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Surface Detail (Culture) [Kindle Edition]

Iain M. Banks
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Hachette Book Group

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Book Description

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 - when it comes - is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Banks's labyrinthine and devious ninth Culture space opera novel (after 2008's Matter) adeptly shifts perspective between vast concepts and individual passions. The blissfully disorganized, galaxy-spanning Culture has fabulous technology that gives human and alien entities freedom to choose who and what they want to be. When sex slave Lededje Y'breq is murdered by a politician on the planet Sichult, the artificial intelligence running one of the Culture's immense starships resurrects her so she can seek revenge. Meanwhile, the Culture is uneasily watching the conflict over whether to preserve virtual Hells for the souls of "sinners" or give them the release of death. Leaping with jaw-dropping speed from character to character and from reality to virtuality, the narrative swiftly pulls these concerns together. New readers may be taken aback by the rapid pace, but fans will dive right in and won't come up for air until the final page. (Nov.) (c)
Copyright © PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, one suspects, won’t be fully appreciated by any but avid SF readers for quite some time, even if the author routinely reaches beyond classification. His world building is never less than spectacular. The AI components of his stories prompt comparisons to Philip K. Dick; his rich backdrops certainly influenced those of Alastair Reynolds and China Mieville. Yet what separates Banks from the ranks of other SF writers is the human component that thrives postsingularity—after technology has made its creators obsolete. Banks’s trademark—big ideas and equally compelling individual stories mingling seamlessly—is on full display here.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1119 KB
  • Print Length: 627 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; 1 edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046A9NLC
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,680 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
102 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The battle for Hell October 15, 2010
By Ripple
Format:Hardcover
It is perhaps appropriate for a book that centres around the battle for the afterlife to begin this review with a confession: this was my first encounter with Iain M Banks' Culture series of science fiction novels. At first, I worried that this put me at a significant disadvantage as for the first 100 or so pages, I spend most of the time being completely confused about what was going on. However, as the strands started to come together, it became apparent that this is partly Banks' style and indeed it's one he uses in his non-science fiction books too. Keep going, it does come together.

As in his non-sci fi works, Banks juggles stories and characters with dazzling effect. He takes a number of characters whose stories may or may not ultimately come together and switches between their stories. And just when you think one line of story is not going anywhere in particular, he twists it round and it all makes perfect sense. The confusion is compounded by the fact that he is covering both the `Real' and `virtual' worlds, and particularly in the virtual worlds, characters may take on different roles and identities. Sound confusing? Well, it is at first but it's also highly entertaining, not to mention clever.

To the uninitiated, the Culture is a fictional interstellar enlightened, socialist, and utopian society operating amongst other, less benevolent and lesser civilized civilizations. This is at least the eighth book to feature the Culture, which first started with Consider Phlebas featuring the Culture's religious war against the Idiran Empire. We are told that the events of Surface Detail occur a millennium and a half after this war.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Never Say Die October 19, 2010
Format:Hardcover
If you can create an immersive virtual reality indistinguishable from the Real then you can build Heaven ... or Hell. Inevitably some civilizations will build their own Hells, to punish sinners and encourage the virtuous. Equally inevitably, other civilizations will want to abolish these virtual arenas of unending torment.

In "Surface Detail", Iain M. Banks' new Culture novel, there is a war in progress on this very issue. Waged for decades in virtuality, the losing side is preparing to cheat and move the war into the Real. Suddenly this issue could drag everybody in.

This novel of 627 pages provides plenty of space for a multitude of story lines to develop and coalesce as the big picture comes slowly into focus. We start, in medias res, with the tattooed girl Lededje fleeing her overbearing boss. We cut to the conscript Vatueil, part of a mediaeval army besieging a castle in an opaque war. We cut to an overwhelming `equivalent tech' assault upon a Culture Orbital and meet Yime Nsokyi fighting in the last ditch. Not all of these events are happening in the Real.

It's a challenge to write compelling descriptions of Hell: how many words for torment are there in the language? How many gruesome tortures do you need to describe? How can you get the reader to empathise with suffering? Banks' solution is to apply a paced plot-driven structure to excursions into the netherworld: we encounter agonies from repeatedly unexpected directions.

