Seth's Reviews > Matter

Matter by Iain M. Banks
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's review
Apr 18, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction, the-culture
Read in May, 2008

Banks' latest Culture book is a mixed bag. Many of his great previous books set in the same science fiction universe come off like you're not quite sure they're great literature packaged to appeal to science fiction fans, or great science fiction packaged to appeal to literature fans.

Banks uses few stylistic tricks and mostly settles on telling the story of Djan Seiry, a woman from a primitive world having been taken away by the Culture and now must return. Much of the rest of the 600+ pages is then taken up by description of the Shellworld she is returning to, how it works, what kind of life it supports, etc.

In many ways it felt like it was an homage to Larry Niven's Ringworld books, though an attempt to turn it up a notch even further. In the end, Matter's an engaging book and an almost old-school science fiction romp, but it fell a bit flat at the end. I think part of it was the build-up of Seiry, and how much living in the Culture had changed her; when she finally returns to her own people, there's no shock, no sense of her processing it, or feeling like she had at all returned home. The characters don't really change too much, either. It seemed to me like the rollstars and fixstars of the Shellworld's tenth level, they stay stationary or moved along a fixed pattern towards their destinies, uncaring of where it may take them. Or perhaps it's just me.

And that's the problem: Banks can be so amazingly good in his novels, that a 'normal' science fiction novel like Matter is set to a higher standard than the output of another novelist.

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