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Surface Detail (Culture #9)

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  12,199 ratings  ·  697 reviews
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. 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, ...more
Hardcover, 627 pages
Published October 28th 2010 by Orbit/Hatchette Book Group (NYC) (first published October 2010)
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Eldon By this point in the Culture novels, a basic understanding of the Culture mindset is somewhat necessary to understand the subtleties of the…moreBy this point in the Culture novels, a basic understanding of the Culture mindset is somewhat necessary to understand the subtleties of the characters, particularly the ship Minds.

Also, (VERY tiny spoiler alert) the very last sentence of the book will not make any sense if you have not read several of the previous books. It will not reduce the enjoyment of the book at all, but for those readers who have read them consecutively, that last sentence is a fantastic "ah HA!" moment. (less)
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Community Reviews

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Jan 17, 2012 Susanne rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: sff
How do I love thee, Culture universe? Let me count the ways by playing--

Culture bingo!

Awesome tech: check
For starters, we have the standard fare of neural laces, AIs, drug glands, etc etc, everything that makes the Culture a level 8 civ. Today's main course is a Bulbitian, an ancient ship and a talking singularity. For desert, have a virtual Hell. Oh my.

Cool aliens: sorta-check
A clear majority of pan-human players this time, but you gotta love the GFCF. Plus, the Pavuleans are like...elephants o
Banks is one of my all time favourites, but had put out some disappointments recently - Algebraist and Matter were just plain no good. Some of the straight fiction stuff had also been really below par, but he's put out Transitions and now this and I'm ready to say 'all is forgiven.' There are some cookie-cutter chapters, where you think that he's repeating scenes and characters and just varying the outlandish architecture/hunt-scene/cruel game/unusual dinner and pretending that it's something el ...more
When one rates an audiobook, is one rating the quality of the underlying written work, the quality of the audio version, or both? I suppose I'll just clarify that my five-star rating applies to both in this case.

Surface Detail is the latest of the Culture Novels from Iain M. Banks. The wait for this one was worth it. I think I'm ready to say that Use of Weapons has finally been supplanted as the best of the Culture books.

I'll write a proper review of Surface Detail, the book, after I've read the
Well, it was better than 'Matter'.

But to me at least, Banks flaws are really beginning to start to irritate.

Banks seems completely unwilling to let anything actually challenge his precious 'Culture'. The typical story arc is to develop some sort of nominally galaxy threatening challenge to the Culture, which, near the end of the book, he'll reveal to be pathetically overmatched by the most trivial exercise of Culture might which arrives to aid the protagonist in all of its omnipotent dues ex ma
I'm a big Banks fan in both of his incarnations. He's one of the giants for me, of SF and plain fiction in general. As with all the Culture novels he has the outstanding Culture 'mythos' backdrop to the story and like all his books he mixes original ideas with a range of characters that evoke sympathy and dislike in the reader, sometimes in the same character. This book has a brilliant central idea (do read this to find out what it is) and several threads to the plot-line. Now this where a lot o ...more
Wow! The first three quarters of this book are so stunning in the sheer scale of their creativity while managing to move the plot along at a more than acceptable pace. My head swam every time I put the book down, and most of the time I was only putting it down in order to allow my tiny brain to catch up with the depth, the detail, and the creative heights that this book reaches, and also to absorb and reflect on the consequences of some of the concepts and customs he introduces.

The characters ar
Another excellent installment in what's probably my favorite ongoing SF series. Banks plays with themes of life, death, illusion and virtual reality, in a number of permutations and twists that's dizzying right from the beginning. There's more sheer old-fashioned sense of wonder in this book than you can shake a stick at. Some of the story lines are painfully intimate, others relate to the galaxy-wide politics of the "In-Play" civilizations, one of which is the post-scarcity Mind-run Culture we' ...more
Mar 17, 2015 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Banks fans; fans of Space Opera
Shelves: sf-fantasy
If you’re not already a citizen – if only in dreams – of the Culture then Surface Detail is not your path to naturalization. This is not to say that this isn’t a worthy part of the Culture mythology – it is. I enjoyed reading it, meeting a few more of the Culture’s citizens and learning a bit more about how its nonhierarchic, anarcho-communist civilization works. But that may be why non-Culture aficionados shouldn’t start off with this book. It’s heavy with unexplained Culture jargon (e.g., Subl ...more
It's His Party and You're Invited...

As in "Matter," the last Culture installment, Banks waxes at length in "Surface Detail." Happily, SD is more interesting than its predecessor, and features more tidbits about the Culture - that industrious, indefatigable, galaxy-spanning civilization that has always been the most interesting character in a series that is essentially a collection of character pieces. The plot and writing and characters are competent at best, and tedious at their worst. Really,
Surface Detail is a 5-star interesting story with a 3-star ending. It suffers from a degree of the lack of follow-through inflicting other Culture novels. However, most of the major themes did come together in the end, so it wasn't bad. Heck, the first half was so captivating and invigorating, full of interesting situations and characters to love and hate, I even went on record as hopeful for a top 5 SF novel. But, alas, no.
This review was originally posted here:

With the ability to create any kind of Virtual Reality imaginable, some civilisations have created Hell. Each respective society would punish those they deemed to deserve with virtual eternal torment, but no less real to the mind experiencing it.

