Maybe I am wrong here, but I have a hard time thinking of other authors who can turn seemingly simple ideas into complex ideas with a burst of imagination that makes the simple idea seem unique and rare -- all without the alienating pretentiousness of the author who knows s/he is great. This ability makes Banks one of the most inviting writers I know, and I savour everything he has written over and over again.
If fact, as I write this, I realize that in the past decade he and China Mieville (perhaps the pretentious one of which I spoke?) are the only two authors I have spent any significant time rereading. The former to visit an old friend, the latter to savour language and be dazzled. I admire, Mieville, but it is definitely Banks I prefer to spend time with.
This time listening to The Player of Games was pure joy. It didn't matter that I knew the outcome of Jernau Morat Gurgeh's great Azad tournament, that I knew the deal with the drone, Mawhrin-Skel, that I knew the ending was going to leave me a little flat. This time I was able to luxuriate in Gurgeh's journey, focusing on the little things rather than the big picture of the plot, letting his sensuality in the games guide me, letting his desire for the perfect game move me like it hasn't before, letting his flaws deepen his attractiveness rather than being fooled into judging him. This time I was able to admire Mawhrin-Skel's arrogance, Special Circumstances manipulation and the Culture's quite brilliant defeat of a dangerous future foe. This time I was able to recognize Gurgeh's warning to the reader that the ending of a great game -- of Azad and The Player of Games -- must be anti-climactic. I recognized it, accepted it, and let the flat ending ease me out of the emotional high I hadn't realized I had been swept up in.
Like Gurgeh missed Azad, I miss Iain M. Banks, and I am going to miss him and The Player of Games until I open another book of his and meet with him again. Even when I run out of new words from Banks, it is nice to know that all his old words get better with each reading. I will never run out of Banks tales to read. And that is comforting. ...more
I read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in anyI read this twice in close succession. I read it, then I read it again. The two readings were necessary, and not because William Golding failed in any way, but because his novel, The Inheritors welcomes so much failure from his readers -- I don't say this lightly.
I taught this for the first time this year, and it was beyond my first year university students. The Inheritors challenges. It challenges readers to work hard. It challenges readers to pay attention. It challenges readers to empathize. It challenges readers to think about themselves and humanity. It challenges readers to consider other ways of seeing the world. It challenges readers to question the things they hold true. It challenges readers to look in the mirror. It challenges readers to actually read!
The Inheritors is a damning criticism of us and what makes us us. It is an attack on the civilizing drive of humans and a call to consider the wreckage we left behind and continue to create.
Mostly it is a scream into a vaccuum that swallows all sound, reminding me of my favourite contemporary authors, like ki hope, who can imagine others that the rest of us wouldn't even remember let alone imagine. It reminds me how much I miss the people (... or that person ...) that voice such important messages.
The Inheritors is a difficult read. But a necessary one for anyone who cares about life and living. ...more
Early on it felt like there were too many characters, too many plot threads, too many settings, and that Excession was too damn convoluted to be good.Early on it felt like there were too many characters, too many plot threads, too many settings, and that Excession was too damn convoluted to be good.
Iain M. Banks’ Excession was living up to the definition of its title:
"Excession; something excessive. Excessively aggressive, excessively powerful, excessively expansionist; whatever. Such things turned up or were created now and again. Encountering an example of was one of the risks you ran when you went a-wandering."
It was a true slog to get into, but then somewhere around the time Byr Genar-Hofoen was on his way to the GSV Sleeper Service and that ship was busy waking up folk from its battle tableux, I found myself comfortable in Banks' most sprawling Culture novel (if taken in order) to date.
It was difficult to keep everything straight and difficult to care what was going on in every thread of the tale, and the work doesn't really pay off in a big pay-off kinda way, but there are some positives to take away from the experience of reading Excession.
For one, this is Banks' finest expression of the ship-mind (I have read nothing past Excession, so there may be better to come). He makes us privy to discussions of ships that make up the "Interesting Times Gang," an unofficial branch of the Culture's Special Circumstances who are steeped in a conspiracy to deliver a crushing blow to the upstart "Affronter" society by using the appearance of an Excession, an Outside Context Problem (OCP) which takes the shape of a spherical nothingness tapped into energy outlets in the skein of hypervoluminous space. But he takes us further than communication between the great ship-minds and into the minds of Eccentric ships and Pseudo-Eccentric ships and Traitor ships and Warships. It is a bit of a mind bending journey, and it is some of the hardest Sci-Fi that Banks has written.
