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Matter by Iain Banks

Matter (edition 2009)

by Iain Banks

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2,544652,368 (3.8)1 / 96
Authors:Iain Banks
Info:Orbit 2009
Collections:Your library
Tags:science fiction, The Culture

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Matter by Iain M. Banks (Author)



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English (59)  French (3)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (1)  German (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Banks is a wonderful fabulist who writes big space operas filled with wonder. This one is no exception. Huge worlds, huge ships and characters that sometimes seem lost in all the grandeur. The ending seems a bit abrupt, but there's an epilogue which helps a bit. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
“Matter” is a tale of political intrigue, medieval war, betrayal, injustice, and honour. Oh, and galactic scale.

It tells the tale of three siblings who have taken different paths in life and how they end up, as a result of a family tragedy, struggling for the same thing; the honour of their family name.

In telling this tale Banks has created a new concept in cosmic habitats; the Shellworld. The Shellworld is a planet (in this case, artificial) that has 16 internal levels of which 14 are habitable. I can see the more nerdy among us working out the scale of a Shellworld using the parameters provided sporadically throughout the text; each level 1,400km high, 2million towers on each of the 14 habitable levels to support the level above. (Ok! Yes! I did start thinking about sketching out a Shellworld cut-away diagram and estimating the size of the Shellworld. Problem was, I didn’t spot an estimate for the thickness of the ceilings/floors, and there was nothing relating to the density of the material to assist in the calculation of the gravitational strength on each level.)

The Shellworld is likely to generate as much interest as Niven’s Ring World and Shaw’s Orbitsville. Of course, Bank’s Shellworld is much more stable.

Enough of the “nerdy” techno-babble.

The Shellworld is simply one element of “Matter”, and is merely a backdrop to the story, albeit pretty crucial to the ultimate dénouement.

“Matter” takes one of the siblings on a journey of self-discovery involving his being snatched unexpectedly from his privileged lifestyle to a life where he can trust no-one, he is powerless to shape his own destiny, and where he has become a figure of shame.

His brother is unwittingly entrapped and experiences his own growing moments that force him to mature in ways he had not expected.

The third sibling, Djan Seriy Anaplian, has travelled far away as part of, if you would excuse the pun, a cultural exchange. She has been away from her Shellworld home for fifteen years when word reaches her of the family tragedy that is central to the entire book.

As in every IMB novel, there are wonderful alien life forms. Iain has shown great imagination in developing their physiology, environment and technology. In a number of his other novels the aliens have portrayed strongly human personalities, but in “Matter” many of them are very alien. Having said that however, “Matter” is one of Iain’s most human Culture novels.

Other topics dealt with in the book are the morality of killing other people, the sense of matrimonial entrapment, and the whole concept of religion and its role as a useful tool in controlling the populace.

Iain’s ending to “Matter” was somewhat different from what I had expected, but interesting nonetheless, and, as so often is the case in Culture novels, on a grand scale.

On several occasions I have seen Iain say that he has tried, but not succeeded at writing a powerfully political novel. While “Matter” is not powerfully political, it does have many parallels with current world affairs and the role of technologically advanced civilisations involved in warfare with less advanced civilisations.

This was one of those books I was really sorry to finish. I relished the opportunities to sit down and surround myself with the universe Iain had created. It was a real joy. ( )
1 vote pgmcc | Jun 17, 2015 |
A complex tale best described as an intricate game of three-dimensional chess, narrated by two pawns and a rook, which is turned upside down when a non-player knocks the board over.

Mind-boggling world-building as expected from Banks and some moments of highly entertaining faux-Shakespearean farce, but the novel suffers from poor pacing and little character development, although there are at least sympathetic characters in play. Better than I remembered from my first reading, but still far from a favourite Culture novel. ( )
1 vote imyril | Jun 3, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (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 (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brandhorst, AndreasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dusoulier, PatrickTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
García Martínez, MartaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lill, DebraCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Longworth, TobyNarratorsecondary 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]
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:04 -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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