Hitspoker Surface Detail (Culture series Book 9):Hitspoker
Reply: 10

Surface Detail (Culture series Book 9):Hitspoker

Iain M. Banks
1#
Iain M. Banks Published in September 24, 2018, 7:21 pm
 Surface Detail (Culture series Book 9):Hitspoker

Surface Detail (Culture series Book 9):Hitspoker

Price:£6.99

Mark S
2#
Mark S Reply to on 22 July 2018
This isn't the best of the Culture books, there are two or three passages in need of a thorough edit for that. However, I would highly recommend anyone to read this book.

Like most of the other Culture books, it's complex and multi-threaded. But all threads very neatly come together - they never seem pointless or contrived.

At the heart of this book is an examination of the consequences of backing-up an individual's soul, personality and memories and restoring them into any number of possible virtual realities. This allows, after death, for virtual heaven or virtual hell. Indeed, the ability to force a person against their will into a virtual hell to be eternally tormented is a terrifying thought.

A brilliant read, and thoroughly thought provoking. Mr Banks, we miss you.
Sussman
3#
Sussman Reply to on 29 April 2015
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Iain M Banks crafts fantastic worlds where he doesn't simply look to the future but takes possibilities to their most grand, if not a times most extreme. In this book the main protagonist is Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body an illustration of her family’s shame. For her life belongs to a man whose hankering for power is without end. She will do anything for her liberty, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture; an anarchist utopian society that transverses space on planets, huge space orbitals and various space faring vessels. They can be considered munificent, progressive and almost infinitely ingenious though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any single person. With the backing of one of its most potent AI minds - and arguably unbalanced - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a war zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - which is already raging within the digital realms such as virtual heavens and hells that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality. For physical death doesn't have to be fatal. It's a simple matter to upload your mind regularly and if your physical body suffers an accident, then a new one can be cloned and your mind popped back into it.

When you read Iain M Banks Culture novels you will realise that space opera can be so, so much more, and it's all done with a razor-sharp black humour – but always with such intelligent style.
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Julia
4#
Julia Reply to on 30 January 2016
Wasted potential - that is how I would sum up this book.
Lets start with the Hells (and yes, that is plural). I thought initially that the depiction of the one that we saw was fantastic, and he really took the ''fire and brimstone'' concept beyond anything that I have ever seen. But why do we only ever see one Hell? Seems to me that all of these thousands of alien races with their thousands of different concepts of what constitutes horror could have made for some truly varied environments. Because of this, the Hell that we see ends up becoming repetitive as the same scenes of torture are replayed over and over again with only slight variations.
The ideas relating to transhumanism and virtual Heaven and Hell could easily have carried a whole book, but the whole revenge plot and the (ill- thought out) reintroduction of a past main character seems tacked on as most of his previous personality simply was not there. I found Ladeje to be a very blank, uninteresting character and Veppers had little characterisation beyond ''wealthy rapist.'' The psychotic AI warship was easily the best character - in that he actually had one.
I hate to say it, (especially as his cancer may or may not have been affecting him yet) but this seems like a very paint by numbers Culture novel. It is better than ''Inversions'' but a million miles off the ''Player of Games''.
Richard Bagshaw
5#
Richard Bagshaw Reply to on 15 January 2014
As a teenager, I fell in love with Iain M. Banks' Culture series. There is something compelling and uplifting about his idiosyncratic brand of swashbuckling space opera. The struggles of the human citizens and the benevolent, Godlike AI Minds of the Culture, a post-scarcity society, in a galaxy teaming with often unpleasant civilisations and alien species, allows Banks plenty of room to spin entertaining yarns. Yet in his commitment to solid characterisation, and touching on some weighty issues with real-world resonance, Banks prevents the enterprise from feeling too self-indulgent; offering depth as well as entertainment.

I would, in short, highly recommend all readers with a passing interest in sci-fi give the Culture series a read. Surface Detail, however, is perhaps not the best place to start. Whilst its plot stands alone, as do all of the Culture novels', it assumes a degree of prior knowledge about the universe that new readers may find offputting. Combined with a slow start and Banks' trademark multi-stranded, complex plotting, Surface Detail could prove a slog. A better introduction for interested readers would probably be Excession or Use of Weapons.

Established fans, however, will find Surface Detail comfortingly familiar. Droll and eccentric Minds are again at the forefront of the ensemble cast, including a brilliantly psychotic, bloodthirsty warship which must rank amongst the finest of Banks' creations. A thoroughly despicable, love-to-hate villain and his strong female antagonist again also feature prominently. And Banks does a superb job, as ever, of vividly imagining a political quagmire into which the Culture is drawn, and in which its altruism runs afoul of the law of unintended consequences. For all of the ultimate moral simplicity of Surface Detail's plot, Banks does not shy away from tragic flaws in his heroes, or ambiguity in their circumstances.

