Surface Detail

Iain M. Banks
Surface Detail Cover

Surface Detail


I really liked this one. It's an above-average entry into the Curlture series, and the average is already pretty excellent. It's just a little tinged with sadness from knowing that there's only one more Culture book for me to read.

On a personal level, Iain Banks kind of saved science fiction for me. For a long time, if someone asked me to recommend some SF, I'd recommend Iain Banks and Alastair Reynolds. New Space Opera. Unarguably SF works, featuring interstellar travel and galactic empires, but full of dazzling flights of imagination. Great stuff.

I had tended to feel, though, that the earliest Culture books were the best ones, particularly Player of Games, the first one I read. I don't know if that's just because of the freshness of the ideas - whether the first one I read will inevitably have the most impact - or if there really was a bit of a lack of sparkle in some of the later novels, but I'm happy to say that the last few have been back on song, and Surface Detail was great.

The story ultimately concerns mind-uploading, and the ethical treatment of uploaded minds. There's a war over hell. Which is to say, there's a virtual war over virtual hells. Is it morally right to condemn uploaded minds to endless torture?

The virtual war threatens to spill over into the Real, and several plot strands are drawn together from across the galaxy, via several diversions, into a climax involving explosions.

The villains and rogues are the real stars, I think. The good guys are slightly bland, except when they're being roguish. There's the trademark touch of real unpleasantness, and the trademark flights of invention, and it all works satisfyingly as a story.

I've given it 4/5 at the moment, and I'm not sure I shouldn't add another half a star.