I found this an incredibly imaginative way of dealing with the idea of death and the afterlife without making the story supernatural. It’s almost even believable. It’s quite
Feeling ill and wanted an easy read. Not too easy these days if you are not a Potter or a Twilight fan... Iain M. Banks has always provided a fine dark vision sparkling with irreverence and a sort of tongue in cheek view of his own creations.

Needless to say, "Surface Detail" provides the sort of fractal complexity coupled with topological intricacy that one has come to expect. Not sure that the plot matters too much as long as it has a beginning, a middle and an end. Its the "surface details" th
I did not read this book; when I first opened the package, I gently wadded up clusters of ten or so pages, careful not to damage them too much; pulled out my paraphernalia kit, and one by one heated the clumps on a spoon, injecting them directly into my bloodstream.

As always, the effect of the drug only kicks in after about 100 pages of hits; it's less the body adjusting to the magic substance, and more the fact that the first 100 pages are created somewhat defensively, always a little bit rough
Elf M.
Surface Detail is Iain M. Banks latest Culture novel, and... that's about it.

No, really. If you've read a Culture novel, you know what you're in for: a series of novelletish vignettes featuring a vast cast of characters, from all different types, two of which (the corporate sociopath and the political sociopath) will crop up, be lectured to by some nominal "good" protagonist, and eventually fall from grace and probably be killed in some gruesome manner.

If Banks applies himself at all in Surfa
Iain M. Banks’s Culture stories are among my favourite science-fiction reads, and I fall eagerly upon each new book in the series as it appears. They vary in their emotional intensity and the degree of intellectual effort they demand from the reader, but they are unfailingly entertaining.

Surface Detail is surely the lightweight in the Culture club. It does not fail to entertain, but it disappointed me all the same. This was for several reasons, the most salient being that I found the constantly
I don't know... I think Banks may have finally reached the limit of engaging stories he can tell in the Culture universe, without perhaps going for more small scale intrigues rather than galaxy shaking events. This is by no means a full review, but I'll jot down a few thoughts and impressions.

Banks displays his usual skill with words, but in the end the whole thing was a bit... boring I guess. I really didn't care that much about any of the characters, the things they were doing didn't really se
I developed a love/hate relationship with this particular Ian Banks book. As usual, Bank’s books span a galaxy, with big ideas crossing big ships, and even bigger events. It started out fairly strong, introducing the host of characters that would take the reader into the middle part of the book, where it just seemed to bog down in cumbersome descriptions of why the Culutre doesn’t like virtual Hell and why they were fighting those who felt it was their right to have virtual Hells and a few perso ...more
Richard Barnes
The Culture is a great place to hang out - Iain M Banks crafts fantastic worlds where he doesn't simply look to the future but takes possibilities to their extremes. I used to read lots of Star Wars books and think they were good sci-fi; once you read Iain M Banks you will realise that space opera can be so, so much more. And it's all done with a razor-sharp black humour, that verges on the sick, but is always clever.

Surface Detail is a great example - in the Culture, and other sci-fi/ advanced
aPriL eVoLvEs
I think an Intagliate being is the neatest alien pan-human I've ever read about it. Every cell in her body tattooed? Wow.

However, despite the amazing plot intricacies of the 600+ page book, I was disappointed by the somewhat secondary roles of most of the female characters. They were mostly appealing, needing rescue, and not as tough as the males despite the Culture's ability to change anyone into anything. Apparently sexual transmutation does not mess with sexual stereotypes from primitive 20t
INTRODUCTION: Iain M. Banks' early Culture books, "Use of Weapons", "Consider Phlebas" and "The Player of Games" as well as the standalone "Against a Dark Background" are among my top sff books of all time, with "Use of Weapons" (which I hope to review by year-end) still at #1 after 18 years since my first read and many re-reads in the meantime.

Last year's Transition was my number 1 sff novel of the year and this year Surface Detail will be most likely #1 sff of the year. Actually as structure g
Lori (Hellian)
Whew, Banks hits the top of his game again, after a couple of more middle of the road books. Middle of the road for Banks that it. I'm always fascinated by his Culture books. The Minds, of course, being the Best. And this one had a great concept - a battle about The Hells. The Hells exist in virtual life, with people stuck there in heh hellish conditions. The galaxy is torn about this - there are the anti-Hells side which believes this is morally reprehensible and "uncivilized", whereas the spec ...more
May 10, 2011 Alan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Confirmed and experienced fans
Recommended to Alan by: Previous work
Iain M. Banks has earned more than a little slack from us over the years with his prodigious and amazing output. Surface Detail calls some of that back in. The book takes its time getting started. Its multiple opening chapters seem like little more than vignettes. But Banks' ability, the trust that he has earned over those decades, should keep you reading, as he begins weaving these disparate tales together.

