Panama (spwebdesign) wrote,

Book 25

  1. Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
  2. Morpurgo, Michael — The Mozart Question (68 pages)
  3. Unsworth, Barry — Stone Virgin (312 pages)
  4. Phillips, Caryl — The Nature of Blood (212 pages)
  5. Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (549 pages)
  6. Lockwood, Richard & Steve Potz-Rayner — A Little Book of Lies (170 pages)
  7. Vickers, Hugh — Great Operatic Disasters (65 pages)
  8. Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (574 pages)
  9. Rennison, Nick — 100 Must-Read Classic Novels (164 pages)
  10. Augustine of Hippo (John K. Ryan, translator) — The Confessions of Saint Augustine (422 pages)
  11. Fitzgerald, F. Scott — The Great Gatsby (146 pages)
  12. Harrison, Fraser — Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota (188 pages)
  13. Banks, Iain M. — Consider Phlebas (466 pages)
  14. Banks, Iain M. — The Player of Games (307 pages)
  15. Carter, W. Hodding — Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization (239 pages)
  16. Mandela, Nelson — Long Walk to Freedom (750 pages)
  17. Banks, Iain M. — Use of Weapons (411 pages)
  18. Banks, Iain M. — The State of the Art (215 pages)
  19. Banks, Iain M. — Excession (450 pages)
  20. Kazantzakis, Nikos — Zorba the Greek (345 pages)
  21. Banks, Iain M. — Inversions (407 pages)
  22. Banks, Iain M. — Look to Windward (403 pages)
  23. Nouwen, Henri J. M. & Yushi Nomura — Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers (136 pages)
  24. Gaiman, Neil — The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (217 pages)
  25. Banks, Iain M. — Matter (600 pages)
Page count
book cover: Matter.

While ploughing through Ian Banks's Culture universe, I came to a realisation: although each novel is different (in content, form, story, and more), each is essentially the same book; and while none left me thinking, "Wow, this is the greatest book I have read in ages," they were all highly enjoyable and thought-provoking reads full of humour, inventiveness, great world building, fantastically realised characters, riveting action, and memorable scenes. But it gets difficult to say something new about each one, as the same big questions and concerns are present in each one. Think of the Culture series as one large über-book with each installment peeling back a new layer which reveals some aspect or new perspective of the Culture.

Matter includes some of the familiar and some new and very unfamiliar. Most of it takes place in Sursamen, a shell world. Imagine a matroshka-doll planet: a planet inside a planet inside a planet, 15 levels, with internal suns and various life forms on different levels.

The title itself, as with everything else in this novel, works on different levels. It is "Matter" in the sense of "What's the matter?," "What matters?," and "What is matter?": in other words, questions about what is happening, what is important at different levels and perspectives of existence, and what is existence anyway. (The last point is gone into in depth in one chapter which presages the overriding themes of the last two Culture novels.) The different levels in the novel act as counterpoint to each other as the narrative moves from inner (Sursamen) to outer (pan-Galactic) perspectives and back.

The story concerns itself with a mediaeval-like civilisation (which, thanks to meddling from an outside agent, has acquired steam locomotion and WWI-level weaponry) warring with an equiv-tech civilisation on another level. These civs are overseen by a civilisation local to that star system, and they in turn by a civilisation with technology equivalent to the neighbouring Culture. (Layer within layer within layer...) The son of the king sees his father murdered by his closest advisor, who claims the king died in battle and seeks to rule in his place. This treachery leads Prince Ferbin and his loyal servant on a Tolkien-esque quest for his sister, who was years ago recruited by the Culture and has joined its Special Circumstances division (think black ops). As the story moves further out from the shell world, the events that seem so crucially important to Ferbin are seen from a galactic perspective for what they really are — and we get treated to the Culture's hi-tech gadgetry and some really cool new technologies. But it turns out that events on Sursamen are not as insignificant as at first blush; though every higher civ consulted by Ferbin insists they cannot and will not interfere, the repercussions of what might be unfolding are of sufficient weightiness that Special Circumstances considers whether or not to take a closer look, leading to delightful and unexpected twists.

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