‘This was because the culture saw itself as being a self-consciously rational society; and machines, even sentient ones, were more capable of achieving this desired state as well as more efficient at using it once they had. That was good enough for the Culture.
‘Besides, it left the humans in the Culture free to take care of the things that really mattered in life, such as sports, games, romance, studying dead languages, barbarian societies and impossible problems, and climbing high mountains without the aid of a safety harness.’
Sick, grotesque, twisted, perverted, mind boggling, expansive; and with high stakes: these words have come to characterise my experience of Iain M. Banks’ science fiction novels, and far from leaving me with revulsion, I’m drawn to them. In these high-concept adventures literally anything could greet you round the next corner, from mean mercenaries to ugly freakish beings.
A galactic war is ongoing, between the religious aliens called the Idirans, their strength coming from their evolutionary survival roots, and the atheistic Culture. It’s the Culture that really interests the author, from the main character’s (Horza) train of thoughts. Horza doesn’t agree with the Culture and their use of machines to interfere with life, and works as a mercenary for the Idirans, but during an attack he is separated from them and finds himself among a group of other mercenaries. Later, he’ll find himself in other predicaments too where he’ll have to adapt, survive, or escape. Luckily for Horza he’s a Changer, which gives him a few advantages … he can alter his appearance to infiltrate enemy organisations and he can produce acid.
Everything is done on a grand scale. There is an epic fight scene between Horza and this ‘Jabba the Hutt’ creature. The tribes and groups that pop up in this book are ludicrous, but Iain M. Banks does an excellent job of describing who they are, their history, and where they might fit in to the grand scheme of events. The entire text, if not filled with personal action and major conflict, was entertaining. There was always something happening, be it dialogue that impacted on current challenges for the characters or a new event that brought us a new perspective of the ongoing galactic war.