Surface Detail by Iain M Banks

It feels like Iain M Banks has gone to town on huge, broad canvas and has filled every last corner.
Surface Detail book cover

"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."

A while ago I reviewed another sci-fi book, and jokingly wrote that Iain M Banks would have to write a darn good book to better it. Well he's had one heck of a go at it.

His latest Culture novel is an insane fight between heaven and hell encompassing the virtual and the real world, with all of heaven or hell at stake. Oh, and it's also one girls story of her attempts to get revenge on her old owner Joiler Veppers, who raped and murdered her.  All, of course with the odd masochistic and mad Culture ship thrown into the mix. Welcome to Surface Detail.

The stories are all woven together so that they come to a big stunning conclusion, do you put your faith in the Culture to get it right, or just this once have they screwed up. You are never quite sure what’s going to happen. Ledeje Y’breq is a great character and she roots you in the here and now of the book. She is amazed when after a failed escape attempt that results in her being murdered she wakes up and finds herself on a Culture ship. Ledeje doesn’t care about the fight between heaven and hell, she doesn’t care about possible plans for all out war. All she wants is her revenge, and I love her attitude. Watching the Culture agents struggle to take her into account in their plans is a delight. Maybe, just, maybe she is going to get the better of the combined Minds of the Culture.

As usual it’s a delight to get into the minds of the Culture ships. “Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints” is fantastic, mad, exciting, and a little bit sadistic. The ships avatar Demeisen is used to good effect to keep the ship in the book when they are planet bound.

Before I go any further, I should make it clear I have read the Kindle version, and it's one of those annoying kindle conversions that seem to have quite a few errors, no spacing between some paragraphs, hyphenated words li-ke this, etc... So I hope they correct the errors, and bring out an amended version, but, this is the only grumble I have.  From my experience with other eBook publishers they usually seem willing to make changes quite quickly, if you inform them of the errors you notice in their ebooks.

I don’t want to spoil the multi-threaded plot; there are whole threads that I’ve not mentioned. It is a large novel, and even though it involves a fight between heaven and hell, and threats of an all out war, and there are plains of the virtual environment full of utterly depraved and inhumane torture, none of this makes it into a depressingly dark novel. The great writing keeps the story going in the right direction and keeps the novel quite light in tone, which is rather impressive.

It feels like Iain M Banks has gone to town on huge, broad canvas and has filled every last corner of it with excitement, torture, double-agents, and intrigue. In my opinion this is his best culture novel since his second one “The player of Games”. Or possibly, it is his best Culture novel. Either way, it is a fantastic return to the Culture Universe.

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