Wednesday, 22 June 2016


Iain M. Banks Excession (1996)
I've had occasion to give up on Iain Banks in the past, notably with The Algebraist which just seemed too shit to carry on with at the two-hundred page mark - something which should, by rights, be impossible with the work of someone who writes so well. I didn't give up on this one, instead making it right through to the last page, but - Jesus - there were times when it was a struggle to remember why I was bothering.

I suppose for all its faults, Excession does plenty of the sort of thing which Iain Banks did well with the powerful prose, reasonable depth of character, mind-blowing weirdness, and casual wit - the kind of stuff Douglas Adams might have achieved had he written a book which didn't spend the entirety of its page count winking and digging you in the ribs whilst asking whether you get it; on which count I particularly enjoyed the presence of a warship named the Frank Exchange of Views. Even reading with no fucking clue as to what's supposed to be happening, generally this one can be read with the assurance that the less interesting passages will usually give way to something a bit more engaging - if not necessarily comprehensible - within the next ten minutes or so.

I get the impression there may have been some mythological allusion in characters who change sex, become heavy with child, and then change sex again, all in the presence of a talking bird; but I may just be imagining that. Elsewhere in the story there's some kind of ethical debate possibly amounting to whether or not we're truly liberal if we tolerate the presence of Fascism in our society, or the other way around; in any case I'm not sure any conclusion was reached. So we have an agent of some description doing something or other in relation to a reality-warping intrusion from another universe, none of which seems to bear any strong resemblance to the blurb on the back cover, unless I sleep-read a couple of chapters without realising. There are a million characters, or so it seems, and it's difficult to be absolutely clear on what any of them are up to at any given time or what their motives could be. One particularly bewildering sequence in the life of Genar-Hoefen, for example, is muddled by flashback sequences alternating with contemporary narrative, and nothing much to indicate that these are separate episodes in the life of a single individual. I read about a hundred pages assuming I'd missed some crucial distinction back at the start, wondering if the two of them were supposed to be related.

So yeah - beautifully written and all that, but it was kind of a big pile of bollocks really, despite a few nice images. So that's another five days during which I could have been reading something else.


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