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Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks – REVIEW – A solid Culture tale but a bit overwritten February 22, 2011

Posted by showmescifi in ShowMeSciFi.com.
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Surface Detailis the newest Culture book by Iain M. Banks, but it’s got the usual elements that all Culture books tend to have…

The short review is that this is a really great read, but no it’s not the best Culture book ever written (we’re still partial to Consider Phelbas and Player of Games)

As is always the case with Culture books, Banks challenges us with new ideas and situations – and Surface Detail is no exception.

The big new ideas in this book are the Intagliate – those who are tattooed and then owned as a life debt if their families become indebted…then of course the deeper look into the different divisions of Contact, Quietus and Restoria (though both are just Special Circumstances fronts right?)

The basic plotline is similar to Matter in a way (which we recently reviewed) where there is a woman coming back to her home planet to settle a score with a murderer. Also as is the case with matter the not-quite equiv tech society is also trying to reach beyond it’s own limits which draws in a wider conflict.

The deeper discussion here is about the ‘Hells’ and what is Real and what isn’t which is kind of fun.

The plots and subplots which all coalesce in the end is also a standard Banks touch that Surface Detail employs.

Having the tattoo – the same thing thing that imprisoned our heroine Lededje – become the instrument of her tormentors death was a really great angle too.

The new Abominator class of ship was also really cool and the Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints is easily our fav Culture ship-type – irreverent and totally awesome as a whole Armada in an ellipsoid shape.

That said, this book could have been 100 pages fewer and it would have read better. Banks (lately) has a bad tendency to over-write and Surface Detail is definitely guilty of being (moderately over-written).

As always though the final page has a surprise and this one wasn’t quite as spectacular as some of our favorite Culture books – though it brought us right back to one of our all time favs – Use of Weapons (we still get chills when we think about the chair made of bones…).

Zakalwe ? REALLY?

We just didn’t see that coming at all. Not that it’s a major twist, but still a nice touch for Culture fans.

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