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Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail

by Iain M. Banks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Culture (9)

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1,747676,053 (3.99)1 / 73
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English (65)  French (2)  All languages (67)
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Review: Surface Detail by Iain Banks. 3.5 Stars 02/21/2019

This story is not based on a single character that goes from book to book however; it was based on the outer world vast civilization known as The Culture, its agents and their actions. Lededje Y’breq is one of the Invalidated; her body was marked bearing witness to a family shame. She belonged to a powerful man but she was prepared to risk everything for her freedom even when it comes with a price. Basically there is a war between Heaven and Hell going on between those who think a moral obligation falls upon its citizens to create a Hell to punish evil doers. Banks is a great writer with a unique style for his complex plots, depth of characters, creation of powerful alien technology, and for his pleasant and unpleasant surprises.

The first few chapters of the book are about as grim as anyone could feel. Murders follow by scenes of war and I felt that Banks was leading me into hell with nothing to guide me forward. There were many characters which made it harder to follow but they were cleverly developed but the reader had to keep track of whose who.

Banks does describe the galaxy life in detail with creative galaxy shaking events. He includes all his familiar trimmings throughout the story. Banks includes witty named starships along side the clever drones and some avatars on a human scale. Banks is pretty creative and smart when it comes to ancient engineering and dealing with corrupt individuals at the top of their barbaric capitalist civilizations. The Culture can only do so much for any one individual… ( )
  Juan-banjo | Feb 22, 2019 |
37% (twice) Can't get through it. It's just not capturing my attention.
  Spiricore | May 18, 2018 |
Grotesque and fascinating like all of the Culture series. ( )
  picklefactory | Jan 16, 2018 |
Was that a happy ending? Of sorts, obviously, because it's still Banks - but I ended up with a tear in my eye for the first time in a while. Surface Detail wasn't at all what I remembered or expected and was all the better for it.

Surface Detail is huge in emotional scope, taking on the concept of death (in a galaxy where being backed up and reincarnated, or effectively digitally immortal are both norms in advanced societies); the afterlife (...and whether we need the threat of Hell to keep us on the straight and narrow); and the delicate balance between justice, revenge, privilege and political expediency.

All of which sounds like very heavy going, but leavened here by quality snark, a superbly entertaining Mind that just can't wait to blow something up, and enough sly humour to keep it from smothering you.

Full review ( )
1 vote imyril | Apr 15, 2017 |
A bewildering story in which Banks crams a thousand strange ideas into one book. I'm reading the Culture series in order generally, and it seems that as the years went by Banks got more and more complex in his plotting and just threw more and more stuff into every story. The previous book, Matter, bothered me this way, but maybe I'm growing more accustomed to this style, as enjoyed this story better. Anyway, the characters here:

-Lededje is the central character, an "intagliate" woman born/engineered with tattoos down to the cellular level, but who is also essentially a slave, owned by a man to whom her parents were indebted. She is murdered by her owner at the start, but surprisingly is reanimated on a Culture ship because of a neural lace built into her brain that she didn't even know about. She sets out for revenge against her owner.

-Veppers is Lededje's owner, the main villain in the book. He is the wealthiest man in his society, and essentially a cartoon villain, caring about nobody but himself. He is also buried in a complex conspiracy with some aliens involved in a virtual war over the fate of virtual "hells" in many societies.

-Vateuil is a soldier and commander in the virtual war over the Hells.

-Prim and Chay are four-legged aliens who sneak into the Hell run by elements of their society, with the goal of escaping and publicizing the barbarity of that place.

-Yime Nisokyi is a Culture agent in the section of Contact that deals with the Dead in their virtual environments. As the war over the Hells intensifies and involves the aforementioned Veppers, she is sent to ensure that Lededje doesn't cause a galactic incident by murdering him.

-Bettlescroy is a non-culture diplomat/military commander involved with Veppers in a conspiracy involving the Tsungarial Disk, an enormouse warship-building factory abandoned by an ancient civilization which becomes part of a plan to bring the virtual war over the Hells into the "Real".

-Unfallen Bulbitian- is a ship left over from the Bulbitian civilization which houses a number of missions attempting to communicate with it. Like many of Banks' ancillary ideas, this one was wholly unnecessary to the plot, and it's hard to understand why it was included.

And in this case, the AI ships have big roles to play. The warship "Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints" is actually a great character- a ship built for destruction, usually bored waiting for something to happen, that decides to help Lededje in her quest for revenge, mainly to amuse itself. When a skirmish in space occurs, the ship is so excited to be unleashed it's actually kind of fun.

The ship "Me, I'm Counting" is the eccentric ship that gives Lededje her neural lace, allowing her to be reborn after her murder.

As with Matter, I wish Banks dialed down the ideas a little to make the story more comprehensible. Still, this was a good time. ( )
1 vote DanTarlin | Mar 24, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
Those who love the Culture will know the best lines often go to the artificial intelligences. In Surface Detail the stand-out character is a sadistic Abominator class ship called the "Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints". The warship's barely concealed glee when, after centuries of waiting, it finally gets to blow some other ships up, is hilarious, and its motives remain intriguingly mysterious. Some other characters, particularly the Special Circumstance agent Yime Nsokyi, remain a little underdrawn. But this is a minor quibble – the novel's real power lies in the absorbing questions it poses about the value of the real, as opposed to the virtual, about who or what is expendable, and whether a society is better held together by threats or by promises.
added by r.orrison | editThe Times, Lisa Tuttle (Oct 9, 2010)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Panepinto, LaurenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
ShuttershockCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"This one might be trouble."
Vatueil, revented once more and back to using what he liked to think of as his original name - even though it wasn't - sipped his aperitif on the restaurant terrace. (Epilogue)
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Book description
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture. Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
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When sex slave Lededje Y'breq is murdered by a politician on the planet Sichult, the artificial intelligence running one of the Culture's immense starships resurrects her so she can seek revenge. Meanwhile, the Culture is uneasily watching the conflict over whether to preserve virtual Hells for the souls of "sinners" or give them the release of death.… (more)

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Orbit Books

2 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 0316123404, 0316123412

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