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on March 31, 2017
I love the writings of Mr. Banks so there's my disclaimer.

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.
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on June 19, 2012
I enjoy Iain M. Banks' writing very much, but I have issues with this book - there is what appears to be a serious internal inconsistency, plus a surprising moral hole in the story.

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.
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on June 20, 2017
This was my first first exposure to Banks, so I'm a little biased: I had no idea such an exciting writer existed prior to reading this book.

The plot is clever and fun, running through different times and places with imagination. The characters feel real, you may have met someone as bewildering as Madame d'Ortolan.

I really like how the women are drawn in this story. They have their own sexual agency. And the men in the story have, gasp, moments of emotional vulnerability.

Bank's thoughtfulness on group dynamics and social heirarchy is on full display.

I wouldn't call this hard sci-fi. Not as nerdy as the Culture series. But it is fun.
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on May 30, 2011
It was well written, with interesting characters, obfuscated narration, clever tricks, flash forwards / backwards / sideways and the sort narrative twisting that reminds me of Use of Weapons. In short, it was a very Iain M Banks novel. He's a fan of complex ideas and complex narratives. To claim that his leftist politics are too intrusive on the story, well, I guess you haven't read many of his other books - he's rarely shied away from making a pointed remark in that direction.

My only problem, or complaint, is that it just isn't that well thought out. It's made clear early on (and in several other reviews) that this is fundamentally a Many Worlds idea. Unlike, say, the 1950s Sci Fi efforts of multiple dimensions and alternate earths, this narrative uses an interpretation of modern physics writ large by Brian Greene. For a particle in some quantum state, it may end up in state A or state B - completely at random. Many Worlds is an interpretation of quantum mechanics that says that both of these outcomes are valid and, in fact, occur - there are infinities of universes constantly splitting and spiraling off from each other in countless number, from every little event, even, say, the decay of a radioactive element deep within the crust of the Earth (or some other planet, even). Most people tend to misunderstand this idea and instead ascribe the splitting of universes to individual, conscious choices they make - not really thinking about all the infinities that precede that choice (or if indeed there is such a thing as choice!) or, even taking the idea at its face, thinking about all the choices being made all the time by all the people, animals, insects ... anyway, its an enormous landscape of infinities.

Within this interpretation Banks crafts a framework of travel across these infinities, and a group that attempts to improve the state of the world(s). To his credit he addresses briefly the futility of it all - why try to improve the outcome of this one version of reality when there are always an infinite number where they are not improved? What about the infinities of worlds where your efforts have made it worse? The argument presented in the book is basically "even though hopeless, we have to try" - almost a Spiderman like appeal.

But the main sticking point for me is within this framework he asserts a sort of unique point of view which we might call the spirit or the consciousness of the transistioner. It is this "mind" or "soul" which moves, and it goes to inhabit some other body (what happens to the displaced?) for a time but it might come back "home" at some point, or even more confusingly, to the "unique" home reality of the Transitioning Concern. As the book actually points out, once you take any kind of belief in the many worlds, and some kind of transfer between them, any idea like solipsism is immediately suspect - but this includes the entire premise of the book, this unique points of view which are the characters.

I have a lot of respect of Iain Banks and his skills, so I believe that this must have occurred to him - perhaps this is why the first line of the book is basically "I'm an unreliable narrator". But I think he was too in love with some of the ideas to come up with a solution. For me, it put a sizable damper on my ability to lose myself in the story - I kept scratching my head and saying "but what?" and hoping that in the end it would be addressed or resolved somehow.

On the whole, still enjoyable, but I would say : if you like the idea of contemporary settings and large global conspiracy, read The Business. If you like really twisting narratives and dark twists, read Use of Weapons. Both are better than this effort.
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on August 4, 2017
Interesting use of multiple viewpoints each chapter; however continuity not always there. Not up to the standard of the other "Culture" novels.
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VINE VOICEon May 13, 2010
I've always loved Iain M. Banks' science fiction novels, especially his "Culture" books with their huge sentient spaceships and breathtaking worlds. The Player of Games is a particular favourite. And Ive also enjoyed what I think of as his various experiments: The Algebraist, and Matter.

