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Surface Detail (A Culture Novel Book 9) [Kindle Edition]

Iain M. Banks
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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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: 1161 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:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,403 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
105 of 111 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The battle for Hell October 15, 2010
By Ripple
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
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My Culture hunger January 3, 2011
By Adman
I wouldn't skip a Culture novel, even if it consisted of a 80.000 word long Culture name. I also believe that Iain M. Banks should never get less than 3 star reviews, even for his super market list.

However, I must point out that Culture 9 did not really satisfy my Culture hunger. I have a feeling, that Surface Detail started as something else, and then this something else, was retrofitted into a Culture mould.

Good things first. Something I liked a lot (but could have liked even more): The fantastic concept of the Hells. The reader's first encounter with these cyber infernos is absolutely riveting and a fine rival to the hell sermon in the "Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man". Moreover, a novel called "Hells" could very well be a standalone novel, without the slightest Culture interference. And so, unfortunately, Banks comes up with Quietus to fix this, which, with the appearance of an almost grotesque agent, ruins somehow the Hells concept (as if SC really needed the existence of a Quietus branch).

There is also a ship's Avatar, that re-establishes Banks' readers faith in Ships, assuming the unthinkable, that Banks' readers would or could have lost faith to fellows like Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The and the like.

However, the plot overall is not really of Culture magnitude, there are too many secondary heroes, who are given too many pages to unfold too many uninteresting storylines. The bad guy has very similar vices to the Algebraist's villain, and to be honest, he feels tiresome and, unheard of for Banks, predictable.

Perhaps, I am overspoiled by the oh so many Culture literary singularities in the past. I think there have been good Culture moments in Banks' last 2 novels, but there has not been a Culture masterpiece for at least a decade. 3 ½ stars.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I like it.
Gone through.....about a third.....I like it.....Iain Banks is a good sci fy writer....
Published 5 days ago by Jesus Riesco
5.0 out of 5 stars Not every species thinks such a Culture is good. One very advanced...
Go live on an orbital, or travel the galaxy in a GSU. You'll be one of trillions of post gene enhanced humans living a life of luxury and personal freedom. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Ken Brody
4.0 out of 5 stars It also provides a very good look at a new
Surface Detail offers a satisfying dynamic between societies intermingling from different socio-political backgrounds. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Brian Tarver
5.0 out of 5 stars Those who enjoy taking forays into the richly-imagined Culture...
Those who enjoy taking forays into the richly-imagined Culture universe will not be disappointed by this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Reid P.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of Bank's best Culture novels.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great story line as usual!
Published 2 months ago by S. Laza
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest books of a SF master
One of IMB's most interesting stories, and he is, altogether, a fascinating writer. I love the way he drops the action for a few pages just to develop a specific idea, belief or... Read more
Published 2 months ago by iHEARvoices
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent storyteller. Awesome worlds.
Fabulous continuation of the Culture series - so sorry he won't be writing any more of these.
Published 2 months ago by Branden Barber
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best in the Series
This book might be one of the most straightforward, yet complex Culture novels. It's straightforward in that there is only one main overarching plot about a war over virtual... Read more
Published 3 months ago by F. Naughton
5.0 out of 5 stars imaginative, well-written. Compelling characters, thought-provoking...
imaginative, well-written. Compelling characters, thought-provoking thoroughly developed hard sci fi.
Published 3 months ago by Toby
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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

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Topic From this Discussion
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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