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The State of the Art

(Culture #4)

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  14,005 ratings  ·  567 reviews
The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to ...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published April 25th 2007 by Night Shade Books (San Francisco) (first published March 1991)
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Kevin Kelsey
There are some authors whose short fiction I enjoy much more than their novels. Iain Banks is not one of them. A couple of these are great, but I think for the most part that he really excels when he has maximum literary space to explore a story and develop his characters. 'A Gift from the Culture' and 'The State of the Art' are definite high points in the collection.

Individual stories:

Road of Skulls: 2/5
Nothing particularly special.

A Gift From the Culture: 4/5
I dug this one a lot. It had a noir
mark monday
The titular novella in this collection is a perfect distillation of the rhetoric and dialectic behind the Culture series, its themes, its very purpose for being. It features the entertaining Culture standbys of wry Ships, persnickety droids, and agents of mixed motivations. It discusses policies of non-interference juggled with policies of behind the scenes intervention; "going native" versus so-called "objective" distance; the idea that a natural life and a true engagement with living must incl ...more
Mar 26, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first two stories are OK, but nothing special.

The third one is quite funny. I can't count the number of times I've seen a hapless spaceman get rent limb from limb by a bug-eyed monster. But what's the monster's motivation? Banks comes up with a lovely answer.

#4 is also a nice perspective flip in a classic SF scenario. The guy in the space-suit needs to walk a long way across the surface of a hostile planet to reach safety. We always see it from the guy's point of view. How about the suit?

My husband overheard me muttering to myself about this book being out of print in the US, so he secretly ordered it for me from the UK. When it arrived, I somehow assumed I'd ordered it for myself and forgotten about it, so I just tossed it on the to-read stack without comment. He had to hint and prod a bit before admitting he'd bought it for me as a gift. He's sweet; I'm a dork. Anyway.

Every Culture book I've read so far has been better than the last. Though this one is actually a short-story c
Oct 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
What an odd collection. Some are irreverent and humorous, some quite bizarre. I was a bit disappointed with most, but found Descendant a gem and worth the price of admission. It's the story of a Culture solider and his sentient EVA suit, both injured/damaged and stranded on a barren alien planet. Banks vividly depicts a sense of intense desolation as man and suit embark on a harrowing journey.
I continue to be intrigued by Banks' Culture series, so I figured I'd track this one down.... I have no idea why it never seems to be on library or bookstore shelves, but, it wasn't that hard to track down a copy....

Definitely not my favorite in the series, but worth reading. As short-story (and novella) collections go, I found it pretty uneven.

Two of the stories, A Gift From Culture and Descendant, worked well for me, and I was particularly taken with the latter.

The eponymous novella, The Sta
May 07, 2012 rated it liked it
The only other Banks book I have read is Player of Games which I loved.

I think, as a compilation, this book fell a little short for me. I actually love short stories, so I was left feeling a little disappointed.

A couple thoughts on the individual stories:

Road of Skulls - I felt like this wasn't quite long enough or focused enough.

A Gift From the Culture - I liked this one. Kind of a little slice of life showing someone who has left the culture for something much more gritty.

Odd Attachment - I l
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book is actually a miscellaneous of short stories and a novella. The latter and one -o perhaps two- stories are set within the universe of Culture, the rest is not. I understand that this should be indicated in some way to the reader before buying the book.

That said, some stories and the novella that gives the book its name are very good. Anyway, I can not get rid of the feeling of "porridge" in the book as a whole, by some intrancending stories, some that seem experimental and some other th
The State of the Art is a collection of short stories, some of which relate to the Culture novels and some of which don’t (or at least, don’t overtly). I actually wasn’t much impressed by Iain M. Banks as a short story writer, it seems: the best of the stories was the titular story itself, which is both a Culture story and rather longer than the other stories in the collection, which gave it more space to interest me, and more space for him to set up the kind of story that’s grabbed me in his no ...more
A selection of short fiction set in the Culture universe, where your tools and equipment have opinions too and can talk back to you. My own tendency to talk to my surroundings would definitely have to change.

