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Surface Detail

(Culture #9)

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  21,564 ratings  ·  954 reviews
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.
It begins with a murder.And 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
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Paperback, 644 pages
Published May 12th 2011 by Orbit (first published October 7th 2010)
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Thaddeus Rex Not at all important. This is the first Culture Book I read, and was completely enchanted. Perhaps I missed a few references more experienced Culture…moreNot at all important. This is the first Culture Book I read, and was completely enchanted. Perhaps I missed a few references more experienced Culture aficionados noticed, but I perceived no lack of perfection. The book is incredible and stood by itself quite nicely.(less)
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Average rating 4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  21,564 ratings  ·  954 reviews


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Bradley
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A war in hell, for the fate of hell?

What? Is this a Culture novel, one of huge Space Operatic dimensions, Ship Mega-Minds, nearly ascendant alien cultures and encroaching afterlifes?

Wait. Afterlife? Sure! Virtual hells made for elephantine aliens with enormous virtual wars to take up their attention so it doesn't have to spill over into the real.

It's civilized, don't you know?

Of course, you can't say that for the people being TORTURED FOR ETERNITY within them. *sigh*

This one happens to be my abs
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Manny
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who appreciate a bit of sex and violence with their moral philosophy
I was surprised to find that this book presents an almost perfect example of a philosophical problem that's been bothering me recently, to the extent that I even wrote a short paper about it. Briefly, and without giving away any spoilers, the core thread in Surface Detail is about the ethics of inflicting pain, or what looks like pain, on simulated beings. The conceit is that many societies in the Iain Banks "Culture" universe have traditions of an afterlife which resembles our idea of Hell. The ...more
Apatt
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Iain M. Banks was taken away from us too soon. He was a genius of prose, structure, characterization and all kinds of SFnal ideas (by all accounts his mainstream fiction – published under the name of Iain Banks with no M – is also so great).

Reading Iain M. Banks is more challenging than most sci-fi authors though, his novel’s structure and plotline are often very complex, byzantine even; but the reader’s effort is always rewarded. With Surface Detail Banks takes about 70 pages to set up the pie
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Susanne
Jan 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Matt
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
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Nick
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carly
Dec 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First things first: does anyone else picture Demeisen as David Tennant? Gaunt, gangling, fast-talking, humorous, with a tendency to switch within moments from cheerful to scarily intense, and with a jaunty enthusiasm for sharing viewpoints that...uh...have a tendency to fall outside the usual moral constraints? Every time Demeisen talked, I heard David Tennant.

Now the actual plot. Surface Detail centers around the concept of afterlives, and hell--well, hells-- in particular. Many "civilized" cul
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Ian
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
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Terence
Jul 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gary
Nov 04, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Megan Baxter
I am taking a break from Iain M. Banks, I have decided. To be precise, I decided this about halfway through this book, when the meandering plot and lots of torture (not approval of torture, but lots of it) were taking their toll. I stand by that. I was initially thinking of it as a permanent break, but the end of Surface Detail somehow convinced me that while I might need a break, perhaps even of a year or two, I may come back and finish off the Culture novels at some point.

Note: The rest of th
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Liviu
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
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Metaphorosis
Jul 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, 2012-rev
There seems to be an epidemic of weak editing these days. Surface Detail is sadly not immune, either on the typographical (words and punctuation missing or misplaced) or stylistic (poor word choice, lack of clarity) front. It's not a major impediment, but it's disappointing.

Iain M. Banks' Culture books tend to exceptionally well-written, but also be dry, distant, and complex. Surface Detail is no exception. Characters with long, difficult names abound, and there are several plots and sub-plots,
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Mike
Dec 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Daniel
Nov 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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Matus
May 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Will
Jun 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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'
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Jamie
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Banks has outdone himself in what might be the best Culture novel, in a series which never fails to deliver. In typical Banks fashion, he masterfully weaves disparate story threads into a whole, building into a magnificent crescendo of galactic intrigue and confrontation.

The story shines with an intricate plot, featuring vast, multi-nested virtual realities, and a cast of amazingly well developed characters, which of course include some of the wonderfully advanced, witty, sentient ship AIs (Mind
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Stefan
Nov 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe
Feb 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Hadrian
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, scifi
First book of the Culture series that I have read. Interesting enough and a good read - describes the idea of a massive intelligence with some degree of detail and interest. I will have to look for the others.
Stephen
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 easy to imagine the justifications presented for creating a virtual Hell to puni
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Barry
Jul 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Fantastic concept of hell and the war of heaven vs hell. But, several pointless major characters that have nothing to do with the convoluted plot developments at all left me scratching my heads at the end. I guess just like Banks’s other books : cool concept, weak characters, relatively disappointing result 🤔.

3 Star.
Elf M.
Oct 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Alan
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Bryan
Jun 30, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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
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Kristin
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
Lysergius
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
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Althea Ann
Apr 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh, I love Iain Banks.
He consistently manages to create books which are compelling, complex and challenging while remaining action-filled, exciting and even humorous.
This is the latest of his Culture novels (the ninth, if I'm correct). As with most of the books, it works as a stand-alone, with only a few tie-ins to other books for the pleasure of the devoted reader.
This novel entwines the story of Lededje Y'Breq, a woman seeking revenge against her former master and abuser, with the story of an
...more
Kevin Kelsey
Jul 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: _library, read-2016
Good not great. The first Culture novel that I didn't absolutely love all the way through. Very inventive concepts represented here, but the plot threads don't come together as smoothly as they usually do in a Banks novel. The first half is fantastic, but the pacing gets a little slow in the second half as the narrative focuses almost entirely on side events and leaves the main story – the one I was most interested in anyway – to dwindle until the conclusion. Great little hook at the end to top ...more
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Science Fiction A...: * Book #9- Surface Detail 3 34 Apr 25, 2016 08:19AM  
Reading chronologically 5 44 Jul 31, 2013 06:59PM  
Torture In The Works Of Iain Banks 19 169 Apr 15, 2013 07:42PM  
Iain Banks / Iain...: Surface Detail 5 48 Feb 15, 2013 04:36AM  

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4,103 followers
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

Other books in the series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • Use of Weapons
  • 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)
“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.” 32 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.”
26 likes
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