Sunday, January 29, 2023

Excession by Iain M. Banks (Culture #5 )


The next book in the Culture series.

A strange object is discovered, something which absorbs all radiation and seems to be much older than the universe itself. It is possibly an “Excession,” something which will change everything permanently. It is a problem that "most civilizations would encounter just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop." There is a secret group of Minds – powerful AIs – who have been preparing for things like the “Interesting Times Gang,” which is connected to “Special Circumstances,” Culture's spying organization which is as military as anything in Culture can be. One ship of the “Interesting Times Gang,”, “Sleeper Service”, is asked to go to Excession; it is considered “Eccentric,” which means it has partly abandoned Culture and behaves in a personal way. That ship's mind asks for Genar-Hofoen, a Contact employer who has some common history with a human who has lived for years aboard the “Sleeper Service” to be transported to the ship.

One of the civilizations which have an interest in Excession is “Affront,” a civilization that has long irritated many major Minds of Culture for its moral failings – it tends to enjoy torturing other creatures and treats its women and children cruelly, even though as individuals they are often considered fun-loving. Some of the Minds have created a plan to make Affront attack Culture to cause a war which would eventually enable Culture to pacify the Affront society (Affront doesn’t really realize the nearly unlimited resources that Culture has. If a war starts, only one end is possible: Culture will win). What will happen?

The book concentrated much more on the Minds than on the humans. Much of the book is about the secret plotting of different factions, which is party told by terse email-like communications. There were more slow parts than in other parts of the series, and I didn’t find the plotting of the Minds too engaging. I believe this was the worst in the series so far; in spite of that, it was well worth reading it.    

464 pp

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