I really wanted to like the story where the Culture visits Earth. Is it still a first contact story if the Earth doesn’t know it’s been contacted? A bit on the preachy side, obviously written when Banks was annoyed with our treatment of our environment and each other, but acknowledging that
I am glad this collection is out there, and it is an interesting addition to the Culture books, but due to the peak-valleyness of the stories, it probably has to take its place at the back of the queue when it comes to Banks' Culture output.

The title story, The State of the Art, isn't my highest peak, but I imagine it is for most fans because it gives us the tasty return of Diziet Sma (Zakalwe's minder in [books:Use of Weapons]) and her ever arrogant and sarcastic partner, the drone Skaffen-Amt
Deborah Ideiosepius
It took me quite some time to get really into this collection because -you'll laugh- I didn't actually realise it was a collection of short stories when I grabbed it from the library. I saw the author, the title and the fact that it was "Culture #4".

So the first chapter takes us along a road that has been paved in the skulls of defeated enemies in a cart, only it bears no resemblance to the second chapter which is about a culture citizen who has joined another civilisation covertly. Well, maybe
tom bomp
Just generally not very good writing, to me at least.

Short stories:

Road of Skulls: short and pretty flimsy, only the very ending is much interesting.

A Gift from the Culture: pretty decent. Has a kind of interesting premise but it's hard to sympathise with someone who leaves utopia in general given it's far beyond our own experience

Odd Attachment: vaguely amusing, pretty gross, a little confusing, eh

Descendant: best story of the book, about a human and their sentient spacesuit. Not perfect but i
Oct 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
A collection of short tales, the shortest being about two pages long, the longest, eponymously titled, over a hundred and is the main filler here. Not all the tales are about the Culture, or set in the Culture Universe, but 'State of the Art' is, and is the most fleshed out and most interesting story in the collection. It deals with the Culture discovering the Earth during 1977, and sends down agents to study and learn from our planet. As it's Iain Banks, you probably do not need to be told the ...more
From BBC Radio 4 - Afternoon Drama:
The State of The Art
By Iain M. Banks
Dramatised by Paul Cornell

The Culture ship Arbitrary arrives on Earth in 1977 and finds a planet obsessed with alien concepts like 'property' and 'money' and on the edge of self-destruction. When Agent Dervley Linter, decides to go native can Diziet Sma change his mind?

The Ship ...... Antony Sher
Diziet Sma ...... Nina Sosanya
Dervley Linter ...... Paterson Joseph
Li ...... Graeme Hawley
Tel ...... Brigit Forsyth
Sodel ...... Conr
Juliane Kunzendorf
I finished this short story/ novella collection one day before Luke returns from Brazil. So we will record a podcast about this part of our book-club very soon :-)
State of the Art is a Culture novella with a few additional short stories tacked on, only one of which could be classed as part of the series. The short stories themselves are merely OK, and none of them really stand out.

The novella shows what happens when a Culture team arrives to assess Earth, circa 1977, and decide if they will make first contact. This is done in a clever and realistic way, as the Culture agents spend a year visiting the planet, whilst the ship hacks every computer there is a
The stories were 5 star material, I just hated the novella State of the Art, which I woud give 2 stars to at most. Rambling pages upon pages about non interesting things... at times I almost couldn’t believe this was written by Banks.
The other stories were brilliant though.
Althea Ann
Nov 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A collection, including the title novella and some assorted short fiction from banks.

Road of Skulls - more an introduction than a story,this short prelude is chock full of references, 'in'-jokes and served its purpose of making me go "OH YEAH! I am totally thrilled to be starting another book by Iain Banks!"

A Gift from the Culture - set in the 'Culture' universe (as one might have guessed from the title; most of the stories here can be construed to be set in the same universe, although they d
Sort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of Iain M. Banks short stories, paired with a Culture novella which gives the book its title. Taking up half the book The State of the Art tells the tale of the Culture's first contact with Earth, some time in the '70s. Told in the form of a mission report by Diziet Sma, and later translated by Skaffen-Amtiskaw, (prior to their appearances in Use of Weapons ).

