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Surface Detail (Culture) by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail (Culture) (edition 2010)

by Iain M. Banks

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1,378515,536 (3.95)1 / 67
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 (48)  French (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Politics and morality are front and center; comparatively less of the plot is devoted to Minds or Contact than to nefarious plots against innocents (one in Hell, the other in slavery); a villain so over the top as to be twirling a waxed mustache. Surface Detail is a potboiler, space opera in the mold of Flash Gordon, and probably should be enjoyed as such.

Were this the first Culture novel I'd read, likely I wouldn't have come back. Since it wasn't, I kept an ear to the ground for Banks's sidelong commentary, and glimpses into Special Circumstances and the implications of technology supporting personal backups or virtual reality.


VR serving as a culture's Hell; Banks's imagination fell short here, Hell a Boschian salad of bodily torture on infinite loop. Hell is predicated on embodied existence, little exploration of emotional or mental hells other than what follows from witnessing / experiencing / anticipating physical pain. (Excepting: the urge to kill implanted in Prin, an existential betrayal of her ideals and Self, but still close to physical sensation.) The most interesting idea is Banks speculating widespread use of VR by pan-human civilisations in order to manifest each culture's concept of Hell, and that conflict would result about this use of technology.

Three Contact specialist divisions more recent than Special Circumstances:
• Quietudinal Service (Quietus) serve as liaison to the dead, that is, Persons in VR Hell
• Restoria (Pest Control) "charged with taking care of hegemonising swarm outbreaks when -- by accident or design -- a set of self-replicating entities ran out of control somewhere and started trying to turn the totality of the galaxy's matter into nothing but copies of themselves" [177]
• Numina liaison with Sublimed species / individuals ( )
1 vote elenchus | Nov 23, 2014 |
Okay, just okay, nothing special here. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
Culture was exactly that. Veppers hated the Culture. He hated it for existing and he hated it for – for far too damned many credulous idiots – setting the standard for what a decent society ought to look like and so what other peoples ought to aspire to. It wasn’t what other peoples ought to aspire to; it was what machines had aspired to, and created, for their own inhuman purposes.

With every one of these books that I read, this seems more and more true; the human citizens of the Culture are an irrelevance.

Faced with the inevitable struggles and iniquities attendant upon a primitive life, it could be argued that it was an either very gloomy, unimaginative, breathtakingly stoic or just plain dim species that didn’t come up with the idea that what could feel like an appallingly short, brutal and terrifying life was somehow not all there was to existence, and that a better one awaited them, personally and collectively – allowing for certain eligibility requirements – after death. So the idea of a soul – usually though not always immortal in its posited nature – was a relatively common piece of the doctrinal baggage accompanying a people just making their debut on the great galactic stage.

With the idea of the soul comes the idea of heaven and hell, but the more books I read in which people's minds and memories are backed up, to be copied into new bodies or a virtual world, the more certain I am that the original person is dead and gone, and it is a new person based on the original who carries on. So the idea of setting up virtual hells to punish the dead is utterly pointless, as they may been reincarnated, or have gone on to a real heaven or hell, or be nowhere at all, but they definitely aren't being tormented by virtual demons in a virtual hell.

There was a predictable mix of responses. A few of the civs hosting Hells simply had a think, took the point and closed them down; generally these were species who had never shown any great enthusiasm for the concept in the first place, their number including some who had only adopted the idea at all because they’d got the erroneous impression it was what all up-and-coming societies did and they hadn’t wanted to appear backward.

The theme of this book, the fight to close down the virtual hells, is interesting, but I wasn't really gripped. Maybe there were too many plot strands, too many point of view characters, but it was just a bit dull. The conspiracy to bring the fight into the real world didn't really work for me, and I was extremely disappointed with the way Lededje just crumbled when she got back to the Sichultian Enablement.

This is my least favourite of the Culture novels so far, but I am currently participating in a re-read of the series, and so far I have liked every book more than the first time I read it, even those I loved first time round. So the same may turn out to be true for Surface Detail. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Aug 2, 2014 |
Fairly good. Had to skip over the long boring descriptions of people being tortured and spaceship battles - but otherwise quite entertaining. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jun 17, 2014 |
I found this one a tricky read but in the end was fully satisfied. Imagining a society that has taken it upon itself to make Hell "real" was fairly horrifying and at times challenging to read. But, the book isn't entirely taken up with these descriptions an instead a large part of the novel is a revenge story. ( )
  ub1707 | May 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (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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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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