Bradley's Reviews > Surface Detail

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks
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it was amazing
bookshelves: sci-fi, space-opera, 2016-shelf

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 absolute favorite of all the Culture Novels. I haven't read the 10th yet, but it's going to have to work double-time to beat this one.

I love all the characters, from the Eccentric Drones to the debt-enslaved victim of hell and her lover of oh so tragic fate. (Learning how to become a demon to escape the victim's-fate is pretty tragic, after all.)

And through this, the Culture sits and watches and makes noises that they'll never get involved in other species's conflicts unless ordered by Culture, proper, and yet they always seem to find ways to stick their noses in and make epic struggles and full-blown wars out of molehills.

Got to love it. :)

War For Hell! And as always, the ironic humor of the ships, their names, and the situations is all sheer delight. :) I mean, after all, the setting is, in fact, in an Elephant's Graveyard. :)

Lol. Great stuff!
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Reading Progress

March 25, 2013 – Shelved
September 23, 2016 – Started Reading
September 23, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 24, 2016 – Shelved as: sci-fi
September 24, 2016 – Shelved as: space-opera
September 24, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 31, 2016 – Shelved as: 2016-shelf

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by Trish (new)

Trish A story that is situated in hell ... I like the concept! So this is book #9 in a long series? I'm only asking because there is no indication that this belongs to a series in the title.


message 2: by Kian.R (new)

Kian.R Well ya I guess. Brad wrote the review last night and I was there to read it.


message 3: by Trish (new)

Trish Sorry, but what does that have to do with anything?


Bradley No, now that I'm half way done with book 10, there's NO ONUS on anyone to read these in any particular order, even if they're numbered as a series.

Culture is just the galactic-spanning ultra-high civ filled with happy citizens ruled by super smart ship-minds. :) Everything else is just story, and very good stories. :)

You can easily read this one out of context and just pick up anything anywhere. I just happened to imagine that you might get more out of them by doing the sequential thing, but no.

Some of them are better for beginners, though, like Player of Games, but this was pretty fantastic.

And only parts were in hell. There was plenty of action on all sides. :)


message 5: by Trish (new)

Trish Oh so this belongs to the series you told me about with the AI ships with those great names! But if I read these, I'll definitely read them in order. Discworld are stand-alone novels too but even if I skip some in between, I'll read them in order.


Bradley Nope, really not necessary. Believe me, I've tried to see if it is, but it isn't. The stories take place along a huge amount of time, like hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years apart. The fact that the culture has survived that long is besides the point. :) Only the moment really matters. :)

UNLIKE Discworld, where things DO change even though so many characters are still around, and there's a real timeline.


message 7: by Trish (new)

Trish So I could read this immediately and then #1 next up. That is weird if he published it as a series. Or maybe that is why there is no indication of it being a series in the first place?!


Bradley Um my edition says #9, but it doesn't matter. The author is kinda arty-farty. So just assume that he thinks he's smarter than anyone. His connections and progressions from one novel to the next may actually be semantic, as far as I know. Maybe a deep undercurrent of a progressive theme. Maybe even a mathematical equation.

It *isn't* something that is obvious to me.

Of course, some things are very funny and obvious. Such as Excession being the novel that has the HUGE MYSTERIOUS SUPERTECH OBJECT freaking out all the mindships and almost starting a galactic conflagration, followed up with the next novel, Inversions, which dives into a backwater world with tiny dealing like kings and doctors and long seething revenge that's pretty much entirely a medieval fantasy except for just a few Culture tweaks, but still, it's all very very very small in the galactic scheme. :) (books 5 and 6) :)


message 9: by Trish (last edited Sep 24, 2016 02:16PM) (new)

Trish Mathematical equation?! Shit. I knew there was gonna be a downside - I went to a school for languages for a reason you know?! ;P
The way I see this page, the book just has the title, no info about it being #anything - weird.
But the author's changng (improving?) writing style might be nice to see when reading the books in order.


message 10: by Bradley (last edited Sep 24, 2016 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bradley Nope, he's perfectly aware of what he's doing from book one. :) No changing styles because he's already damn versatile. He'd already won one Booker award before writing his Oh So Clever Space Operas. :)

And I wouldn't worry about heavy maths in these. He refers to them and uses the end products of such, but no working knowledge is ever required on our part. :)

Unless... perhaps.. you're trying to follow a thread of connections between novels.

Which is more work than I want to put in. :)


Stephen Trish: All the culture novels are pretty stand alone. Each is fascinating in its own way. I'd recommend starting with Consider Phlebas, Banks first and perhaps the most accessible.


message 12: by Veronique (new)

Veronique This is quite tempting. I've been meaning to try Banks too. So either his first book, or The Player of Games. Others?

Trish, languages have a part that is mathematical too ;0) I'm quite intrigued now that I've read Ted Chiang's short stories at how maths/physics can be used to create some amazing tales.


message 13: by Trish (new)

Trish Actually, funny that you mention that, Veronique. I saw the trailer for The Arrival which is based off Ted Chiang's short story and now I have his short story collection so I can read on that mathematical take on linguistics. Ancient languages have sort of a logic to them that fascinate mathematicians while at the same time most people taht are good in linguistics are not that good in maths and vice versa. THat has always fascinated me. :)


@Stephen: Yeah, Brad told me, thanks for the rec about where to begin. Since I'm booked solid untl the end of this year and further (I kid you not), I won't get to these anytime soon but these AI ships sound cool so I want to read Banks (also because he really must be good to have won the Booker).


@Brad: Well, I would have liked to find out if I can see this very thin red thread that weaves through the novels. We shall see (or not).


message 14: by Veronique (last edited Sep 25, 2016 04:09AM) (new)

Veronique Do read it Trish - it is excellent! It's weird but I've always liked maths, and have used a fair amount in my jobs, but just prefer languages and lit. Or rather I like the logic behind all of these.


Bradley Well it's true that these are all good. Even the books that are not as good as his others are still really, really good.

I can say that my favorites are Surface Detail, this one, The Player of Games, Excession, and Consider Phlebas, in that order. Although, it is really hard to juggle the first two spots because this one was nearly as good as Surface Detail.

And no, there's nothing really tying anything together except the constant interventions of a little eccentric off-group of the Culture Mind Ships called Special Circumstances, which is pretty much made up of spies and political tinkerers and malcontents and devious motherfuckers... also of which are the exceptions to the Culture as a whole that proves the rule. :)


message 16: by Trish (new)

Trish The ships are what interested me so I definitely like that. I see a Banks-read coming for 2017 ... apparently, next year will be the year of serials.


Stephen Big fan of Banks. Have enjoyed everything he's written.


Bradley I've only read one of his traditional fiction books. Is he awesome beyond The Wasp Factory, too, then?


Michael Brookes I loved this book.


Stephen Absolutely yes. For fiction try: Complicity, The Bridge, Espedair Street and Walking on Glass. For Scifi: Start with Consider Phlebas, The guy's range and versatility is amazing.


Belinda Lewis Feersum Endjinn is still my favourite Ian Banks because it was my first and the first is always so special. But Surface Detail is a very very very close second - its amazing :)


Bradley I need to read that one! Feersum Endjinn looks interesting! :)


Stephen Ah yes forgot FE. Good choice.


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