Sma is assigned to the Contact group, on board The Ar
Reviewing the novella, The State of the Art:

Storyline: 2/5
Characters: 3/5
Writing Style: 3/5
World: 3/5

Banks's name keeps coming up when I come across science fiction awards or mentions of notable series, so I keep reading the Culture novels to see what it is all about. This one - too short to be a novel, but too long for a short story - was about as valuable to me as a DVD's deleted scenes. Large numbers of people must love those (why else would they keep sticking them on the home version of the
Jun 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: space-opera
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 u ...more
Ricardo Sueiras
Sep 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this book after a discussion with James and the realisation I had this on my kindle. After having read the last Culture novel so recently, I was a little apprehensive but I am glad to say that I did not need to be concerned.

It is a book of two halves - the first a collection of stories, and the second a longer Culture story.

The collection of stories show the breadth of Banks' imagination, and I really enjoyed them. They are varied, technically well written and laced with typical Banks humou
Simon Hollway
Aug 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
Iain Banks is my most adored author; State of the Art, his only work I hadn't read. What might have been comparable to a theologian stumbling across the Dead Sea Scrolls, sadly, was not to be. The meat of this collection, the Culture novella, trooped along in a heavy-handed, right-on manner. At times, it sounded like a squealing monologue from Robert Lindsay in the UK sitcom, Citizen Smith. It was of some interest filling in a few inconsequential timelines in the Culture's early history but not ...more
Stevie Kincade
Apr 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, audiobooks
This Audiobook comes with 5 or 6 Culture short stories and the novella length "The State of the Art".
The short stories were mostly too uh short to amount to much but I did enjoy the whimsical "Clean up" about an alien factory ship dumping their garbage across the globe.

"The State of the Art" was a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I always presumed "The Culture" were what humanity evolved into, so having Culture agents monitoring humanity in the 1970's was quite a twist on my assumed knowledge. The p
Maggie K
Jun 19, 2012 rated it liked it
A unique short-story venture from Banks...most of these pieces seemed either a little odd and unfinished or preachy rants. Only a few of these stories are actually part of the Culture world.
The title story is the largest and best thought out piece, and as a voracious reader of the Culture series, I was delighted to meet up again with Diziet Sma and Skaffen the Drone as they recount their visit to Earth for a historian.
Though it seems to ridicule earth thought, in all actuallity it's a critique
It's hard to rate a short story collection because of all the different feelings each story provokes. Banks has a lot of fun with his short fiction and you can tell he used it to wander off (what was already) a very unusual path. Stories both playful and morbid.

The chunk of this book is taken up by The State of the Art which is set in the Culture universe. I really enjoyed the story even though it's the most blatant statement of his worldview. I'm not sure I agree with his some of his conclusion
Shin Gaku
Mar 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The State of the Art" is a small masterpiece. It is ostensibly science fiction. Aliens from highly developed society study human condition in 1970's. Beneath this plot Banks seeks the true meaning of human nature. Why are we so destructive and obsessed with material prosperity? Banks's answer is very dire but I felt slight hope from Linter's love for human being.
Mar 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of stories is a small but significant contribution to Iain M. Banks’ inimitable Culture Series. I didn’t have much of a reaction one way or another to the smattering of Culture-based short stories, so this review will focus entirely on the book’s eponymous novella. “The State of the Art” is a brief but striking juxtaposition of Banks’ ultra-progressive Culture civilization and Earth circa 1977. When a Culture ship and some members of Contact arrive to study humanity’s home planet ...more
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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

Other books in the series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture #1)
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • Surface Detail (Culture #9)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10)

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“What's one more meaningless act of violence on that zoo of a planet?
It would be appropriate.
When in Rome; burn it.”
“You know, when I was in Paris, seeing Linter for the first time, I was standing at the top of some steps in the courtyard where Linter's place was, and I looked across it and there was a little notice on the wall saying it was forbidden to take photographs of the courtyard without the man's permission. [..] They want to own the light!” 25 likes
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