36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Boring and slow. Did not care at all about the story or characters.,
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This review is from: The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture) (Hardcover)
I have followed Mr. Banks faithfully since his first book and have never before found him quite so lacking in ideas and character development. Feels like he was on a tight deadline so a lot of the things he was developing in the book get truncated at very awkward, disconcerting or simply silly ways. This book, unlike his others, is almost not at all about humans (or non-AI aliens). It is all about the Minds (his notation for the uber-developed AI's that embody the ships of the Culture) and other AI-like entities. The problem with making it about the AIs is that it feels a lot like a cheat. They are all-seeing, all-powerful and when all else fails they cannot die since they just transmit their Mind elsewhere. Mr. Banks' naming convention around the Minds was an interesting construct for communicating how the Minds are so awesome they don't have to take themselves seriously. Unfortunately in this book he takes it way way farther than what is reasonable and you end up skipping pages and pages of 'email' headers with a long list of nonsensical or tongue-in-cheek names whose Minds then only appear for one or two sentences.
The core (and really only) story line: a super advanced civilization has voted to be Sublimed, passing into the mysterious beyond where high-tech folks go when they are bored of the 'real'. No spoiler here that just days before this event that has been planned for 2 generations is to take place, it is suddenly put in jeopardy because it turns out their main religion was possibly a farce. Big ho-hum. The Minds involved ask themselves "why are we even getting involved?" (I echo the question, though my answer would have been different: 'don't'). Even the Gzilt in the know (the race about to be sublimed), also wonder if it is worth it to make any fuss about this since a large percent of the population already thought their religion was bogus anyway. In any case, this 'threat' to the sublimation leads to a cascade of bloody senseless killings that are accepted and non-intervened or revenged by the Culture since The Minds are only focused on finding the Truth, all morality and justice be damned. I kept waiting for one of the author's truly excellent human or humanoid characters that are able to bridge the guileless Minds and human spirit, creating compelling story lines. If not, then at least some plot twist so I could start caring. Maybe some end-of-the-universe risk. Nah. How could I care about a few trillion beings either staying in the Real and living the awesome carefree, scarcity-free life of an advanced civilization or going into some eternal spiritual paradise. 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. Hard to be stressed either way. And btw, they could have it both ways and some go and some stay.
The one developed human character is basically taken along for a ride, and unlike other successful unwitting heroes, she never really rises above just being at best a silent passenger and at worst an anchor around the awesome avatars and Minds dealing with the situation. The author creates 2 characters that I thought had great potential and then bafflingly ignores, abandons of kills off without any further development. One is a really neat bodyguard android that has a flaw in his systems and thinks it is living in a simulation. I thought that was a promising premise. he does one heroic deed, then spends the rest of time asleep and finally get woken up to be killed off immediately. The second was one of the Minds, Caconym, one of the few which are actually more than just a silly name and a bunch of bold letters on the page, that gets a little bit of interesting character development at first and then completely disappears.
There is a third character worth noting that would no doubt be in a tie with Jar Jar Binks as one of the silliest creations in sci-fi dom. It is a 'familiar' named Pyan. We never really understand if it is a pet, a tolerant reincarnated second cousin, a machine or what. It is a small carpet-like thing whose sole addition to the story is to have 2-3 word non-sequiturs. Why is it there at all? why should we care?
If you have never read a book by this author, do NOT start with this one, or you will probably never pick up another one and his earlier works are well-worth the read. Surface Detail (Culture) is a great story that deals with deep and interesting issues like virtual slavery and torture. It is well-written and the Minds play a good role but are not the flawless excessively and annoyingly sarcastic Gods they play in this book.
I look forward to Mr. Banks going back to writing books that will make me savor every page and sadden me when I reach the end rather than this one that made me skip pages and wonder when it would finally end.