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Transition Hardcover – September 23, 2009
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There is a world that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, between the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, frozen in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse. Such a world requires a firm hand and a guiding light. But does it need the Concern: an all-powerful organization with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers?
Among those operatives are Temudjin Oh, of mysterious Mongolian origins, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice under snow; Adrian Cubbish, a restlessly greedy City trader; and a nameless, faceless state-sponsored torturer known only as the Philosopher, who moves between time zones with sinister ease. Then there are those who question the Concern: the bandit queen Mrs. Mulverhill, roaming the worlds recruiting rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, under sedation and feigning madness in a forgotten hospital ward, in hiding from a dirty past.
There is a world that needs help; but whether it needs the Concern is a different matter.
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Although this is listed as a *Culture* series novel is really more of a vague prequel.
The way the "many worlds" hypothesis of QM is explored is fascinating, well executed, and enthralling. But again, I'm a fan.
I had to check the © to make sure this wasn't written before The Matrix (obviously wasn't) otherwise I would have thought Iain himself used some septum to travel forwards in time.
Highly recommended, stand alone novel.
One of the benefits of reading (or, I can say, writing) dark fiction is that you can wake up from it with relief. Unfortunately, from the dark world of Transition, where torture and other terrible things happen, I woke to a real world where they also happen. It's a bit grim, and while the politics shouldn't put you off, the torture might - especially when you reflect that it's not just fiction - all these things are really happening. And that's from a guy who writes some dark stuff, and just finished writing a story about torture himself.
The story deals with a large cast of characters and multiple, often limited, or as the story itself points out, unreliable narrators. It takes quite some time to get a handle on what's going on, though I can reveal without spoilers that the core concept is that some people can move from their own minds into the minds of other people in alternate realities. There's a Circle organizing it all, and of course there are bad apples and power struggles (so there is some narrative politics as well).
As always with Banks, the writing is smooth. This time, however, the pieces just didn't add up to a compelling story for me. There are a number of thin or not terribly credible pieces, and a fairly substantial number of loose ends left hanging. The ending was pretty unsatisfactory.
I appreciate that Banks steered away from the Culture, which is wearing a bit thin, but this was not his best effort. True Banks fans probably already have this. If you're new to Banks or not a devotee, I suggest looking elswhere.
The book posits that our earth is one of infinite alternates, and that certain people can "transition" between these possible realities under certain circumstances. It's part sci-fi, part action-spy thriller, part. mystery novel, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
The basic premise is that "transitionaries" working for "the Concern" flit their minds from their home world into the bodies of persons in various other Earths of the multiverse. The transitionary takes over the body (shutting down the mind, apparently), and uses it to accomplish whatever task the Concern has set, often including murder. Task done, the transitioner flits back home, leaving the poor sap whose body was used to deal with the consequences.
The transitionaries send only their minds (along with their flit-inducing drug, or, with great talent and effort, a somewhat larger object such as a gun). They cannot send their own bodies; they must find a host-body in the target world. And yet, partway through the book, we find Our Hero (Temudjin Oh) and the cat-eyed Mrs. Mulverhill hot-tubbing on a world on which all life has recently been exterminated. Hello? Whose bodies did they find on a sterile world? Now, Mrs. Mulverhill has many interesting talents, and Oh develops some special tricks of his own, but if their talents included bringing their own original bodies from world to world, I missed it. And in any case, this sterile world is described as "a place where privileged officers of the Concern could holiday," so it's not just Oh and Mrs M. who go there. This is so peculiar and inconsistent that I wonder if Banks is poking us in the eye, although if so I don't get the point. Perhaps we are supposed to remember that Oh (as Patient 8262) describes himself as an unreliable narrator at the beginning of the book. If he's unreliable enough to matter-of-factly describe a lengthy episode that is entirely impossible, it calls into question everything he says in the entire book. But if we're simply supposed to wonder if anything is true, I still don't get the point.
I was also bothered by the book's failure to deal at all with the plight of the hosts whose bodies the transitionaries use. Oh brings up the issue, and then drops it. This is peculiar in a book that includes an extensive and impassioned attack on the morality of those who use and justify torture. Surely using somebody's body to commit a murder, and then leaving that somebody bloody-handed for the local police to find is savagely immoral, if not quite the same as torture -- and such misuse of others happens every single time a transitionary travels. Yet Oh, and by extension the author, seem no more than mildly curious about the damage and fear the hosts must certainly suffer. (I know; it's a story about the transitionaries, not about the hosts -- but a story that explicitly takes strong moral positions, yet ignores this apparently central moral issue.)
To close on a more positive note, I need to mention a subplot - the question why, given an infinite series of Earths, no aliens seem ever to have shown up from anywhere. Perhaps, it is suggested, they might be here as (hidden) tourists watching something unique to Earth; i.e., a total eclipse of the sun, with the sun's corona showing around the edge of the moon. I loved the hints that Mrs. Mulverhill may be an alien, or part alien. I picture her looking for her alien father or grandfather during a total eclipse in Tibet, shortly after she kills Madame D'Ortolan on the train to Lhasa.
Read it, but not if you're a stickler for consistency.
Most recent customer reviews
I feel that this novel was paid for by the word.
If you expect the level of prose in the Culture novels... don't.Read more
I wish he were still around to write more of this new multiverse comprising...Read more