About Me

My photo
I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Just Finished Reading: Transition by Iain Banks (FP: 2009)

Imagine, if you will, a reality of multiple Earth’s each in ways both large and small different from our own. Imagine this Multiverse getting bigger and expanding outward every minute of every day presenting Earth’s of infinite variety. Now imagine people gifted with the ability to move between these worlds and inhabit the bodies of people there, to take them over temporarily, to move about, to study and to manipulate. Such people cry out for organisation and purpose, to be directed in their goals not only to make the world a better place but to make all worlds better, to bring out the best possible outcome for the greatest number of Earth’s. Or at least this is what the Concern, also known as L’Expedience, tell its operatives who, being close to the action, cannot see the ‘big picture’. Being only human they speculate on exactly why they do what they do – are the fighting an anti-Concern dedicated to sowing chaos in the Universe? Are they preventing an alien invasion already taking place on worlds none of the Transitioneers come back from? Whatever the reasons the top echelons of the Inner Council are keeping their secrets close to themselves. Until that is their ultimate assassin, the man that never fails, goes off script and kills the wrong person for reasons unknown. Has he been subverted by a rebel faction? Has he simply gone mad with the endless killing or is there something more sinister going on here. It can hardly be a coincidence that, just as decade long plans come to fruition that the weapon being used has turned on its owners. The problem is a knotty one: how do you find an assassin that cannot be found and kill a man who cannot be killed – especially when he seems to have very knowledgeable and powerful friends?

I have to say that I am a huge fan of Iain (M) Banks in both of his incarnations. This is, as you will notice, one of the more strange variety than you’ll find in his books authored with the M in the name. These, mostly based around the society known as the Culture, are pretty standard SF. OK, highly imaginative but still pretty standard. His other books (no M) are, well, a little more ‘out there’. This is most definitely no exception to that rule. Firstly there is the multiple world’s aspect. As the protagonists flit (Transition) between different Earth’s it can be an effort keeping up with exactly where they are – especially as they’re jumping between bodies at the same time. There’s some discussion on the techniques of Transition, the chemical aids and the background to the Concern. Then there’s the cast of characters. Firstly at least one or two are probably insane – at least one is definitely psychotic. There is much talk of drugs (apparently Coke is best) and quite a bit of sex (with appropriate language to match). There’s also a fair amount of reasonably graphic torture which might put a lot of my readers off reading this. One of the main characters is a torturer (mostly for the Government – and then the Concern) and there are, I admit, some interesting ruminations on the efficacy and morality of torture but nothing that you can’t read elsewhere. Although there’s action a plenty there’s still quite a bit of people sitting in rooms (or often in bed) talking about things. Some of this is interesting and moves the story forwards. A significant amount of it does (unfortunately) neither. The ending, I found, was a little abrupt and a little too over contrived. I also thought that too much of the distasteful aspects of the book served no real purpose.

Overall then I was somewhat disappointed with this work. Banks is great (and sorely missed) but he can be overindulgent and can let his (often brilliant) ideas run away with him. He is not afraid of disturbing, disgusting and, sometimes, offending his readership. He I was both disturbed and (a little) disgusted but never offended. His excesses throughout this interesting narrative were (at least in my opinion) unnecessary but forgivable. There is much in this book to admire but you’ll need a pretty strong constitution and a fairly strong stomach to read every word on every page. A strange, interesting and often haunting tale well told – but be warned this is neither a pleasant nor an easy read.  


Fred said...

CyberKitten--I've only read two of Banks' novels, both of which were in the Culture series. This one sounds a bit wilder than the two I've read so far. I'll keep this one in mind.

Mudpuddle said...

i've read three, i think, of Bank's novels, but quit because of the torture... too much sadism is sick, imo... otoh, i've read all, i believe of Alastair Reynold's Revelation Space novels: i liked them much more, even though, if anything, they're more complicated than Bank's efforts...

Brian Joseph said...

Terrific commentary on this book.

Despite the flaws that you mention this sounds so interesting. I find alternate universes fascinating in general. The Concern and what they do sounds so very creative and different. I would like to read this book.

Fred said...

Mudpuddle--torture in Banks' novels. I haven't come across that in the two I've read. Can you remember the titles of those you read?

Mudpuddle said...

Fred: my memory isn't that good any more, but i looked up his output on wiki, and i think i've read: consider phlebas, the algebraist, hydrogen sonata, suface detail, matter, excession, and the use of weapons... i just remember odd uncomfortable bits like when during a voyage the hero tortures a guy to death every day and revives him so he can do it again... yuk... there are some other examples, also...

CyberKitten said...

So far I've read:

The Wasp Factory (1984)
Walking on Glass (1985)
Canal Dreams (1989)
Transition (2009)

...and his Culture novels:

Consider Phlebas (1987)
The Player of Games (1988)
Use of Weapons (1990)
The State of the Art (1989)
Excession (1996)
Inversions (1998)
Look to Windward (2000)
Matter (2008)
Surface Detail (2010)
The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)


Against a Dark Background (1993)
Feersum Endjinn (1994)
The Algebraist (2004)

CyberKitten said...

@ Fred: The Culture novels rock - well, almost all of them do......

@ Mudpuddle: He does seem to have a bit of a 'thing' about torture in all its forms. It's never an easy read when he goes there.

@ Brian: Alt history is one of my favourite sub-genres. I left a great deal out of my review but I didn't want to give too much away - plus it's quite a complex book!

Fred said...


I've read three so far, and I don't remember any excessive torture in those three. Of course, that's only a small part of his output, so perhaps I just haven't read those works.

Mudpuddle said...

i still think the Revelation Space series is better... Reynolds is a physicist and he has interesting things to say re the quantum universe...

CyberKitten said...

I haven't read any Reynolds although I keep picking up his books and putting them back down again. Maybe I need to take them to the till in future?