But Banks also offers some compelling human interaction, orbiting around Genar-Hofoen, to keep us grounded in the familiarity of humanity.
I was exhausted by the end, and I am tempted to be unforgiving about the length of time it took me to really engage with Excession, and the ending was ultimately unsatisfactory, but I still found myself not wanting to put the book down. I loved too many of the characters -- ships and humans and drones and Affronter alike -- to let them go. I wanted Excession to go on for another thousand pages, but it didn't.
It's never ideal when a book leaves me wanting, but that's a hell of a lot better than leaving me wanting the book to end. So if you're a Banks fan I can say, quite confidently, that this is a must read -- not his best, but worth the time. If you're not a Banks fan, however, stay away. This will not endear you to the man...genius though he may be....more
A long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close toA long time ago in a city far, far away, the end of a friendship began over a disagreement about Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. D--- was so close to the material, so desperate to relive the nostalgia of the original trilogy, so deeply invested, that when we left the theatre and I expressed not just my frustration but my rage at what I'd seen, he took it as a personal insult. A slag of his taste (or what he thought I must have been declaring was his lack thereof). A debate raged between us for days. I pointed to inconsistencies with the original trilogy, terrible acting, poor direction, silly errors of Sci-Fi thought (such as describing direction in space as North, South, East and West), etc., etc. He mostly denied the existence of these problems, and when he couldn't deny their existence he tried to rationalize them. What he didn't do, however, was simply embrace the fact that he loved the story because he WANTED to love the story.
I said, "Well you can love the stories all you want, just don't pretend they are good." I think that hurt him even more.
Since those days I have kept a weather eye open for cases when my own love of a movie or TV series or book could become an inadvertent source for personal pain and imagined insult. I’ve come across a couple of minor examples, both giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate, and in once case change, my opinion of the works in question. And because I was vigilant, I was quickly able to escape the negative feelings that came along with the disagreement.
A third instance appeared this month when I reread Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. I have long held off rereading this book, worried that it would diminish my love, but the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Book Club was reading it for August, and I was sucked into being the discussion leader. My worries were unfounded. I loved it even more this time through. But it felt like I was the only one, and I endured a month of irrational frustration and hurt at the unwitting hands of my group friends.
In my head, I knew I shouldn’t be taking things personally, but I couldn’t help feeling angry, frustrated, sad, disappointed and insulted by the opinions of others. Hell, I was even hurt by the relative silence of people whose opinions I rate highly. I figured their silence must be tacit dislike of the book. Why else were they staying quiet? See. Irrational.
Everything was conspiring against me in that discussion, but through it all I tried to stay neutral and lead the discussion with as little interference or personal opinion as possible.
Now that that’s off my chest, I can get to Red Mars. My personal issues turned out to be a good thing in this case. I was reading criticism of one of my favourite books while I was rereading it, and that criticism made me open my mind to the possibility that my feelings about the book were entirely emotional rather than intellectual. I genuinely opened myself up to that possibility, and I can honestly say that my feelings come from both places. I love this book for personal reasons, but I also love this book because it is Sc-Fi of the highest order.
KSR does so many things right in Red Mars. His vision of the near future was and is believable (he even manages to look into post-Soviet Russian culture with a measure of accuracy). His science is excellent (albeit occasionally compressed or fudged to further the story). His new novella narrative is wonderfully effective, allowing us to look deeply into six of his main characters -- Frank Chalmers, MayaToitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Michel Duval, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne – as we follow the colonization of Mars from their perspectives. But this also allows us to dig more deeply into other important characters, like Arkady, Phyllis, Saxifrage, Coyote, Hiroko and Mars itself, giving us multiple perspectives on these important people from the very different perspectives of the people they love or hate. His descriptions of Mars are beautiful. His political and philosophical thought is engaging. And his vision for the potential colonization of Mars, and what that might mean for Earth, is totally plausible.
I can see how some – and maybe all – of these things could rub a reader the wrong way. I can see how someone could walk away not liking Red Mars. And I can accept that even if it hurts me (because I love all of those things), it is really not personal. But what I can’t accept is the assertion that KSR is a crappy author.
