A Discussion About Matter, part one

Being a conversation between me, James, Paul and Jonathan about Iain M Banks’ latest. You can find part one — which is actually more about Iain Banks in general — over here:

Paul: In some ways that may be his failing as well, at least from some perspectives – I get the feeling he gets dismissed sometimes because he’s not all I R SRS WRITR, THIS R SRS BUK. To each their own, I guess. But the other failing that I can see is the flip-side of what Jonathan mentions – I’d say he is an ideas man, but he lets his ideas carry him away at the expense of ‘hard’ plausibility and tight plotting. I mean, no one world-builds like Banks – Shell-worlds for example, bloody hell, Niven eat your heart out! – but as much as I love that aspect of Banks’ work, I can imagine it bothers others. And he loves the sound of his own authorial voice, too – again, no problem unless it grates on your ear, but that dry wit may be a bit too abrasive for some.

Part two will be posted here tomorrow, with part three over at Velcro City on Thursday. Those parts quite quickly become a discussion that assumes a certain amount of familiarity with Matter, so you may want to read a review or two (say, this one by Gwyneth Jones) to get the general picture; or, if you’re spoiler-averse, bookmark them and come back when you’ve read the book.

6 thoughts on “A Discussion About Matter, part one

  1. I found interesting the way in which the two reviews linked to address Banks’ attitude to the interventionism that drives the Culture. Both Ian and, to a lesser extent, Gwyneth, seem to be working from the assumption that Banks’ well-document opposition to the Iraq War implies a general opposition to interventionism. I think this is a false assumption. As Nic Clarke points out in comments to Ian, one can be opposed to the Iraq war, because it was the wrong intervention done the wrong way for the wrong reasons, without necessarily rejecting the notion of military intervention for the right (i.e. humanitarian) reasons.

    I also think Gwyneth undervalues the audience’s ability to recognize the impact of context. Enjoying stories that feature the casual destruction of planets without worrying too much about the collateral damage doesn’t necessarily make one the sort of person who is generally callous of human life. I mean, I enjoy James Bond films, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re a suitable model for the conduct of international relations.

  2. It’s not so much intervention per se as the assumption by “higher” or “more evolved” civilisations that they have a right to intervene that I think Banks is addressing in Matter. In the novel, different levels of civilisation in the hierarchy of civilisations intervene in increasingly larger theatres – the Deldeyn with the Sarl, the Oct with the Deldeyn and Sarl, the Nariscene with the Oct, the Morthanveld with the Narscene, and so on… The plot detour featuring Xide Hyrlis is, I think, as much a commentary on intervention for the “right” reasons as it is on war for the “wrong” reasons.

  3. Tony: Actually, that wasn’t me! (Haven’t read _Matter_ yet.) Although I agree with the point… :-)

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