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Surface Detail (Culture) Hardcover – October 28, 2010
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Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
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From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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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)
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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.
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Top customer reviews
It should probably come with a "contains scenes of extreme violence" warning, but that's pretty much par for the course with Banks.
Surface Detail is not easy reading but it's fast paced, exciting, suspenseful, darkly funny in spots, vicious, torturous, and contains several surprises. Basically there is a war going on between those who think a moral obligation falls upon its citizens to create a Hell to punish evil doers, fighting against those who believe that the Hells created by people are cruel and immoral, and should be abolished. Banks doesn't hold back, he usually doesn't, so you get a free tour of HELL, but be forewarned, it ain't pretty.
I will read this again soon, right now I am re-reading the other Culture books I have around the house (remind me to order the ones I gave away 10-15 years ago, I want them back!). The word "Genius" possibly gets overused but Banks is a true genius for his complex plots, unique style of writing, depth of characters, creation of powerful alien technology, and for pleasant and unpleasant surprises. I haven't always liked his non-SF books (some are slow, easy going affairs - maybe it's Banks fault for writing to the other extreme so well), his non-Culture SF novels are fine though, more than fine, excellent (The Algebraist, Against a Dark Background are not to be missed). I enjoy The Culture novels best of all the types he writes, with their in-your-face Drones, Minds, Ships with names like Xenophobe and I Blame The Parents. I have pre-ordered The Hydrogen Sonata and can't wait!
For starters, the plot is convoluted and loaded with dead ends, some narrative threads unceremoniously dropped and their characters yanked in another direction fast enough to give them whiplash. There are too many characters that don't live up to their full potential. They are marvelously vivid, but many of them exist for no other purpose than exposition on the various details of the Culture and other galactic and virtual and extra-dimensional denizens. Banks does a wonderful job of bringing the galaxy to life, but then he doesn't do much of anything with some of his intricate creations.
Despite the flaws, Surface Detail is BIG enough in scope and ambition to absorb those flaws and in some sense make them work. It's an overstuffed book. If it works for a couch, why not for a book? Yes, the main story sometimes gets buried under the fluffy cushions of the narrative. There is so much there there, and the secondary plots are so well developed that it is easy to get lost. The book sometimes seems to lose sight of its protagonist, which is unfortunate, because she's a remarkable character. So if it sounds like I am being angry with this book for being so good, well, I guess that's part of it.
In some sense it's just all too much and it could use more focus. On the other hand, each different direction the disconnected characters take is so thorough, it's like a bunch of concurrent novellas jammed into the crevices of a fully realized novel. I loved the setting, and indeed, the main story, because I had never encountered this writer's demesne before. Those more familiar with the Culture may be more burdened by the book's flaws, but for me, it was mostly just icing on the icing.