Surface Detail

I just finished reading Surface Detail by Ian M. Banks. I used to be (and still am) a big fan of Culture, one of the few depictions of what a highly advanced society might be like. It's a techno-utopia, a place where mostly everyone is free in senses that we cannot even imagine - and a story of how an advanced society tends to brush corners with others, not-so-much advanced ones.

Unfortunately, while I love the world, occasionally it would be nice to have a story too. Just prior to this, I finished The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, and I wouldn't have probably realized how crummy Banks' book was if it wasn't for these.

Whereas The Sparrow is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, gripping story about people, and The Quantum Thief is a verbal firework of a truly original world, Surface Detail is clearly revealed to be an adolescent fantasy with really big guns and magic technology, with a plotline that seems incidental to world-building. There's one good story in it, involving a character voluntarily trapped in Hell, but otherwise it just utterly fails to deliver anything else than, well, magic tech and big guns, and not even too much new stuff about Culture itself.

So yeah, I'm disappointed. I mean, it's still an okay read, and the teenage boy in me giggles at booms, but frankly... seen it. Hoping his next book has some depth.

(And in case you haven't yet read them, both The Sparrow and The Quantum Thief are worth reading. The latter though is only for a bit more advanced readers: I hated it (or to be precise, I hated myself for not understanding at all what was going on) for about the first quarter, then I just finished it in one go. It's awesome, but it's not the easiest book around.)


I got the feel that Banks must be getting loads of fan mail asking for a new Culture book with all-powerful military ships, covert SC operations, reappearances of everyone's favorite characters, last-page plot twists, and hey what's up with Contact only having that one department, and this is his way of saying "look, that book would suck". "Surface detail", as in those little parts of some of the earlier books that you think you like but that are just the topping on the surface of a good story.

--Jouni Seppänen, 24-Feb-2011

Yup, that sounds like a good hypothesis. One can't make a hit every time.

--JanneJalkanen, 24-Feb-2011

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"Main_blogentry_230211_2" last changed on 23-Feb-2011 23:53:38 EET by JanneJalkanen.