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Excession by Iain M. Banks

Excession (original 1996; edition 1996)

by Iain M. Banks

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3,341581,626 (4.03)1 / 111
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (1996), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Tags:science fiction, first edition, the culture, derleth shortlisted, Kurd Laßwitz Preis, BSFA Award winner

Work details

Excession by Iain M. Banks (1996)

  1. 30
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (elenchus)
    elenchus: Banks also introduces the "out of context" problem central to Anathem, but in a wildly different plot, and universe. Banks is less ontology and more space opera, but I found both books very entertaining, and both Stephenson and Banks sensitive to political questions raised by their respective plots.… (more)

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English (54)  French (2)  Italian (2)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
I made the mistake of reading the first half in 15 minute increments, then leaving it for a couple of months before reading the rest. Given that the story involves dozens (human and AI) characters, many of whom have secret agendas, this sporadic reading meant that I'm sure some reveals at the end went by totally unnoticed. Still, this seems like what I expected a novel in the Culture series to be like, particularly the ship Minds being protagonists. Not entirely satisfied with the ending, but totally worth the time. ( )
  crop | Sep 3, 2015 |
What happens when a civilization as advanced as The Culture meets an object that makes it look like neanderthals? This is one of the admittedly many premises crammed into this very complex novel. A completely unreadable sphere, hundreds of times older than the universe itself, mysteriously appears. Is it a threat? Something to exploit? Any attempts by the culture and other civilizations to explore it end futilely. At the same time, a brutal group known as the Affront, almost as advanced as the culture, want to control it for themselves, and when they see an easy way to take advantage of the culture, they pounce, leading to war. In the midst of all these galactic conflicts are smaller stories. A seemingly dotty gigantic ship called The Sleeper Service seems obsessed by its one damaged, constantly pregnant inhabitant. Can it heal her mind? Why, when it usually manages 400 million people, and can control 80,000 other ships, should it care?

It's almost impossible to succinctly summarise the plot here, because it is vast and intricate. Moreover, there is a plethora of characters. Somewhat unusually for Culture novels, most of the characters are artificial minds, rather than humanoids. At times, this insight into the lives of these super-fast, super-intelligent, though also surprisingly human-like AIs is fascinating. As usual with Banks, the reader can feel pleasantly bombarded with so many technological and moral questions that the novel feels incredibly rich. But for me at least, I also occasionally felt weighed down by this feature, by the frequent and expansive digressions to discuss some non essential point about the culture world. So the novel was at times slow. But as usual with Banks, you can easily forgive him this feature because of the many ideas he throws up.

Perhaps not a Culture novel to start with or the first one I'd recommend, but definitely a great novel to add richness and variety to the culture world. ( )
  RachDan | Aug 20, 2015 |
This is book that is mostly about the ship minds of the cultures - humans do not play a large part of this book. It took me a few months to get through this book - it is dense, with a lot of characters some who kept getting lost in the background. I kept having to to previous pages to figure out what was happening.

The story itself is quite good - large intricate plots, with many different intentions of the characters. The Excession itself is a mystery, a McGuffin. It only really serves a purpose of moving the plot along. As the different groups make their play (From old ancient warships to jilted lovers), Author Banks manages to make all of these different characters interesting, plausible, and entertaining. Highly recommended book. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Nov 1, 2014 |
Good-old-fashioned space opera. ( )
  MikeRhode | Sep 26, 2014 |
I first read Excession when it was first published in 1996. Thinking back to that first read I remember thinking it was, “OK!” In the intervening years I have matured and my reread has revealed more meaning in the book than I originally observed. (No big surprise there.)

My original impression of Iain’s Science Fiction books as I read them when the came out was that they were primarily a good yarn, always had a sex scene, and somewhere along the way the reader would find a small bit of political commentary. I know Iain always wanted to write books with a political message but he said at one stage that he was never happy that he succeeded on this point. My rereading of Excession and Consider Phlebas with my more mature eye tells me that he was more successful than his comments would suggest and than I had initially discerned.

The plot in Excession is almost irrelevant. It is simply there as a structure on which to hang observations of human and political behaviour that are relevant for any age. It creates the scenarios that enable the author to point out certain political stances and actions. The first such commentary I noted was on page 294 in which Iain humorously presents the all too common position of, “Might is right!” albeit presented with all due politeness and civility. In the extract below the commander of a force taking over an orbital is laying down the law to the inhabitants who are now his prisoners. War had only been declared between the two factions a few hours before this episode. The commander and his invading force had arrived at the orbital the previous night as guests and had been treated to a reception party.

‘…”This is not an academic debate or some common room word-game. You are prisoners and hostages and all your lives are forfeit. The sooner you understand the realities of the situation, the better. I know as well as you that you are in no way in charge of the Orbital, but certain formalities have to be observed, regardless of their practical irrelevance. I consider that duty has now been discharged and frankly that’s all that matters, because I have the anti-matter warheads; and you don’t.” It drew quickly away, sucking a cool breeze behind it. It stopped just before the windows again. “Lastly,” it said, “I am sorry to have disturbed you. I thank you personally and on behalf of my crew for the reception party. It was most enjoyable.” ‘>/i>

The commander is basically saying, “Might is right. I have the big, dangerous weapons so you had better do what I say.”

Also, the comment, “…certain formalities have to be observed, regardless of their practical irrelevance. I consider that duty has now been discharged…” is a direct reference to the typically civil service approach of, “I did everything I was supposed to do…and that’s that…even if everything I did is obviously irrelevant and a total waste of time.”

The parting comments reminded me of George Orwell’s essay, The Lion and the Unicorn, which he wrote during WWII.

"As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life."
--from "[The Lion and the Unicorn] (1941), Part I: England Your England"

It is the ultimate, “Do not take this personal. It is only business: nothing personal.”

On the very next page he goes on to state that when one admires the beauty and efficiency of a weapon that such admiration can only really be an admiration of the effect of such a device on others and is therefore a tragedy. Iain, of course, says this in a much more eloquent fashion but I do not intend typing out the entire book.

On page 309 the author speaks about special circumstances justifying setting aside civilian considerations. Do we not see that very often today?

Reflecting on the effect of one word on an individual, Iain prompts the reader to be mindful of how hurtful words can be, even if spoken, or possibly especially if spoken, unintentionally.

The final point I noted in Excession was a section in which a mind points out to an individual that all authorities, no matter how benevolent, are going to sacrifice individuals or use strong-arm tactics, when things get tough. I have seen this so often at company level, local government level, government level, and regional level.

Taking lessons from the plot, political machinations are happening all the time and their outward form never reveals their true nature or intent.

My reread of Excession gave me so much more than my original read I am more intent than ever to continue rereading Iain’s books.

[Excession] brought to mind two of my favourite quotes:

The best way to tell the truth is to write fiction.

Science Fiction is not about the future. It is about the present.

I have no idea who said the above quotes but whoever it was they were speaking the truth. ( )
  pgmcc | Aug 26, 2014 |
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Iain M. Banksprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553575376, Mass Market Paperback)

It's not easy to disturb a mega-utopia as vast as the one Iain M. Banks has created in his popular Culture series, where life is devoted to fun and ultra-high-tech is de rigueur. But more than two millennia ago the appearance--and disappearance--of a star older than the universe caused quite a stir. Now the mystery is back, and the key to solving it lies in the mind of the person who witnessed the first disturbance 2,500 years ago. But she's dead, and getting her to cooperate may not be altogether easy.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:05 -0400)

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Diplomat Byr Genar-Hofoen is swept into a vast conspiracy that could lead the universe to the brink of annihilation when he is selected to investigate the disappearance of an ancient star.

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