This isn't a "Culture" book. There are worlds - or at least a multiverse - but no spaceships. Bits of it are about the present. The characters are all recognizably human (there are no aliens or sentient machines), which doesn't say as much as you might think. But it's unmistakably by Iain M. Banks.

I've never been able to get into Iain Banks stark and gritty fiction, like The Wasp Factory or Whit. "Dark", "twisted" novels are just fine, up to a point, but I've always found that Banks goes just past that point. Friends tell me I ought to try The Crow Road, which is supposedly dark, twisted, and funny. Maybe.

This isn't dark. It's twisted, in many ways. The characters are all recognizable to the modern eye, which doesn't say as much as you might think. But it's unmistakably by Iain Banks.

At least one reviewer said that he(?) couldn't be bothered with this, and gave up after about 100 pages. In my case, I started it on a plane, got distracted, and tentatively decided that I would wait until I got home from my present business trip to finish it. But after a couple of days I found that I couldn't stay away. It was as though the skein of this odd book had got snagged on a hangnail, and I couldn't shake it off. (Ugh. Try another mixed metaphor.) I found myself reading it (on my iPad, using the Kindle reader) at every opportunity I got. Over breakfast. In between meetings. In my favourite cocktail bar here in Shenzhen.

Part of me wants to proclaim that it's the best thing I've read in years. Other bits of me are still confused. I think that this is a very commendable thing. More books should have these effects.

I think that will suffice. I recommend it to the curious and the flexible among you.
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on October 9, 2009
Pay attention to everything in the first 50 pages of the book, it won't make much sense to you at all, but it will by the end and you'll find yourself going back to reread that portion to see how you were first led off, after the knots have all been neatly tied at the end. Iain has a devious mind as can be seen in his earlier books. I think he comes up with a base story but his creative mind then winds backwards from that single thread to a gordian knot that then is transferred to words on paper. Transition is a worthy, and murderously bloody tale. It takes the traditional consipiracy plot (which side is which and who is on which?) and weaves it through fresh sci-fi turf that is fascinating and well detailed. He then adopts a film-like disjointed scenes approach to further "transition" the reader to this strange setting of multiverse. I can't think of another book like it, which I think is IB's goal. I got so caught up, I kept forgetting to sip my Grange.
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on March 31, 2015
Transition is one of his later works, and despite
Headlines to the contrary, really has no reference to the Culture. However, it has the same plotting and character development as the Culture novels.

Banks is an acquired taste. The reader must pay close attention as the multiple plot lines develop in parallel, and sometimes Banks seems to throw in some deliberate deception (for example, the Philosopher and the torture adept assistant).

In all, a great read, and well worth the time.
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on August 15, 2010
Call it what you will, Transition is another delightful book from Banks. Beautiful use of language, witty and droll. Complicated Yes; Worthwhile definitely; Confusing, of course, it is a Banks book after all. I still have not discovered within my understanding the importance of the "Patient". I suspect he is one of the primary characters on another earth. He is in hiding and is pursued but beyond that ??? Any one who has seriously contemplated the nature of infinity and probability will immediately grasp the concept of the many-worlds, multiverse, parallel universes etc. Great and interesting characters to care about or fear and dread are all here. I will re read, as I ofter do with Bank s novels hoping to glean more from his rich and complex plots and characters. Writing this I see he has published another "Culture" novel which I will immediately order.
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on June 25, 2014
If you're expecting another Culture novel, or at least something with that sort of pacing... not so much. As always, Banks has a grand vision of scale - multiple universes instead of galaxies this time - but it just didn't seem as coherent as his other novels, which may have been a bit of the point. An interesting read, but not one I'd pick up again. Will be dropping it off at the local book exchange.
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