Surface Detail turns out to be something like a pleasant, prolonged stroll through unfami
If this were a movie, I'd be blinking myself awake in a chair, belly stuffed full of popcorn, remembering vaguely that there were lots of explosions and weak acting, and feeling a bit silly for having hoped it was going to be something else.

I really wanted to like this book. And I did, when it was called Excession. Banks has had these problems before in other novels, but here it really all comes together. It's a Culture Novel by the tropes.

Seriously, there's nothing in this book that you haven'
An Impressive Work of Scope, and Gravitas
I think what we all really love about Iain M Banks is his ability to come up with an idea, and then to not only run with it, but to travel at light speed with it to the furthest edge of the galaxy of our imagination... and sometimes one step further.
His ideas aren't merely creative and individual, they are unique because of the depth to which he explores them. Sure, people have created super-powerful futuristic space exploring societies before, but Banks
Whitby Syme
"I am a warship. This is my nature; this is what I'm designed and built for. My moment of glory approaches and you can't expect me not to be excited by the prospect. I was fully expecting to spend my operational life just twiddling my metaphorical thumbs in the middle of empty nowhere, ensuring sensible behaviour amongst the rolling boil of fractious civs just by my presence and that of my peers, keeping peace through the threat of the sheer pandemonium that would result if anybody resurrected t ...more
It's been a long time since I last read a Culture book and I have missed quite a few on the way. Because of this it took me longer to get reacquainted with Iain M. Banks universe as his writing is not the easiest to digest. That being said, once I finally was immersed, it was an enjoyable ride.
Still this isn't the best Culture book in my view and anyone is interested by the Universe I would advise to read the Culture books chronologically.
My fourth journey into Iain M. Banks' Culture universe was a decidedly delightful one, tinged with pangs of sadness in light of the author's recent passing. Banks was truly one of the most imaginative minds ever to grace the pages of science fiction; his brilliance, accented by eccentric moments of fancy as well as by an impressive command of broad narrative structure, is endlessly playful and deliciously optimistic without being naive. While I've yet to read a Culture novel that I thought was " ...more
Barrett Brassfield
Just about every time I read a Culture novel by the late Iain M Banks I think to myself these things can't get any better can they? The inevitable answer always seems to be yes, they can. Surface Detail is my favorite to date. Deft plotting with an immersive look into some interesting (dark) corners of Culture civilization such as Quietus, Numina and Restoria, Surface Detail was very difficult to put down as the action all centers around a very interesting concept: a virtual war over the existen ...more
SciFi Kindle
This Culture novel considers the consequences of digitization of the soul; when the mind can be imprisoned in virtual environments outside the scrutiny of responsible society for purposes of warfare or punishment, what moral questions arise? The availability of virtual afterlives for deceased citizens of civilizations advanced enough to record consciousness to digital substrates inevitably spawns digital ‘Hells’, and moral disagreement over their existence results in a war, which itself, has bee ...more
"Those poor ponies. Why did he do that to them?"

That's all I could think when about a quarter of the way through this fantastic book -- "he" being Iain Banks. The ponies are actually a race of intelligent horse-like creatures with a pair of prehensile trunks, and Banks imagined an actual Hell for them to inhabit. I would call the horrors they endure there "indescribable," but Banks does an admirable job in describing them.

The basic idea is that once a civilization perfects virtual reality and br
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Reading chronologically 5 29 Jul 31, 2013 06:59PM  
Torture In The Works Of Iain Banks 19 127 Apr 15, 2013 07:42PM  
Iain Banks / Iain...: Surface Detail 5 41 Feb 15, 2013 04:36AM  
  • The Technician
  • The Prefect
  • The Evolutionary Void (Void, #3)
  • Singularity Sky (Eschaton, #1)
Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
More about Iain M. Banks...

Other Books in the Series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)
  • The State of the Art (Culture, #4)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture, #10)
Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) The Player of Games (Culture, #2) Use of Weapons (Culture, #3) Excession (Culture, #5) Matter (Culture, #8)

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“The truth is not always useful, not always good. It’s like putting your faith in water. Yes, we need the rain, but too much can sweep you away in a flood and drown you. Like all great natural, elemental forces, the truth needs to be channeled, managed, controlled and intelligently, morally allocated.” 15 likes
“-"Then what," Lededje asked, trying to keep her voice cold and not get caught up in the avatar´s obvious enthusiasm, "is making you smile about a disaster?"

-"Well, first, I didn´t cause it! Nothing to do with me, hands clean. Always a bonus.”
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