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Matter Hardcover – February 27, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit (February 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316005363
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316005364
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #478,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This magnificent eighth novel (after 2000's Look to Windward) of the Culture, an interstellar posthuman civilization of incredible wealth and technological sophistication, centers on three siblings: Ferbin and Oramen, the misfit heirs of conquering King Hausk of the Sarl, who rules a backward and patriarchal realm deep beneath the surface of the artificial Shellworld Sursamen, and their exiled sister, Djan, now a powerful agent of the Culture's Special Circumstances division. When King Hausk is murdered, Ferbin narrowly avoids the conspirators and sets out across the galaxy to ask Djan's help with revenge against the killer, now serving as Oramen's regent. Soon they learn of the horrific forces a hidden enemy is about to unleash on Sursamen, and must race to save the home that has rejected them both. Beautifully written and filled with memorable characters and startling technology, this tale of intricate politics and interstellar warfare ably demonstrates that Banks is still at the height of his powers. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

It has been eight years since the last Culture novel, and critics have clearly missed Banks’s unique combination of galactic wonder and quirky humor. Their anticipation made for high standards, and for most critics, Matter exceeded them. Many fans of this universe enjoyed the way Banks mixes space opera with royal intrigue, though a few felt he does not quite pull off this cultural collision with his usual finesse. A more common complaint concerned the book’s length and pacing. While most reviewers were, in the end, happy to immerse themselves in 600 more pages of Culture, the novel’s heft may make it a poor entry point for readers hoping to pick up the series for the first time. It may be best to start with the first in the series, Consider Phlebas (1987).
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

More About the Author

Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative, and exciting writers of his generation. Iain Banks lives in Fife, Scotland. Find out more about him at www.iainbanks.net.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

117 of 126 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For the purposes of this review, I will assume the reader is already familiar with the Culture series of novels. If you have not read this series before: "Player of Games" and "Consider Phlebas" are both better introductions (and better reads).
This book has a very complex plot and a huge cast of characters. The Glossary and Cast of Characters alone are nearly 20 pages. To simplify greatly, the story follows three characters: the two sons and single daughter of King Hausk, lord of Sarl, a technologically backwards (approximately 19th century) land inside a "ShellWorld"...an ancient, artifical world of nested levels like Russian dolls, complete with nuclear suns and a variety of unique landscapes. The daughter (Djan) has long been away, adopted into the Culture and recruited into Special Circumstances. When their father is killed, one brother (Ferbin) flees their home looking for help from another SC agent who once helped their family, or failing that, his sister. The other brother (Oramen), unaware of his brother's fate or the great personal danger he is in, stays behind as prince Regent. Meanwhile Djan is travelling home upon hearing of her father's death.
Ferbin travels outward: literally out of the interior of the Shellworld, out into space; and figuratively outward from a cultural backwater into the enormous domain of the Culture. Meanwhile, Djan is following the opposite course, inwards from the expanses of the Culture to her old home. While Banks does an excellent job of developing the unique personalities and backgrounds of the 3 characters, they are primarily used to reflect on the universe he has created.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By xenoc on June 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a great fan of Ian Banks and the Culture series, I could read 600 or 6000 pages without finding it too long and many of the ideas (such as Shellworlds and the mystery of their purpose) are quite interesting and fun. But Matter has such a rushed and sketchy ending that it's ultimately unsatisfying. If the brief ending is intended to tell us how fragile life is and how war really occurs, then this is done in a way that is pretty sophomoric and not very compelling. Also, many of the characters seem underdeveloped and none, other than a few AIs, are very sympathetic. And without spoiling the ending any further, to have a god-like (apparent) bad guy AI tricked in a simple fashion by the (apparent and frankly not very compelling) hero seems almost silly. Altogether, it feels like the publisher got antsy about the deadline and said "turn in your work now!" when it wasn't really finished. Too bad, because this is one of the most creative and stimulating Sci Fi series out there and Matter v2.0 could have been quite good.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By G. M. Arnold VINE VOICE on March 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've finally finished "Matter", the latest "Culture" novel by Iain M. Banks. It's been three years since his last book, "The Algebraist", about which I had very mixed feelings. Like many of Banks' readers, I was hoping for a return to a more confident kind of story-telling, without the inconsistencies that had marred "The Algebraist".

Overall, I enjoyed it a great deal. Structurally, it has a familiar pattern: three journeys, party in space but mostly of self-discovery, that lead up to a singular point of crisis. Sounds a bit like "Lord of the Rings", doesn't it? Unlike "LotR", the protagonists are three siblings, but as in Tolkien's work the journeys are the main point of the tale. The revelation of the true nature of the crisis, and the climactic confrontation, are compressed into the last few pages. The dénouement is crudely perfunctory; a brief epilogue that follows an appendix, and almost seems to parody the close of Tolkien's "Return of the King".

Although the narrative is populated with familiar elements from earlier "Culture" novels, "Matter" keeps scratching some of the itches that affected Banks in "The Algebraist". There is a cynical undercurrent about the illusion of "progress", together with a determined attempt to destroy any comfortable identification that we might make between ourselves and any particular part of his menagerie. Perhaps you remember the wonderful quote by Sir Martin Rees, the British astronomer:
"It will not be humans who witness the demise of the Sun six billion years hence; it will be entities as different from us as we are from bacteria."

Banks confronts us with a universe whose population spans a vast spectrum of capabilities, of intentions, of possibilities.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Tom Braun on March 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have been a fan of Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series for a while. A hyper-advanced interstellar society run by a bunch of playful AIs that spend their free time interfering in the fates of less developed races? Yes please! Banks normally brings a big dose of imagination with a literary bent to science fiction. And his Culture series is Space Opera at it's finest.

I wish I could tell you that "Matter" is a book that epitomizes everything Banks does best, but in fact it's the opposite: slow-moving, un-focused and just plain sloppy. It really feels like Banks phoned this one in.

The plot revolves around a 'shell-world', an artificially constructed world that is in onion-like layers, each 'level' inhabited by a different race. Way down on the 8th and 9th levels are the Sarl, a pre-industrial, war-like civilization. The book primarily follows the adventures of two princes and one princess of the Sarl. The girl has grown up in the Culture and become an agent of Special Circumstances. She is returning home after hearing their father has died. Meanwhile one of her brothers is on the run after being the sole witness to his father's assassination by his closest friend. The other brother is now the presumptive heir to the throne and must deal the requisite web of politics and intrigue.

First nitpick - if you're a fan of the Culture, you're going to be bored to tears by the Sarl, and they take up at least half the book. Banks has made every alien race that surrounds them fascinating and mysterious, but instead of hearing more about the aliens we get Sarl Sarl Sarl.

Second, the plotting is just sloppy. There is a major subplot about the growing tension between two leaders, one who is virtuous and one who is villainous.
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