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Transition Hardcover – September 23, 2009
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About the Author
- Publisher : Orbit; First Edition (September 23, 2009)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316071986
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316071987
- Item Weight : 1.45 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,650,763 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Transition is not a Culture series novel. It is also unreadable. I gave up about a fifth of the way through it, and suffered all the way.
Tried it again in '19 Got a bit farther into it. Regretted doing that. It remains slow, vicious, unpleasant, and uninteresting.
What I think now in '19:
Yes, the beginning is slow and fragmented -- sort of off-putting. I do not think it was necessary for Bank to do that. It's why I formed such a dislike for it during my first two efforts to read and understand it.
I now think the book borders on the profound.
The premise of an infinity of multiple versions of earth and its people (those we get to meet and know anyway), some different in suich tiny aways as to be unmeasurable or just a bit out of synch time-wise (or a lot), others more different, is dazzling. You learn that some in our character set have the ability to "flit" from their bodies to another body on any of the alternative earths and some with the ability to take one other with them, what happens to the body left behind, all in a society ruled by the mysterious, but powerful Concern -- a secret society collective with a governing class, some of whom have learned how to become, functionally immortal by "flitting" to younger bodies and keeping them instead of returning the husk of their old bodies. The Concern is a cruel, merciless operation dedicated to keeping
"flitting" and its existence secret and unquestioned. Its interactions with other human beings are determined by its "Council" and the leaders of that Council. Many arguments about what is good and just, necessary or unnecessary, loyalty and disloyalty, desire and love occur as themes. This may be his most serious book -- his most earnest contribution to those who seek to understand what we are all about.
It is too bad that so many seem to have passed this one up, as I did twice. Bank's early demise was tragic for his readers and followers. That's why I took this third swing at this book -- because I needed to remind myself, after dunks in the sea of other science fiction writers still available, of just how good a writer he was. He comes out, to me, as always, as the best. Banks is missed.
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.
Top reviews from other countries
The hero is an accomplished assassin who begins to have doubts about the motives of The Concern. He is wooed both by the leader of The Concern's council and by her rebellious antagonist. There is much sex.
Who has right on their side? Which way will the hero jump? How will it all end up? The novel starts in typical Banks fashion: bottom-up with numerous story lines which make no sense. There's plenty of back-story for the main characters, much of it told achronologically. Yes, it's an intellectual puzzle to read this book and it only really gets exciting towards the end.
Many reviewers disliked the book, feeling it was shapeless, self-indulgent, arbitrary and perhaps pointless: I disagree. 'Transition' certainly demands quite a lot of the reader to internalise events and bios whose significance won't become apparent until much later, but it rewards the effort. As you reach the last page, turn immediately to the first chapter which you will now understand.
I particularly agreed with Bank's views on torture. He's too intelligent not to know that torture sometimes works. But he also sees how corrosive judicial torture is on any civilized society. So his minor character who 'successfully' tortured a terrorist (and was lauded for it although the details were hushed up) has a conscience-induced breakdown and demands to be prosecuted for his crime, stating that if torture is ever used, even to prevent a great crime, its use is nevertheless also a crime and it must always be punished.
I followed up Complicity with The Wasp Factory (Bank's first novel, and a very highly recommended read) and gradually worked through the rest of his books. Having caught up and read them all, I'm now re-reading them, slotting in his new works as they come. And so to Transition...
My anticipation for this book was tempered with some trepidation. Banks' last two fiction books - 2002's Dead Air and 2007's The Steep Approach to Garbadale had failed to impress me. The latter was particularly disappointing as advanced publicity seemed to suggest he was back on form. Had the magic touch deserted Banks for good, or could he produce something in keeping with his reputation?
Transition is set on a series of parallel worlds, all of them earth-like, some more developed than others. An organisation known variously as The Concern or l'Expedience has discovered and harnessed a drug-induced ability to "transition" between these realities. As many of the realities are slightly more developed versions of others, the effects seen on the leading Earths can be averted by changes in a lagging versions. The Concern exists to manage these benign interventions.
At least, that is the message given to those in "Open" worlds where most people are aware of the multiple realities and existence of The Concern. Those in Closed worlds have no such awareness and are therefore at the whim of the decisions of the central council.
The novel revolves around a power struggle between Madame d'Ortolan and Mrs Mulverhill. d'Ortolan is the dominant figure on the council and has her own ideas about the purpose and intent of The Concern. Mulverhill was a senior member in the Transitionary Office who feels The Concern has gone to far. The central narrator is former pupil of Mulverhill's who acts as a Transitionary acting on orders from the council. His interventions range from saving lives to taking lives.
As with some of Banks' best works, he is not afraid to play around with the conventional structure of a novel. The story is told through a series of different narrators, who by turns advance the story and relate the history of the concern and the central characters. Gradually these come together, although as with the best books and films, there are still some questions at the end.
So, what did I think? Well, it isn't the perfect novel; there are some ideas that are introduced and not developed - one of the realities is in the grip of a threat from Christian Terrorists. There are also, perhaps, too many narrative strands. The character of Adrian, who is in some ways a standard Banks' character, could have been introduced through the narrative strand of Mrs Mulverhill, for example. While it does have flaws, though, none of these are fatal.
Overall, it is an enjoyable read set in a series of strange, yet often familiar, realities. Once the book establishes it's rhythm of alternate narrators, it is also an easy read (albeit with some uneasy passages). While some of the political and social issues may not be explored fully, the book does, ultimately, have a satisfactory feel of justice prevailing.
When I read a novel, I would normally decide on completion whether it is a book I would want to re-read, and therefore keep, or whether it is bound for Oxfam. Had this been a novel by any other author, I suspect I would keep it, which is not something I'd have said for either Dead Air or The Steep Approach to Garbadale. On that measure, therefore, I am happy to recommend it.
Where does it come in relation to Banks' other work, though? Well, laying aside the question as to whether this belongs in the Iain Banks or Iain M Banks canon; I think it's his best book since A Song of Stone, and possibly earlier. It's certainly an easier read than A Song of Stone, which is written entirely in the third person.
The opening is a swirl of different characters that coalesce into a riveting story of an organisation ('The Concern') operating in a multiverse where they are interfering in different timelines to steer the total civilisation. I will mention no more of the plot to avoid spoilers but the ideas, characters, plot and pace are everything you would want. It left me wanting more - much more.
Bravo Iain, you are sadly missed.