Towards the end, as battle fleets assemble, the novel picks up pace and Banks has a lot of fun with the Abominator Class General Offensive Unit "Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints". This is a ship which could probably destroy a whole galactic spiral arm without really trying and boy, does it waste the bad guys!
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30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Having read the entire Banks sci-fi catalogue and a smattering of his fiction, I haven't come across a novel of his which didn't have a deeply woven tapestry with subtle accents. His prior novel Inversions didn't impress me much as I found the feudal kingdom a bit tedious to tackle, and the posh lifestyle of the king somewhat dull, but I did find the darkness and humor to my liking yet still received 3/5 stars. Of a similar raring, Feersum Endjinn didn't have voluptuously complex characters or a grand epic-ness. Surface Detail (SD) takes negative aspects from both of these novels and shares the similar rating of 3/5 stars... which I thought I'd do for the release of SD.

Typical of Banksian SF is the plethora of characters strewn across the galactic plane, who have a unique plot line and are fated to be joined together in extreme circumstances in the last 10% of the novel. That sounds about right, doesn't it? Most characters in SD are somewhat flat: generically evil like Veppers, fairly morbid yet motivated Quietus agent Yime, the sarcastic and blood-thirsty AI of Demeisen and the sulky yet revengeful Lededje. The real highlights of the spread of aliens, humans and pan-humans are the hellish plights of Prin and Chay (escaped from hell and stuck in hell for perspective lifetimes, respectively) and the trials and mindset of the cute and conniving Culture-fan of the GFCN species, Bettlescroy. Two separate books could have been written about these characters alone!

Veppers annoyed me the most, undoubtedly. I've read enough of easily unlikable characters that I now know it's pretty simple to create such a beast (aggressive sexual acts ala The Algebraist or maniacal single-mindedness ala Dark Background).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The ideas have stayed with me years after reading
This book is genius. It is terrifying and it is beautiful. Absolutely recommend to hard sci-fi fans. You know who you are.
Published 20 hours ago by Jane
4.0 out of 5 stars intricate and thoughtful
The many different characters are well integrated in the main theme. Which raises a fearful and interesting question? Who decides on what is to become of your life (afterlife). Read more
Published 26 days ago by Michael Sund
4.0 out of 5 stars one of his best
One suspects Banks had a blast writing this book. Fresh, crazy, engrossing. It flows like good jazz. One of his best, in my opinion.
Published 1 month ago by julisknipl
2.0 out of 5 stars Meh
I usually love Banks' Culture stuff, but Surface Detail is a tough one for me,

Where to start... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jonathan Strand
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, almost a 5
This is one of Banks' better stories. Engaging plot and characters. I especially liked seeing Minds exhibit real personality. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jelloman
5.0 out of 5 stars Penultimate Culture
This is the penultimate culture wars. It is set 100 years after Look to Windward and 200 years after Player of Games. It's a very good book too. Read more
Published 2 months ago by albionphoto
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Premise
This book introduces a number of intriguing premises with the main topic being the argument of a simulated "hell" as an eternal afterlife for the dead. Read more
Published 3 months ago by VICTOR A GALANTE
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning
Banks at his best was ... well, he was Banks. And this is Banks at his best.

It is a novel of the Culture, Banks's atheist Utopia; thus it is a bit surprising, but not... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dan'l Danehy-Oakes
4.0 out of 5 stars Original
Fun to read. Very original plot. Ending unfortunably pretty weak. Still Banks is/was one the best SF writers I know. RIP.
Published 4 months ago by Gerrit
4.0 out of 5 stars Another great Culture story by Iain Banks.
Another great Culture story by Iain Banks. He addresses science fiction in a big way, and explores grand themse of morality, life, death, and afterlife. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Gregory A. Weisler
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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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Preferred reading order of Culture novels?
There is no chronology to the stories, as far as i'm aware, although Surface Detail links subtlely back to Use of Weapons. You could separate them as pre and post-Idrian war, but it's not necessary. I'd advise reading them in order of publication: The first four on your list are excellent. The... Read more
Jan 31, 2011 by Sera69 |  See all 8 posts
Kindle Version
The american kindle version had no formatting errors.
Jan 27, 2011 by Alexey Malafeev |  See all 3 posts
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