The novel's familiarity perhaps begs the question; what does Surface Detail add to the Culture canon? One cannot escape the feeling when reading the novel that perhaps Banks has already realised all of the big ideas this universe can accommodate. Long-time fans will recognise many elements of the plot, from the Culture citizens' anarchic hedonism and their AIs long-suffering indulgence, to the Minds' eccentric avatars and Special Circumstances' ruthless cool, that the book can feel redundant. What sets Surface Detail apart is the prominent role afforded virtual realities and their interaction with the 'Real'. In particular, the virtual Hells of fundamentalist civilisations are magnificently realised; and truly, shockingly ghastly in their horrific ingenuity. The novel is most successful when it thrusts its characters into these virtual worlds, and fully explores their possibilities. One of the most memorable and rewarding character arcs, for instance, is that of Chay. An academic on an undercovering factfinding mission to her civilisation's officially-nonexistent Hell, she becomes trapped there. In the novel's few weeks of real-time action, Chay loses her mind, lives a quiet life of monastic ascetism in an imagined mediaeval world, and is reborn as an Angel of Death. Her sorrow for the life she has left behind, and her endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering, offer Surface Detail's most touching moments. However, whilst interesting and beautifully-realised, this is territory which has been ably covered by other SF writers, and Banks has little new to add.

Looking beyond Surface Detail's intricate plotting and lively, engaging prose, some structural flaws also become apparent. The human characters are eclipsed by the Minds not only in their relevance to the plot - beside these supremely intelligent, powerful machines, mere mortals have little heft - but also personality. The Quietus agent Nsokyi in particular feels underwritten, and her plot strand ultimately proves to be of little relevance to the denouement. Many of Banks' creations, too, feel superfluous; there are perhaps a few exotic alien species and ancient artefacts too many. This is not a short book, and better editing could have produced a leaner, faster-paced novel without sacrificing any of its depth.

With that said, a solid effort from Banks is more intriguing, thought-provoking and downright enjoyable than many writers at their best. As such, Surface Detail is well worth a read, but fans may find it a slightly by-the-numbers addition to the Culture series.
Nicholas J. R. Dougan
6#
Nicholas J. R. Dougan Reply to on 29 November 2012
The concept of member of the Culture civilisation, whether human or machine, being able to back themselves up, like computer hard drives, has been part of Iain Banks' Culture stories since the very beginning. In Surface Detail this idea is explored, explaining how it works in practice - so that the minds (and souls?) of the dead may be reborn (or revented, in Banks' vocabulary) or, indeed, how they might be transferred into simulated worlds or, even Hell.

I'm not sure that I'd previously picked up that the concept of Hell or hells was part of the Culture universe until now (although it won't surprise me, if and when I get around to re-reading them, that they had already been allowed for). It seems, however, that some civilisations on the fringes, or even in the Culture itself, believed that putting the fear of hell into its population was a "good thing", and, in the apparent absence of actual supernatural ones, that they had invented digital ones in which the minds/souls of the departed could be tortured in perpetuity. This fact forms the backdrop to, and indeed many of the scenes for, this novel, one which, fittingly perhaps, begins with a murder in a theatre.

This gives Banks the opportunity to explore the meaning of death in his universe, while also allowing him to make his views on Hell in our own world pretty clear too. (Repressive nonsense, I think, would sum his view up pretty succinctly.) A bit of a dig against the mid-western moral majority type, as well - if I correctly attribute that characterisation to a being from a race of small elephants with two trunks! I did find most of the early chapters of the book to be unremittingly grim, almost more horror than SciFi, but as he eventually puts the multiple plot lines into context everything became clearer, if not at any stage light. Of course Banks tells the story with his usual breathtaking imagination, and with glimmers of black humour. You'll love to meet the Abominator-class warship "Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints", although he/she/it does make you wonder whether a space civilisation could really be run, to the benefit of its pan-human population, by a collective of artificial intelligences some of whom are so gung-ho that they would embarrass the average nineteen year old graduate of a military academy.

