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Matter by Iain M. Banks

Matter (edition 2008)

by Iain M. Banks

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2,399622,595 (3.79)1 / 71
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (2008), Hardcover, 608 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:sf, fiction

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Matter by Iain M. Banks



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English (57)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  German (1)  All languages (62)
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
One of the bittersweet joys of a favourite author dying is the impulse to revisit them, to pay tribute by rediscovering what made them so special to you. Or even, if you’d lost touch with them a little, to fill in the holes in their work that you missed. I rediscovered the joys of Banks the winter before he died via a charity shop copy of Stonemouth and randomly picking up Transition, which had been sitting on my shelves for a couple of years. So I’ve since been on a random voyage through his back catalogue, to look for the spark plucking Use Of Weapons from a library gave me. It spoiled me a little; that it essentially ended in the middle of the story meant it deftly avoided what’s usually been Banks’ big weakness, that his books usually seem to stop rather than end.

Being a Banks SF novel this is a book of bold ideas. The big one here is the Shellworld, a world comprised of different levels with different inhabitants on each level and God at its heart. The central story begins with a regicide and the plot strands revolve around the three surviving children of the king Orestin, the prince regent who gradually becomes aware of plots against him, Fermin, the heir to the throne who witnesses his father’s death who goes offworld to seek help against the regicide tyl Loesp, and Djal, who’s become a Culture Special Circumstances agent. For much of the novel it appears that this is of paramount concern to us, tyl Loesp’s regicide and its consequences driving the actions of the main characters. This being a Culture novel though things aren’t quite so simple – if nothing else we’d probably end up with a similar book to Inversions and Banks has never been interested in going over old ground. Instead the last quarter or so of the book reveals a SF Big Dumb Object (well, being a Culture novel a Big Intelligent Object) which puts everything into galactic perspective. We might wonder initially what’s so important about a relatively primitive king on a backwater planet being overthrown . Banks, with his universe scaled sense of perspective, has us asking the wrong question. As Djal muses late on (she’s given to didactic musing) she doesn’t really matter on any grand scale. And this is where what appears to be a broken backed structure, where the last quarter of the book has entirely different concerns to the first three quarters, is actually clever. The people are mere ants. What at first appears world-consumingly important is actually insignificant in the face of world changing events. In that regard it’s very much a novel of the first decade of the 21st century, echoing 9/11. Our small, petty concerns were put into perspective by the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Banks ups the ante on that, putting events on one world into a galactic scale. The title can be seen as a question rather than a statement: how much do any of us really matter? We might not like the answer he gives us. ( )
  JonArnold | Jan 18, 2015 |
Typical culture book, meddling ships, SC interventions and clueless lower order societies. Also a typically abrupt unsatisfying ending but the journey more than makes up for it. ( )
  bhutton | Dec 9, 2014 |
This was a good sci-fi story. It took me 51 weeks to read. It was a 350 page story written into a 593 page book. I think he put too much irrelevant detail into the book. The last 150 pages were very exciting and enjoyable. ( )
  Alexandria_annex | Nov 24, 2014 |
Not my favourite Iain M Banks, but I do love his culture universe. ( )
  ub1707 | May 5, 2014 |
A story of Contact and Special Circumstances, this time from the perspective of a civilisation within Culture (the Sarl of Sursamen) but not belonging to one of the High-Level Involved species: most Sarl are unaware of (at best, vaguely aware of) the Culture and other civilizations, though they are watched carefully by them. This perspective subtly shifted through the character of Djan Seriy who left to join Contact, but remains in training even as she returns to Sursamen for a family emergency. In effect, someone familiar with both civilizations, and not wholly belonging to either.

In Banks's space opera, species stand in for individual personalities, somewhat obscuring what elsewise might be a familiar plot or interaction. Banks complicates this with court intrigue playing out at the level of individuals within some of these species, serving as the sub-plots of a typical novel. The denoument, in retrospect, is a straightforward whodunit, though by no means did I see it coming.


The intriguing idea of Shellworlds, hollow, tiered planets manufactured by an absent civilisation (and how they are adapted, fought over, and revered by other species); and collectively which comprise a network of nodes throughout a galaxy, to uncertain purpose (defense? offensive weapon?). Sursamen is a Shellworld, with civilisations on tiers or layers within the world, not always aware of the others. The Sarl are on the 8th, counting from the surface, about midway to the core at which resides a being (Xinthian) regarded by the Sarl as the World God and by the Culture as a semi-sublimed species. Shellworlds complement Banks's conception of Orbitals featured in other Culture novels, and supplemented here with the concept of the Morthanveld Nestworld, a series of strands / tubes (the "twigs" of the metaphorical nest) braided together, each filled with water so as to serve as a habitat, and created on a scale far vaster than the Shellworld: "such a scale that engineering and physics started to become the same thing". [391]

