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Transition by Iain M. Banks


by Iain M. Banks

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1,521577,440 (3.59)52



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Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)

Although the book has a veneer of science fiction – using many-world science as a starting point – there’s actually zero consistent science in the book. The mind-body problem is just sidestepped – a bit like in Altered Carbon – and used inconsistently to be able to do something gimmicky with OCD and with polyglotism. In this sense, Transition is like a 21st century version of all that laughable telepathy focused scifi of the 50ies and 60ies.

Similarly, there’s a veneer of deep thought and philosophy: solipsism gets some pages, but it’s simply not that interesting – maybe if you're 15 it is. It’s all painting by numbers. Let’s try this insightful passage as an example:

"He did recall, despite the pulsings of such concentrated extended pleasure, that there were people who existed in a state of perpetual sexual arousel, coming to orgasm continually, through the most trivial, ordinary and frequent physical triggers and experiences. It sounded like utter bliss, the sort of thing drunk friends roared with envious laughter over towards the end of an evening, but the unfunny truth was that, in its most acute form, it was a severe and debilitating medical condition. The final proof that it was so was that many people who suffered from it took their own lives. Bliss – pure physical rapture – could become absolutely unbearable."


Themes are typical hedonist Banks: lots of sex, some drugs. He opens the book explicitly by embedding the setting between the fall of the Berlin wall, 9/11 and the 2008 economic crisis. That seems promising at the first, as Banks does it with quite some aplomb, but sadly none of the political stuff is explored – except for some asides about torture (in an interview he said to have Guantanamo in mind) and a few rants against capitalism. There’s also the typical stuff about those that have superpowers and try to influence reality for the better, and that power corrupting… you’ve read it all before.


After all these negatives, let me backtrack a bit: this is an okay book.


Full review on Weighing A Pig ( )
  bormgans | Jun 3, 2019 |
Transition takes an Inception-y hopscotch across concepts like Torture, Greed and Faith before pogo-ing itself back to the base of Borges' Aleph. There were a pair of action sequences which didn't contribute much but otherwise the novel was a philosophical rumination beyond the looking glass. Transition is a curious approach and an enjoyable means to idle away an afternoon. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
An interesting idea made totally unremarkable. Two weeks after reading this book I can barely remember it. ( )
  hatpin | Jun 17, 2018 |
I've been dragging my heels over this review. The first Banks I've actively disliked. I know he ventured into dark, creepy, violent stuff and I have avoided that part of his oeuvre. Supposedly this book is connected with his greater sf "culture" works, but there was no evidence of it. Here, there is a multi-verse situation and a group, called the Concern, that can travel between these different worlds -- all our Earth -- and who have taken it upon themselves to monitor and eliminate the people who they deem to be likely to harm "progress" toward peaceful and rational societies, manipulate behind the scenes. A pill enables this travel, but the Central Committee has been exploring other possibilities and ways not only to travel but to monitor their own agents. The theme is power and the inevitability of the desire to retain power to corrupt even the best of intentions. Also, the naivete of the many to the manipulations of the few. The ever present tendency of all of us to be solipsistic (pathologically self-oriented, in a nutshell) is also explored. (It can't happen to me!). That all sounds rather intriguing, sort of. But it plays out in a way that smacks of a boyish sort of fantasy (talking philosophy with some gorgeous dame in a hot tub while she strokes your, ahem, with her feet? Are you kidding me? Take note fellas, not workable.) The ultimate geeky fantasy??? Anyway, didn't float my boat. I read it through out of respect for Banks and, because it was Banks, there were some moments. But I never once even cracked a smile. Only for hard core Banksians, I'd say. Three stars is kindly. *** ( )
1 vote sibyx | Feb 8, 2018 |
A good, solid Banks book - not one of his classics, perhaps, but a superbly paced thriller that handles both the different skeins of narration and the twists and turns of plot deftly. The novel is a contemplation of solipsism, and of the responsibilities and insulations of power, with a lovely mirror held up to the War on Terror and a quick diversion into financial ethics.

For me, all Banks' great books fall into his SF works, and in some ways this "cross-over" allows him to flex some of those same allegorical muscles here (although he has done so before, with the Bridge and Walking on Glass), and this is definitely in the high end of his non-M books. ( )
  Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (next | show all)
In the end, for better or worse, this is a novel held together by its author’s moral vision. Transition may boast a postmodern plethora of worlds, but it offers a single old-fashioned world-view which all this random rattling about paradoxically reveals... This is a thriller with a conscience, decent and timely, even if, amid all the blood and thunder, it sounds what can seem an incongruously still small voice.
Despite being published without the M in the author’s name - except in the US - this Iain Banks novel features parallel worlds, and flitting between them, and has as a plot point the existence or not of alien intelligences somewhere out there. As such it can scarcely be described as mainstream. But then early Iain “no M” Banks offerings (Walking On Glass, The Bridge, Canal Dreams) were suffused with SFness and/or sensibility (The Wasp Factory.)

