Kevin's Reviews > The State of the Art

The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks
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Jun 23, 09

bookshelves: space-opera
Read in June, 2009

A slim collection of short stories (well under 200 pages), most of which show off the author's macabre wit. The worst of the lot is "Scratch", a late cold-war-era story that depicts the escalation of human misery as the world's superpowers square off for world destruction, a premise which it tackles originally by giving us only mass-media noise, scraps of television commericals, fragments of radio announcements, etc.: the story is at least a fascinating failure. Three stories take place in the universe of Banks' Culture novels; "Descendant" is the best of these (and the one most tenuously linked to the Culture), a harrowing tale of survival type story in which an injured soldier is marooned on an uninhabitable planet and is pushed to forge on by his autonomous artificially intelligent suit. "The State of the Art" will be best enjoyed by devotees of Banks' novel of the Culture, as it is the one story which depicts the Culture encountering Earth; there follows a debate among the Culture's Contact division about whether it is more imperative to save Earth from nuclear destruction or to spare them the perhaps-corrupting influence of their own society, and the story has a delightfully queasy set piece that will make you think twice on that very question. A third Culture story, "A Gift from the Culture" is in my opinion sort of a dud.
The best three stories have nothing to do with that Culture hogwash, and can be appreciated by any Banks novice with a suitably sick sense of humor. "Road of Skulls" is like an absurd scifi spin on "Waiting for Godot". "Odd Attachment" and "Cleaning Up" are first-contact stories (a mainstay of the genre), and both are as gruesome and hilarious as any good first-contact story should be.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Jonathan 'culture hogwash'??!!! how very dare you! :-)


Kevin That was a little tongue in cheek. I do find the stories collected here a bit lacking, but that can't sully the greatness of Use of Weapons


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