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Matter (Culture)
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on July 9, 2015
You can see the increasing complexity and skill of Banks' writing as you go through the Culture series. By the eighth book, he's in his groove, with a complex story with many moving parts that progresses in unexpected ways until you get to an ending that's like a punch to the gut. Overall I think I appreciated this style better in the ninth book, Surface Detail, but his choice on how to end Matter was powerful. Although he does stick a little denouement at the very very end (hidden after his dramatis personae, like the kicker after the credits of a Marvel movie), he chooses to end the main story is a manner that feels almost abrupt, but which is very appropriate considering what's happening in the narrative.

I also appreciated his playing with and twisting the trope of "space princess" on its head. Books 8 and 9 are improved with interesting, complex female protagonists, something you don't always find in sci-fi. I definitely recommend Matter.
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on October 1, 2017
My general experience in reading culture novels is that I enjoy them but I almost always find myself unsatisfied at the end. In all but two (Player of Games and Look to Windward) I ended up feeling duped or cheated, because the central driving force was no better than a cheap ruse (see Consider Phlebas and Excession) . Matter is different in that it holds together from beginning to end and does not take it's driving force from some convenient MacGuffin. However, in the course of the novel, everything that would ultimately make the ending satisfying is vaporized. It's a bit like Hamlet it space, and that really wasn't I wanted to sign up for.

For all that, it's one of the best written Culture novels: it held my attention to the end. I would have liked a clearer denouement, but we can't always get what we want.
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on February 5, 2014
As with all of Banks' novels I've read, the writing is very engaging. Unfortunately, this is one of Banks' worst for abrupt change of pace and change of focus. After more than 500 pages of a political intrigue storyline, that storyline is resolved extremely abruptly and mostly off-screen. The last 50 or so pages are practically a different story, elevating what was a secondary plot line to the central plot. Plot twists are not inherently bad, but the political intrigue and the secondary story are very poorly tied together. The net effect is that the resolution of the political intrigue is unsatisfying and the investment in that plot line fails to transfer to the secondary plot, while the secondary plot has not had enough time to generate it's own investment.
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on October 7, 2015
Iaim M. banks deserves a listing in the Science Fiction hall of fame "Killer B's". This book was like all of the "Culture" series of books, in so much that there is a story beyond the story of the book. The reader is not only treated to a compelling plot, you are also rewarded with the writing expertise of a true artisan.
This book is similar in style as Bank's book titled "Feersum Endjinn", another great read. I own the book "Matter" in paperback, yet Amazon had a one day sale of this book for $1.99, so I purchased it to add to my digital library.
When I finish reading a "Culture" series book, I always spend a couple of days working the story through my mind's eye."Matter" is a great read.
Iaim M. Banks has passed on, so there will no more forthcoming books.
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on December 28, 2014
Banks' boilerplate tough, extremely capable female protagonist gets another outing, and very welcome she is. While not quite as Galaxy-spanning as other Culture novels, Matter provides interesting insights into Culture's footing in the community of involveds and their client species; fertile ground for future novels, if only, well, y'know. Still, Matter seems to touch on three epochs at once: the romantic, disease-ridden Middle Ages, the age of Culture and similarly-advanced societies, and - in descriptions of the planet and its machinations - touches of The Bridge, with its unsympathetic structure/landscape playing as much a role as any character. There's really no one like Banks.
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on November 23, 2016
The book started somewhat slowly with the killing of King Hausk by his longtime friend and trusted adviser during a war with the Deldeyn. The killing was witnessed by his son Ferbin who then took off with his servant Holse to seek help. The story catches fire as Ferbin and Holse begin a trek to find help among the ruling races of the galaxy and the Culture, but his quest for justice runs afoul of their non-interference policy.

The writing is uniformly excellent and often humorous especially when coming from the pragmatic Holse. It's another classic entry in the Culture series even though I had some reservations with the ending.
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on August 1, 2013
To me the least involving aspect of this novel is what takes so much room in it -- the lower level society located on one level of a multi-level shell world (an incredible construct) and its military/ruling family disorders. The real focus of this novel is the wonderfully conceived female refugee from that family, cast away by her father, the King, to the Culture, where in the end she becomes a Special Circumstances agent. In the process, we learn of two fantastically imagined, higher level intergalactic societies with which the Culture interacts, both perhaps its technological equals, and two mid-level societies that, while they enjoy intersteller travel, are a clear step down from these three -- or behind. Add to this the mysteries of two more very high-level, but now vanished (millions of years ago) glactic societies -- vanished with an exception --that left behind indelible traces of their opposing handiwork, and yet one more strange, elder society that crowds the stage, formerly of great but no longer well understood capability, now deemed senile. The motives and interactions of these societies, with each other and up and down the line, on a canvas unimaginably more vast than that on which the original lower level society plays out its small part, dazzle, daunt, and (dare I say) morally instruct. The SC agent figure links all this together, rejoining her original society after years in the Culture, initally for family and local reasons, but later to deal with more alarming considerations that threaten to unravel the very fabric of galactic society as a whole. Banks continues to perfect and play out his usual themes of altruism and its opposite, cruelty and kindness, mistrust, miscommunication, misunderstanding, courage, and the importance of singeleness of purpose -- this time with an effective and welcome strain of real humor. Is the ending abrupt? Perhaps. But pretty thrilling anyhow. I agree with others: don't start here -- but do eventually go on to this one after you start.
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on July 6, 2017
As much as I enjoyed the previous books, this one is probably my favourite since I started re-reading the Culture books. Somehow Banks managed to blend old and new worlds while subtly shedding more light on how the Culture works and fits into the Galactic picture. All this in a thrilling adventure. Loved it.
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on January 12, 2015
This story centers on a medieval society of an 8th level civilization of a shell world that, with the murder of it's warring king, becomes the nexus of attention for more advanced civs, including the Culture, and also the awakening of an ancient one, bent on destroying everyone involved. In a way, this story is about a potential reunion of sibs that is doomed from the start to ever be entirely realized. In another way, it's about advanced and aloof societies maneuvering for control over more primitive cultures in order to achieve their own selfish objectives. Who is good? Who is greedy? And who is naive? At least one Special Circumstances agent, with a vested interest in the multi-layered world, brings everything she's got to the final showdown.
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on October 12, 2014
I've loved every one of Banks' Culture novels, but held off on reading 'Matter' for a very long time. Both it's size and the mixed reviews daunted me. A renewed interest in SF, and patience for thick novels thanks to GRRM bolstered me, so I took the plunge and am very happy I did. IMHO, no one compares to Banks in the depth, breadth, and staggering array of races and technology he's created in an SF world, and 'Matter' shines with these. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but found myself wishing for less of some parts and more of others, he e the four star rating for an otherwise five star book.
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