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State of the Art Paperback – May 27, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Accompanied by a lengthy essay, "A Few Notes on the Culture" (1997), these seven arresting short stories and the disturbing novella that provides the title for Banks's latest SF collection all date from 1984–1987, the period of his bizarre mainstream novel The Wasp Factory and the extravagant genre novel Consider Phlebas, both cult-inspiring works. In short pieces like "Road of Skulls" and "Piece," Banks turns convention upside down and inside out, with shocker-endings that linger like smoke rising from a crematorium. "Odd Attachment" traces a marooned spaceman and his AI suit on a tortuous survival trek across an uninhabited planet, illustrating Banks's preoccupation with the "self-generative belief system" that applies to both humans and AIs in the Culture, the setting for the title story and some of his SF novels. Viewing Earth and Homo sapiens through the eyes of the Culture, a galactic group-civilization spawned by a handful of humanoid species several thousand years in the past, allows Banks to speculate on his dearest philosophical topics: the preferability of anarchy in space, denunciation of market economies as "synthetic evil," never-ending education for both humans and machines, and genetic manipulation. For all their wrenching images and sadistic twists, Banks's unsettling tales bestow a grim gift, the ability to see ourselves as others might see us.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'Banks is a phenomenon: the wildly successful, fearlessly creative author of brilliant and disturbing non-genre novels, he's equally at home writing pure science fiction of a peculiarly gnarly energy and elegance' William Gibson 'Few of us have been exposed to a talent so manifest and of such extraordinary breadth' The New York Review of Science Fiction 'Unfailing inventiveness and wit' Guardian
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Firebird Distributing (May 27, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857230302
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857230307
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on March 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
There are a few versions of this floating around. The one pictured on top of this page is the one I'll be talking about and is a collection of short fiction. There's at least one other published earlier that only contains the title story. "The State of the Art" is probably what this book is best known for, it's over a hundred pages long and thus dominates by far all of the other stories in the volume. It's also by far the best, probably because the length allows Banks to really run with his ideas and themes. Basically his ultra-advanced Culture runs into Earth circa 1977 and decides to hang around and observe for a bit. This allows Banks to indulge in quite a bit of social commentary in the form of "aliens telling us what we do wrong" but he keeps it balanced,... some of the Culture think Earth is a great place and there are more than a few arguments that the Culture itself is stifling and stagnant (not that these are new arguments to anyone who has read the other Culture novels), all in all it feels like a complete novel as opposed to a novella, and just about everything works. The book is worth it just for that story. Fortunately the others are all pretty decent, most are pretty short and thus don't have as much impact either because they're just downright weird (the one with the sentinent tree or whatever was just odd) or experimental (the last story especially, I suspect I missed a wagon-load of comments on British society) but most of the others, such as the other Culture story or the guy stuck in the astronaut suit work just right and show the depth and extent of Banks' vision. He's not concerned with working in just SF or just genre fiction or "just" anything, his stories run the gamut and are unmistakeably his, in whatever genre or strange mix thereof. These new to Banks would be wise to sample this and see what he's capable of before moving onto the (hard as it is to believe) vastly better novels. I wish I could say he's underrated, but it wouldn't be true.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Look at it this way - State of The Art is a great short story with some additional filler between the covers. But what a great short story it is. State of The Art finds the Culture arriving at Earth in 1978. By all accounts, the outlook is bleak for the human race. Contact, and our favorite Culture gal Dziet Sma, have to decide whether to get in touch with a world locked in a seemingly desperate arms race and the slow and painful destruction of the planet's ecosystem. Banks casts an ascerbic eye over the "state of the art" - both the Culture's and Earth's. By setting the story in the recent past, the reader knows that if the Culture had turned up just 10 years later the whole story would be different. Or would it? Sma and her crew-mates travel around the world sampling the delights and the horrors of Earth. Despite various cosmetic changes, is the planet in any better shape than it was 21 years ago? Is the Earth beyond hope? In a fitting gesture to the Culture's perverse tolerance for dissent, a crew member decides to stay. Why? And what, asks Banks, makes us human - and the Culture alien? A clever, philosophic and beautifully written story. Worth the price of the book alone.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "nwc18" on July 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
...this is not a collection. There is a short-story collection of Banks', but it was only released by his British publisher (Orbit, in 1991). That collection is also called The State of the Art (the title novella does takes up close to 2/3 of the book...)... Any edition that is from 1989, or published by Mark V Ziesing, is the origional American version and only contains the novella.
Hope that helps out.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R S Cobblestone VINE VOICE on June 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
There are at least two editions of this book around (I've got two in front of me as I write this), and there is a significant difference in addition to the cover art. The two editions I have are The State Of The Art (Night Shade Books) and The State of the Art (Orbit UK edition). The reviews posted on Amazon are the same for both editions, causing some confusion.

The Orbit edition has the following eight short stories:

- Road of Skulls
- A Gift from the Culture
- Odd Attachment
- Descendant
- Cleaning Up
- Piece
- The State of the Art
- Scratch

The Night Shade edition has these same stories plus an extra 21 pages of a "non-fiction" chapter titled "A Few Notes on the Culture." These notes are written in the form of a letter from author Iain M Banks to the reader, ending with "Anyway, that's more than enough of me pontificating. With best wishes for the future, Iain M Banks (Sun-Earther Iain El-Bonko Banks of North Queensferry)."

If you are a Culture fan, you'll want the Night Shade Books edition.

If you just want to read an interesting collection of (mostly) sci-fi stories, you can read either! "Odd Attachment" has a unique spin on the "she loves me, she loves me not" petal-pulling exercise. I also liked "Descendant", about the relationship between a man and an intelligent space suit. "The State of the Art" was almost 100 pages, and is about a Culture Contact team visiting Earth in 1977.

This is a book written for fans of both Iain M Banks and the Culture!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Whitehead on April 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
The State of the Art is Iain M. Banks first, and to date only, short story collection. It was originally published in 1991 and features both genre and mainstream fiction, as well as three stories set in his signature Culture setting.

The collection opens with 'Road of Skulls', a sort of jaunty little SF-fantasy tale with a Douglas Adams-esque comic conclusion. It's fun but very slight and very short. 'A Gift from the Culture', about a Culture citizen living undercover on a recently-Contacted world, is better but a bit odd. It's not a story by itself but feels like the opening chapter to a longer novel which ends in a rather pointless and abrupt manner. Interesting, and perhaps meant to convince us that Culture citizens aren't flawless, but still not the best story I've read.

'Odd Attachment' is dark and very funny, bringing a certain Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene to mind. This film is possibly a Banks touchstone, as he both appeared in the movie (he's one of the extras in the final scene) and referenced the rabbit scene in The Wasp Factory as well. 'Descendant', the second Culture story, is a story of survival and the bond between a man and his sentient spacesuit. A macabre and most effective story.

'Cleaning Up' is brilliant, a very funny SF novel about what happens to Earth when an alien spaceship accidentally dumps a load of rejected consumer products on the planet. From the evidence presented here (not to mention the humorous streaks in his other books), Banks could do a great SF comedy, and I'm surprised he's never tried to do it at novel length. 'Piece' is more sobering, a mainstream story reflecting on terrorism and the arguments of science versus faith and God versus evolution. A very thoughtful and prescient story with a gut-punch twist ending.
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