“I told you before: I have a perverse delight in watching species fuck up,” says one of Mr. Banks’ characters, purportedly the oldest human being remaining in existence. Which in the universe of the Culture means that he is thousands upon thousands of years old. That statement applies well enough to the novel itself: it delights in spectacular cosmic-scale fuck-ups.
I admit I am a latecomer to Ian Banks’ body of work, and by extension to the Culture novels. I thought The Hydrogen Sonata – the most recent installment in the series – might serve me as an entry point as well as any other book; that particular universe has a reputation of vastness and scale that somehow assured me I needn’t worry too much about skipping the previous nine novels. I think I was mostly right. Banks’ canvas is so large that individual characters, narratives, political entities, even civilizations cease being of much importance in the grander scheme of things. All that ephemeral fuss is supplanted by ideas. BIG IDEAS, as huge as 200-kilometer-long starships hurtling at staggering velocities through regular and hyperspace. Continue reading