In short, another brilliant book for aficionados of Iain M Bank's space opera. I'm straight on to Hydrogen Sonata, the most recent one. The joy of Kindle is being that you can download the next instalment just two minutes after the previous one without stopping to think that you might be devoting your mind to something more worthy.
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk
7#
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk Reply to on 25 April 2012
The book is typical Banks; thrilling, action-packed, well-written, thought-stimulating and provoking, epic - yet it is, unusually for him, it is also amusing. As always, it is full of fascinating characters - a tattooed slave, a virtual warrior, the most reprehensible capitalist you'd ever want to meet, though it's the ships ("Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints" and its avatar Demeison, the Hooligan-class LOU "Me, I'm Counting", and the awfully staid "Sense Amidst Madness, Wit Amongst Folly") that really steal the part; mischievous, anarchic disruptors or upholders of authority, occasionally slightly paranoid, always full of confidence, representatives of a mighty power. When I come back in another life I want to come back as one of Bank's ships!
The book starts off as a series of, apparently unrelated, short stories (the pursuit and brutal murder of a slave-girl, the misadventures of a sapper in some mediaeval siege, a couple being tormented in Hell, a "robot-warrior" fighting a rearguard action) that gradually merge together into this grand space opera which deals with noble aims, intrigue, power-politics and casual destruction. The story that pulls it together is that of two conflicting ideologies involved in a war aimed at deciding whose beliefs are going to define the future.
I loved it... I entered an alternative reality and lived a full life there.... What more could anyone ask for?
marek
8#
marek Reply to on 3 November 2016
A great sci fi novel from Britain's, indeed on of the worlds greatest writers of imaginative fiction, highly recommended for any reader of all ages, A human story I a cold universe. This is one of a line of 'culture' novels, sometimes scary sometimes savage with touches of humour, The loss of this writer to illness was a heartbreak to his fans, see tube) for talks with Iain Banks. he is irreplaceable.
L. Davidson
9#
L. Davidson Reply to on 4 July 2012
I am a great fan of Iain M Banks science fiction novels, but I was slightly disappointed by recent efforts "The Algebraist" and "Matter". However "Surface Detail" is a triumphant return to form featuring the best writing and best plot since the excellent "Look to Windward". The storyline is complex and intricate and it is centred around a "confliction" in the virtual world over the fate of a number of "Hells" that various civilisations have created. Banks description of life in one of the Hells is quite superb. There are quite a lot of sub plots that ultimately converge in the finale , but perhaps there were too many of them and at times it was hard keeping up with what was what and who was who as the story unfolds. Also I thought the book was somewhat overlong and a lot of minor activities could have been removed without affecting the plot. However one just has to sit back and admire the imagination of this author who can think up such fascinating , intelligent stories and tell them in such a sparkling way. I think I would be much happier living in the Culture than on this tedious,nasty little planet .It is a much more human society than this one. Wouldn't it be great if they could make a film of one of Iain M Banks novels with no cash spared on special effects ? Come on Hollywood , lets have some intelligent sci-fi for a change...
Mr. R. A. Flood
10#
Mr. R. A. Flood Reply to on 15 September 2014
It's hard to single out one of the Culture books (or indeed, the odd man out - "The Algebraist") as somehow better or worse than the others. All one can do is say "I like this more (or less) than the others." Working my way through the Culture novels I can only say this is a stunner. The usual array of gadgets and devices, a background of the War on Hell being fought in heaven, and a really nasty, utterly evil villain with some human (as in, on our planet, in reality) characteristics. My only objection is that (SPOILERS!) when he meets his end its over too quickly and not nearly painfully nor humiliatingly enough. Still worth waiting for, though. If you are into the Culture, you'll love this.
Mr BD
11#
Mr BD Reply to on 7 December 2010
I have read all of the Culture novels, but I don't think he ever matched the imagination and scope of "Consider Phlebas", although they were always readable (even if "Feersum Endjinn" was hard work). However, this novel has been worth the wait and surpasses the imagination and scale of his first Culture work.

The central part of the novel works around the virtual-realities that people can reside in. Personalities can be stored and resurrected into newly-grown bodies if required. Or they can stay as long as they wish in a variety of simulated worlds that can run at a different speed from reality. Some species have virtual worlds that are used as their version of Hell, with atrocities without end inflicted upon those that have been sent (or even volunteered) there. Some societies (the Culture included) see these as abhorrent and a series of wars are arranged between the pro- and anti-Hell sides - all within virtual worlds. The Culture, being the most powerful here is not taking part, but wouldn't mind if Hell lost.
Both warring sides agree that the losing side must abide by the result, but when it is obvious that one side is losing, it decides to take this fight out into "the Real", which will of course cost billions of lives should it escalate.
Intertwined within this is the story of a slave girl who was murdered at the hand of her 'owner'. She has now come back as she was stored (somewhat unexpectedly) by Culture systems. The Culture cannot allow her to exact revenge, but will escort her back to her home planet.

An incredibly imaginative and readable story. There aren't many books I keep after reading, because I know I will one day read it again. Consider Phlebas and this novel are amongst a small group of such works.
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