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A book by Iain Banks

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Excession of my expectation

  • Jul 15, 2000
Except for Star Wars, I'm never been much into sci-fi. I bought Excession partly on the strength of Banks' 'straight' fiction (especially The Wasp Factory), but mostly because it was the only English language book on the shelves of the Venetian bookshop in which I found it. The outward signs were not good: the edition I purchased is illustrated with one of those ghastly airbrushed spaceships favoured by the direst of pulp sci-fi publishers. But one shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Nor did I have foreknowledge of Bank's "Culture", the parallel universe he has developed for his science fiction titles, a potential handicap given this is about the fifth in the series. It turned out not to matter.

Excession had me from the start. This is proper literature which, as such, leaves Arthur C Clarke and E E "Doc" Smith for dead. The ideas in it are out of Clarke's league, too. There's something cinematic about the narrative, cutting and diving between figures and dialogues (the communications between the ships are especially fascinating) as Banks unravels, surely and deliberately, the plot. It's challenging - not a word in the 451 pages is wasted, and you can not afford to casually flick through a couple of pages. Fortunately, you never feel the need to. Readers of his straight fiction will know Banks' particular gift for story telling: it is put to even better use here. After fifty pages you know you're in the hands of a master - a fine, wicked, playful master at that.

Banks' only concession to the genre is to give his humanoid characters silly names, such as Dajeil Gelian and (& I'm not kidding) Sikleyr-Najasa Croepice Ince Stahl da Mapin. Knowing Banks' style, however, this is probably some sort of in-joke that I don't get, so the laugh's most likely on me for missing it. His spaceships, which are delightfully sentient, all get terrific names, on the other hand, such as The Problem Child and Fate Amenable to Change. Cool. Great book - ideal holiday reading; excellent for a 15 hour ferry trips from Bari to Igoumenitsa.

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More Excession reviews
review by . July 26, 2002
Another of Banks' Culture novels, this one languished on my to-be-read shelf for a couple of years. Since Banks writes about a book a year, if one does not keep reading him steadily, it is easy to fall behind (as opposed to, say, Howard Waldrop). I'm a fan of Banks mainly for his easy, breezy style and the modernist trappings of his characters. Yes, he writes space opera (when he writes SF), but this is no Star Wars--the characters are never so easily swept into categories of good and evil, nor …
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Olly Buxton ()
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About this book


It's not easy to disturb a mega-utopia as vast as the one Iain M. Banks has created in his popular Culture series, where life is devoted to fun and ultra-high-tech is de rigueur. But more than two millennia ago the appearance--and disappearance--of a star older than the universe caused quite a stir. Now the mystery is back, and the key to solving it lies in the mind of the person who witnessed the first disturbance 2,500 years ago. But she's dead, and getting her to cooperate may not be altogether easy.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0553575376
ISBN-13: 978-0553575378
Author: Iain Banks
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
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