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Transition by Iain Banks

Transition (edition 2009)

by Iain Banks

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1,297476,042 (3.64)47
Authors:Iain Banks
Info:Abacus, Paperback
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Transition by Iain M. Banks



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I'm sorry to say that this late Iain Banks work didn't really grab me. The idea of people with access to different parallel universes trying to pull off politically convenient changes to their timeline is not original to him, and has been done better by others (most recently in The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August). A lot of the characters are simply nasty without the redeeming virtues of depth or reflecting our own lived reality. One of my favourite writers, but really not one of my favourite books of his. ( )
  nwhyte | Sep 12, 2015 |
The best thing I can say about this book is that the narrator for the audio book was great. The second best thing I can say about it is that the writing was smooth and smart.

Unfortunately those things don't necessarily make for a great story or characters. I kept hoping this was going to go somewhere but it really didn't, unless you count the last chapter which was actually a little exciting. The rest of was just wandering aimlessly. It was like spy vs spy vs spy but with no clear cut definition of who was working for who or who anyone really was.

So if I had read this instead of listened to it, it would probably be getting one star instead of two and I probably wouldn't have finished it.

I've read and loved a couple Banks novels but the last three (Player of Games, The Bridge, and this one) have been pretty flat for me, this one being the worst of three. So I'm not sure I can hold out waiting for another The Wasp Factory or Against a Dark Background. ( )
  ragwaine | May 16, 2015 |
This book was released under both Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks author names. I agree that it doesn't fit into 'normal' or science fiction categorioes. I persisted in reading it in the hope that it woukd suddenly come together or make sense but I was disappointed. Should have given up after the first couple of chapters as it actually got worse rather than better. Not quite as bad as Whit but very near. This is from someone who rates some of Iain Banks books (Espedair Street, The Wasp Factory) as among the best I've ever read - and Whit among the worst! ( )
  PaddySheridan | Mar 8, 2015 |
The Concern engage in philanthropic activities spanning the whole of the multiverse, or so they would claim to their own people, using the powers of those capable of Transitioning between the many worlds to bring order out of chaos. Like some sort of dimensional Robin Hood affair, they put the bad to rest while supporting the good, steal from the evil to give to the just. However, looking under the surface, it would appear that the Concern might not be quite what it seems. The Council in charge have been in power for a long time and seem intent on making a long time even longer. Agents of the Concern sent to different worlds to make subtle adjustments to events or simply kill those who might turn a reality into something horrific, find evidence that the Concern might be engaging in extracurricular activity that no longer fits the template of acting to make things better. Someone on the Council has plans...

Iain Banks weaves a fair old tale here, cast in a form that sees the writer flitting between viewpoints of different characters, views that overlap and build a more and more complex picture over time. The efforts of the Concern and the powers of those who Transition gather detail as you traverse the pages of the book, and connections appear that make you stop for a moment to think back to earlier scenes. I enjoyed reading this book, though I understand - in passing - that Iain may have written it, to some extent, to fend off the words of mean spirited critics. I liked the concept and as someone who likes role-playing games, I could see myself using some of the ideas to create adventures across the multiverse. You could create something like a cross between Sliders and a Quentin Tarantino movie, all strange realities and blood-drenched gun battles.

In a way, I could have done with more of the same. Reading the book, and reaching the end, I found I wanted to get more detail about the Concern and the machinations of those perverting its cause. I wanted to read more about the powers of those within the Concern and the experiments carried out to chart their abilities. I could see this as the first book of a series, rather than a beginning, a middle and an end all wrapped up in one book. You get to see fragments of some of the worlds and I can envisage further exploration of these alternate realities where the quantum flow of events led to worlds very different to our own.

I rate the book for its potential as much as anything; and, I consider any book with several hundred pages that engages me from beginning to end a winner. As I say, I would love to see more, and if I cannot see more, I'd be happy to create more myself within the context of role-playing adventures. Banks does a fair old job here - not by any means his best, but a solid read that I enjoyed and would gladly come back to in the future for another round (assuming I ever reach the bottom of my existing book piles!) ( )
  PaulBaldowski | Jan 24, 2015 |
I used to be an Iain M. Banks fan, but this book was just bad. There are many, many parallel universes and many parallel Earths (and a very few non-Earths) and in this universe there are a few lucky people who can transition at will between universes and take over a person. Banks takes us through the lives of a few different versions of the same person, plus a few other main characters. The book jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint quite often. Most of the characters are not pleasant people. Through this universe of transitions there is one organization that seeks to nudge things in a positive direction - until it starts to do the opposite and there is a power struggle for control. Who's a good guy and who's a bad guy is a mystery through the book. Unfortunately, this is mainly a biography of some bad, mostly forgettable people with some James Bond-ish action thrown in, undertaken by someone who can pop from universe to universe and still maintain the abilities of a Bond type agent no matter what body or universe they are in. Eventually his 'hero' develops mysterious superpowers out of nowhere.
Somewhere in the middle Banks throws in a completely random, pointless 'Christian Terrorist' group which causes problems in one universe - for what reasons he never explains, nor why its important to the book. It just shows up to allow him his mandatory anti-religion rant, without him bothering to make it effective. Sure, in an infinite multitude of worlds such a thing is possible, but since it was a total tangent (and never resolved) to his main conspiracy, what was the point?
Pointless, drifting, random, meaningless. A real transition for Banks, from well-written scifi to worthless action thriller. ( )
1 vote Karlstar | Oct 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (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.

(summary from another edition)

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Editions: 0316071986, 0316071994

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