly written in any way, I just didn't find myself particularly interested in finding out what happened next and turning the page.
Then again, I don't much like "Consider Phlebas", which many fans love most of all, and greatly enjoyed "Excession", which some have likened to reading an e-mail exchange (one which apparently prevents it from appearing in electronic form, I'm assuming), so maybe I'm just weird.
Grand Space Opera
Great space opera, one of the best in the Culture series. The overall theme is, does the truth matter, or only what people believe is true? If you have never read a Culture novel, Bank's series now covering about a thousand years in the history of a hyper advanced super society, you should start with Consider Phlebas.
If you are already familiar with the Culture this is a must read.
A solid installment in the Culture series
Based on its title, my first thought was that this might be a sequel to Banks's recentish non-Culture gas giant book whose name escapes me, but no.
Most of what I say below assumes you've read other Culture novels and like them. If not, this is not the place to start. Read:
Use of Weapons
Player of Games
The first first, the last last, and the other two in any order. (This is roughly chronological order, and the order of publication too IIRC.) These are in m opinion the best of the Culture novels and give you a pretty good idea of the setting. They also cover the general span of Culture vs. slightly inferior civ, Culture vs. lower tech, and Culture vs. higher tech (first, two middle, and last).
Banks has still not managed to produce a good book about The Culture really having to grapple with an equivalently capable civilization. This book represents, by my counting, the third such attempt.
This is the most successful attempt, thus far, at pitting The Culture against equivalent tech adversaries, the missing piece as far as I see it (we've had solid installments dealing with how the Culture runs roughshod over far inferior Civs, and its generally unsuccessful encounter with significantly superior tech in Excession, but two recent novels featuring equivalent or near equivalent Civs have been weak).
Once again, Banks delivers a new gimmicky kind of world, the Sculpt world, although the gimmick isn't terribly interesting or convincing, and it doesn't really affect the story (very much unlike the shell world in Surface detail).
Also, once again we have the virtuoso practitioner of an obscure art form (in this case a musician who has altered her body to play a ridiculous piece of music with a ridiculous instrument) as a semi-willing protagonist.
And once again, when the chips are down, the equivalent tech adversaries really aren't.
For a change, the story isn't entirely built around getting the main character from point A to B while ships do fun stuff, although there's still quite a bit of that.
And finally, Banks tackles the concept of Sublimation head-on (it's the central thread of the story) but ultimately reveals little. In the end, there's not much Banks can say about it, but the little that is said is surprisingly colorless and uninteresting.
If you like Banks, this is worth reading. If not, I've probably already put you off.