Transition does, though, signal its literariness from the outset – its strapline is “based on a false story” and the first words of its prologue are, “Apparently I am what is known as an unreliable narrator.” There is, too, a high degree of characterisation throughout even though, with the aid of a drug known as septus, most of its main characters can flit from one body to another. In typical Banksian fashion there is a shadowy organisation - here known as l’Expédience, or the Concern (which last is a pun) based on a world unusually known as Calbefraques rather than Earth - in charge of the use and distribution of septus and of recruitment to and training for the transition process.

I did notice that while at one point it is said that there has to be a recipient body for transitioning to take place - the one left behind has only rudimentary function as a husk - later transitions to uninhabited worlds do take place without added explanation.

The narrative is divided between various viewpoint personalities, Patient 8262, who is in hiding in a hospital in a country where the local language is not his own, The Transitionary, who may be an earlier incarnation of Patient 8262, Adrian, a former drug dealer turned hedge fund manager, Madame d’Ortolan, foremost member of the Concern’s ruling council, The Philosopher, a legal torturer, and occasional others. The Transitionary’s is a first person present tense narrative, others are past tense, sometimes first, sometimes third person. The most intriguing character is the rather prosaically named Mrs Mulverhill – who is not married, merely likes the name.

In the sort of inversion beloved of SF authors one of the parallel worlds has a set of Christian fanatics pitted against the state and indulging in suicide bombings and the like. The scenario gives Banks the opportunity to riff on how proportionate a response society ought to have to terrorism and on the (in)efficacy of torture. One of his characters also skewers “the invisible hand.”

Devotees of Iain M Banks will probably find this a treat. Followers of his M-less namesake ought also to find enough in it to satisfy them.
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For Alastair and Emily, and in memory of Bec
With thanks to Adèle, Mic, Richard, Les, Gary and Zoe
First words
Apparently I am what is known as an Unreliable Narrator, though of course if you believe everything you're told you deserve whatever you get. (Prologue)
I think I have been very clever in doing what I have done, in landing myself where I am.
This is how it ends: he comes into my room. (Epilogue)
But of course she was not a racist. To the contrary, as she could point out, in appropriate company (that would be to say, highly limited and avowedly discreet company), had she not tasted of what she thought of as the Dark Pleasures, with blacks, on more than one occasion? The epitome of such enjoyment was, for her, to be taken anally by such a Nubian brute. Privately, she thought of this act as "going to Sèvres-Babylone," as this was the deepest, darkest, and most excitingly, enticingly dangerous Métro station that she knew of.
Paris has changed once more. There is a canal through the breadth of the Ile St Louis, the street is full of gaily dressed hussars on clopping, head-tossing horses being politely applauded by a few passers-by who have stopped to watch and everything smells of steam. I look up, hoping for airships. I always like it when there are airships, but I can't see any.
And don't forget Goldman's Law: nobody knows anything. Nobody knows what will work. That's why they make so many remakes and Part Twos; what looks like lack of imagination is really down to too much, as execs visualise all the things that could go wrong with a brand new, untested idea. Going with something containing elements that definitely worked in the past removes some of the terrifying uncertainty.
We live in an infinity of infinities, and we reshape our lives with every passing thought and each unconscious action, threading an ever-changing course through the myriad possibilities of existence.
Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316071986, Hardcover)

There is a world that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, between the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, frozen in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse. Such a world requires a firm hand and a guiding light. But does it need the Concern: an all-powerful organization with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers?

Among those operatives are Temudjin Oh, of mysterious Mongolian origins, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice under snow; Adrian Cubbish, a restlessly greedy City trader; and a nameless, faceless state-sponsored torturer known only as the Philosopher, who moves between time zones with sinister ease. Then there are those who question the Concern: the bandit queen Mrs. Mulverhill, roaming the worlds recruiting rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, under sedation and feigning madness in a forgotten hospital ward, in hiding from a dirty past.

There is a world that needs help; but whether it needs the Concern is a different matter.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:49 -0400)

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Sharing nothing in common except links to an organization committed to protecting the world from itself, an assembly of dubious characters including a torturer, a reluctant assassin, and an amnesiac patient confront challenges beyond their imagining.

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Orbit Books

2 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 0316071986, 0316071994

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