Djan Seriy's reflections on her training and exposure to Culture and its role in galactic pan-civilization: "The implication [of her exposure to 'the terrible things people could do to each other'], though, was that such ghastliness was an affliction, and could be at least partially cured. The Culture represented the hospital, or perhaps the whole caring society, Contact was the physician and SC the anaesthetic and the medicine. Sometimes the scalpel." [168-69] ( )
  elenchus | Apr 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
[...] it rapidly becomes heart-sinkingly clear that here, the particular society in which the Culture might or might not intervene is one of faux-medieval fantasy fiction. The uniquely hopeless odour of leather, horse-like animals, stale sweat and tortured syntax wafts from the pages, and there is a tedious drizzle of invented proper names. [...] The story's highly intriguing last act could perhaps have been fruitfully expanded into a greater space, and the long setup could have been compressed. Having front-loaded the novel with so much talky scene-setting, Banks might have ended up relying slightly too much on his (and our) favourite gadgets.
added by Widsith | editThe Guardian, Steven Poole (Feb 9, 2008)

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iain M. Banksprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dusoulier, PatrickTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lill, DebraCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Adèle
With thanks to everybody who helped:
Adèle, Les, Mic, Simon, Tim, Roger,
Gary, Lara and Dave le Taxi
First words
A light breeze produced a dry rattling sound from some nearby bushes.
A temple was worth a dozen barracks; a militia man carrying a gun could control a small unarmed crowd only for as long as he was present; however, a single priest could put a policeman inside the head of every one of their flock, for ever.
Djan Seriy's discomfiture was being caused by the fact that some of the Culture's more self-congratulatingly clever Minds (not in itself an underpopulated category), patently with far too much time on their platters, had come up with the shiny new theory that the Culture was not just in itself completely spiffing and marvellous and a credit to all concerned, it somehow represented a sort of climactic stage for all civilisations, or at least for all those which chose to avoid heading straight for Sublimation as soon as technologically possible (Sublimation meant your whole civilisation waved farewell to the matter-based universe pretty much altogether, opting for a sort of honorary godhood).

Avoid self-destruction, recognize -- and renounce -- money for the impoverishing ration system it really was, become a bunch of interfering, do-gooding busybodies, resist the siren call of self-promotion that was Subliming and free your conscious machines to do what they did best -- essentially, running everything -- and there you were; millenia of smug self-regard stretched before you, no matter what species you had started from.
Anaplian realised they had got rather rapidly to the point that all such conversations regarding the strategic intentions of the Culture tended to arrive at sooner or later, where it became clear that the issue boiled down to the question What Are The Minds Really Up To? This was always a good question, and it was usually only churls and determinedly diehard cynics who even bothered to point out that it rarely, if ever, arrived paired up with an equally good answer.

The normal, almost ingrained response of people at this point was to metaphorically throw their hands in the air and exclaim that if *that* was what it really all boiled down to then there was no point in even attempting to pursue the issue further because as soon as the motivations, analyses and stratagems of Minds become the defining factor in a matter, all bets were most profoundly off, for the simple reason that any and all efforts to second-guess such infinitely subtle and hideously devious devices were self-evidentally futile.

Anaplian was not so sure about this. It was her suspicion that it suited the purposes of the Minds rather too neatly that people believed this so unquestioningly. Such a reaction represented not so much the honest appraisal of further enquiry as being pointless as an unthinking rejection of the need to enquire at all.
Shoum: "As I say, news osmoses. And where news is concerned, the Culture is of a very low pressure."
Ferbin: "I fail to understand you, ma'am."
Shoum: "They tend to hear everything." [277]
Last words
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is a Culture novel by Banks-with-an-M released in 2008. "Matter" was also a working title of the "non-M" book "The Steep Approach to Garbadale", but this is not that book. Please do not combine this with Garbadale.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316005371, Paperback)

In a world renowned even within a galaxy full of wonders, a crime within a war. For one man 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, even without knowing the full truth, it means returning to a place she'd thought abandoned forever.

Only the sister is not what she once was; Djan Seriy Anaplian has changed almost beyond recognition to become an agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances section, charged with high-level interference in civilizations throughout the greater galaxy.

Concealing her new identity - and her particular set of abilities - might be a dangerous strategy, however. 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.

MATTER is a novel of dazzling wit and serious purpose. An extraordinary feat of storytelling and breathtaking invention on a grand scale, it is a tour de force from a writer who has turned science fiction on its head.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:23 -0400)

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In a distant-future, highly advanced society of seemingly unlimited technological capability, a crime is committed 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 forever. Only 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 civilizations throughout the greater galaxy. Concealing 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.… (more)

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3 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 0316005363, 1841494186, 0316005371

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