Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Premise of the book from Goodreads.com:
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.
It begins with a murder.
And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.
Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.
Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.
It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
This was January's SciFi Bookgroup selection.
I developed a love/hate relationship with this particular Ian Banks book. As usual, Bank’s books span a galaxy, with big ideas crossing big ships, and even bigger events. It started out fairly strong, introducing the host of characters that would take the reader into the middle part of the book, where it just seemed to bog down in cumbersome descriptions of why the Culture doesn’t like virtual Hell and why they were fighting those who felt it was their right to have virtual Hells and a few personal vendettas along the way.
Banks writes a deft story, interweaving some amazing concepts, ideas, ship names (the best part in my opinion), and usually pretty great characters. Somewhere, there will be a betrayal, because with a cast as big as his, someone is up to No Good. Surface Detail had all that.
As I noted, I had a love/hate thing going on. I thoroughly enjoyed the galaxy setting, the Culture, the ships, and most of the characters. But this one seemed to mire down in it's own gravity well about page 400. I lost interest in nearly every storyline. The only interesting character was one ship and that wasn’t enough to carry me through the next 200 pages. So I fully and readily admit I skipped to the ending…which I have to say was simply outstanding with one caveat. You need to have read Use of Weapons otherwise the ending just won’t make any sense.
So I recommend this one with reservations.
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