To my mind, this book proves his brilliance. I think I will stop now (can you tell that this review didn’t go at all the way I had planned?) ...more
I should point out before going any further, however, that I am in no way suggesting V for Vendetta or The Hobbit are anything less than classics. As works of literature both are vastly superior to most books written, particularly within their genres. They simply don't match the literary heights of their more lofty relations.
Inferiority -- While both books are set in fascistic dystopias (either parallel or near future), Watchmen's world offers us greater depth of history, an engrossing mythology that raises the tale's believability despite its fantastic elements, while working on multiple levels of theme, meaning and artistry. It is dark, sinister, unrelenting, hopeless and utterly genius.
Superiority -- Yet V for Vendetta is no slouch as a work of art. After all, any story dealing with terrorism/freedom fighting in the last 25 years that dares to make the terrorist/freedom fighter a hero is a work worth reading.
More importantly, however, V is a powerful and convincing character. S/he makes it clear that anarchy is not about chaos but a different form of order without law. S/he is a wounded being whose rage can be tempered with mercy; s/he is a teacher whose love can lead to the torture of her/his student(s); s/he is an artist whose art is change. And all of this makes her/him a far more likable character than folks like Rorschach and Comedian, making V for Vendetta vastly more accessible than its cousin.
V for Vendetta also has a slightly more hopeful finish than Watchmen. There is a tiny possibility that the change begun in fascist England will continue in a positive direction. After all, the mantle of V refuses to die, which is a heck of a lot better than Ozymandias' forced utopia just waiting to explode into a violence far worse than any that has come before.
I can close the cover on V for Vendetta and feel refreshed, whereas I usually close the cover on Watchmen and feel the need for a scalding shower to steam off the filth. The former is much more satisfying than the latter.
I have to admit that I enjoy V for Vendetta more than Watchmen. I am more likely to pick V up when I am feeling nostalgic for my comic book youth. I am more likely to read V for "fun." But I have no doubt that Watchmen is the superior work. ...more
As a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring iAs a semi-retired actor, there are many literary characters I'd love to play, and for all kinds of reasons. Cardinal Richelieu and D'Artagnan spring immediately to mind, but there are countless others: Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin (Perdido Street Station), Oedipus, Holmes or Watson (I'd take either), Captain Jack Aubrey (I'd rather Stephen, but I look like Jack), Heathcliff, Lady Macbeth (yep, I meant her), Manfred, Indiana Jones. But none of them are people who I would actually like to be.
That I reserve for Shevek.
Ursula K. LeGuin's Odonian-Anarchist physicist is what I would aspire to be in the deepest places of myself -- flaws and all.
The reason is simple and profound. Shevek constantly strives for change inside and outside himself, for an embracing of true freedom with the knowledge that freedom requires change, that change is dangerous, and that the danger of true freedom trumps safety.
No matter what pressures are brought to bear, Shevek is his own man.
I could go on about him, but I am loathe to diminish the strength of what I have written.
This review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal inThis review was written in the late nineties (for my eyes only), and it was buried in amongst my things until recently when I uncovered the journal in which it was written. I have transcribed it verbatim from all those years ago (although square brackets may indicate some additional information for the sake of readability or some sort of commentary from now). This is one of my lost reviews.
Holy shit! Now that I've read Fight Club, I can safely say that [David Fincher's movie] is one of the best film adaptations ever produced. It is a damn good book: hyperactive, disjointed, potent. Mixed in the tough Hemingway meets MTV inspired prose is a lot of powerful thought -- thought that fits our times, thought about anarchy, disaffection, the pain wrought on us by consumer society, what it is to be a man.
I am Joe's humble ego bowing before a brilliant pen.
Dissention in the ranks of Durden’s Fight Club was the only surprise from film to novel – the mechanic and his place of power leading this dissention. Oh ... the fights were much more brutal [in the book] too.
Actually, there was something else that was different about the violence on the page; the killing, when it happened, happened to innocents, many who did not want to die. The books is more Nietzschian than the film, and I’m not sure that is a good thing. Pitt and Norton were perfect as Tyler Durden, and David Fincher’s direction may actually be better than Palahniuk’s writing. I’ll have to see the movie again to know. No matter which is better, though, I love the story.
[Today, I can safely say that the movie is superior. Fincher is a genius at improving over his source material.]...more