Surface Detail (Culture #9)

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 4 stars

In this fine addition to the Culture canon, Banks posits the notion that once you have virtual reality and the ability to copy mind states (‘souls’), some cultures and religions will want to make their various hells real. Obviously this is something that the Culture abhors, but for various political reasons can’t get involved in the formal virtual war that is going to decide the issue. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the galaxy, a slave is murdered by her master and, to her surprise, finds herself reincarnated on a Culture GSV, before immediately trying to make her way back to her homeworld for revenge.

I enjoyed this story very much, even though (or perhaps because of) the labyrinthine political machinations involved. I feel that it would need a few rereads to get a proper handle on all the various plots that were going on, but unlike many other books, where you see that a reread would be required to properly get it but can’t be bothered with the effort, I can see myself rereading this again quite happily. As the books go on, we’re seeing more of the galaxy that the Culture inhabits and how there are Rules and just how they go about bending (and sometimes breaking) those.

I’m not sure if it counts as a spoiler, but I wonder if Banks is possibly going a little soft in his old age? The story here was pretty linear, everything was tidied up at the end and it had a happy ending, without very much of the moral ambiguity that has often characterised his novels in the past. Personally, I’m perfectly happy with this state of affairs, but I can appreciate why people might not appreciate it.

In all, this is a great book for a fan of Banks and the Culture, although perhaps not the best entry point for a newbie.

Book details

ISBN: 9780316123402
Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Book Group
Year of publication: 2010

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