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Surface Detail (Culture) by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail (Culture) (edition 2010)

by Iain M. Banks

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1,600644,541 (3.97)1 / 70
Title:Surface Detail (Culture)
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 640 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Science Fiction, The Culture, Sex, Death, Money, nuclear weapons, science fiction, hell, religion, tattoos, read 2012

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Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (Author)



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English (62)  French (2)  All (64)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
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 |
After I finished reading 'Surface Detail', Iain Banks penultimate Culture novel. It occurred to me this is the 4th last time I will have the pleasure of a new Iain Banks, following the writer's untimely death in May. 'Surface Detail' is a sprawling epic Space Opera, complete with wisecracking drones and rogue GSVs.
An indentured slave is murdered by her brutal owner. A copy of her mind escapes to the Culture. She is re-lifed and seeks revenge or redemption. A virtual war is being fought to decide whether to allow or to disallow cultures in the galaxy from running Hells, simulated afterlives in which the mind-states of the dead are tortured. The Culture, as always, vows to be neutral. But it just can't help meddling.... ( )
1 vote orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
More Culture goodness. Lots of Banksisms. Can't figure out why the title is ' Surface Detail ' however( probably not original )

( Note : the cover of this month's TIME magazine is ' What if Hell doesn't exist ? ' ) ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Banks' series of Culture novels stands, in my humble opinion, alongside any of the great Space Opera sagas. And this is Soace Opera writ large, bursting with wit and invention and ideas. Banks manages to tell a story that covers a lot of ground, with interweaving plot strands and a large cast of characters but without the humourless po-facedness of much science fiction.

Banks' last Culture novel, Matter, was good, but for my money this one is better. For one thing there's more of the actual Culture in it, from the inventively named Ships to Special Circumstances and numerous other features familiar to anyone who's read previous books. But what he tackles here is a Big Idea, namely, what if, once total electronic transference of a consciousness becomes possible, you create virtual afterlives for those souls to experience. And what if several civilisations decided to create Hells to punish those deemed 'unworthy'.

There is a virtual war going on to decide the fate of those Hells but, with the anti-hell side starting to lose, the war threatens to spill over into the Real. Banks' descriptions of one of those Hells is stunning, bringing to life the unremitting horror of such a thing and the suffering of the souls trapped in it.

There are various plot strands at work here, from the uber-capitalist Veppers and his double-dealing, to the nefarious dealing of SC agents and the appallingly behaved, but hilariously funny warship avatar Demeisen. One thing is certain, Banks thinks capitalism is a bad thing and the venal, grasping Veppers embodies all that is wrong with that system. The Culture is by contrast some kind of ideal society, not without flaws, but one where people don't feel the need to step on others to get ahead.

With consummate skill, Banks bring all the various plot strands together to a satisfying conclusion and despite being 600 pages long, the book is an easy read. A veritable page-turner.

For newcomers to the Culture stories this is probably not the place to start. Try The Player of Games, or my personal favourite Excession before tackling the later books. You won't regret it. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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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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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