the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Iain M. Banks’ Category

inversionsTaking a bit of a break from Hugo stuff (but not really), today I’m talking about Iain M. Banks’ Inversions, which I’m reading along with kamo of this is how she fight start, Brittian from Two Dudes in an Attic, and Matt from Feet for Brains. Head over to their blogs to see what they think of the book so far.

Chapter 12 is the magic stopping point for this discussion, and sometime next week we’ll all post about the end of the book. I always like to guess what’s going on, so I’m sure this first post of mine will be mostly observations, guesses and predictions. Inversions is the “culture novel that isn’t”, which makes it an excellent first Banks novel if you’ve never read him before.

 

All the guys are gonna be talking sportsball references and other intelligentsia, and I am umm…. not going to be.

 

When kamo was first telling me about the book, he mentioned the phrase “hiding in plain sight”.  Now, he’s read this book before, so I was assuming he used that phrase for a particular reason.  Remember those Hidden Pictures games in Children’s Highlights? how one large “hey! that’s a duck!” would leap right out at you, but you had to stare a little longer to find the spoon that was in the bark of the tree, or the banana that was in the swell of the waves in the lake, or the hippo that was in the clouds?  Reading Inversions is a little like that, with secrets hidden in plain sight, and also simply disguised as things that wouldn’t be noticed by the other characters. For example, this is a complex science fiction novel disguised as a rather straight forward  epic fantasy novel, complete with kings, wars, torturers, apprentices, concubines and spies.

 

Lemme ‘splain.  Apologies that this sounds plot heavy, Banks is one of those writers who puts so much subtext in that there is about nine novels jammed into the 12 chapters that I read. So yeah, it’s kinda plot heavy, but that’s nothing compared to the subtext. And it doesn’t ever feel heavy. This isn’t a book that’s going to break your brain (at least what I’ve read of it so far won’t).

Also? SPOILERS.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.

;)

I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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against a dark backgroundAgainst a Dark Background, by Iain M. Banks

published in 1993

where I got it: gift from a friend

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Sharrow hasn’t done anything wrong, well, not horribly wrong. Not so horribly wrong that she deserves to be religiously and ritualistically murdered by the Huhsz. The cult has the government’s permission and approval to capture and kill Sharrow, and she’s got one year plus one day to evade them and gain her freedom.

Luckily, Sharrow is not without friends and allies. Her very wealthy cousin, Geis, is only a phone call away, but Sharrow would prefer to work with her teammates. More than just a team, she is psychically linked to a small group of soldiers who now call themselves antiquities dealers. That’s a fancy name for thieving and fencing, by the way. They don’t know what the others are thinking, but they know how the other in the group will react, and sometimes that’s more important. Sharrow’s sister, Breyguhn, is a guest (or possibly a prisoner) at the Sea House Of The Sad Brothers. She’ll be released if Sharrow can bring a mythical book known as The Universal Principles to the Brothers of the House. She’s not sure if she can find it, but she owes it to her sister to free her.

She thought all she had to do to escape the Huhzs was hide from them for a while. Of course it’s not going to be that easy, is it? Following vague clues about the location of The Universal Principles, her gang already planning other jobs, and there is of course, the Lazy Gun. Last of it’s kind, everyone is after the unpredictable weapon. If Sharrow and her gang can find it, all the better for them as well. The Lazy Gun’s are oddly temperamental. When used, they might throw a bomb, or a piano, or a buckshot at your enemy. Possibly self aware, when Lazy Guns feel they are being interfered with, they usually blow themselves up.

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Rest in Peace, Iain M. Banks.  Creator of The Culture and changer of the world.

photo yanked from wikipedia

photo yanked from wikipedia

 

I started reading Iain M Banks just over  a year ago. So recently that I’m not even sure I can call myself a fan.  But fan I quickly became of the man who reinvented Space Opera. I was hooked a hundred pages into Look to Windward. A few books later, Use of Weapons (which shouldn’t be your first Culture novel) shattered me into a million peices and allowed me entry into a hallowed and secretive club of readers who had been equally shattered. We had each others help to put ourselves back together even though some pieces would be lost forever.

Mr. Banks, you have changed me. You have shown me a path towards what is possible, and for this Sir, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  A light has gone out in the Culture, and this time more than just a few Drones have taken notice. Imagine all those people on all those Orbitals, suddenly sad, and not knowing why. Of all the billions of beings in The Culture, why should one person matter? Because when you’re the one reading the story, or living the story, it fucking matters. that’s why. Your Culture books are more than escapism, more than transportive. They are simply more.

It’s only June, and I already feel like I’ve lost too many people this year. I didn’t have the chance to thank them, to tell them how I felt, to tell them what their works and actions meant to me. A grief counselor gave me a letter template, a self guided exercise to help us articulate why that person was so important to us. It’s a one-way conversation that helps you through the grieving process.

Lesson learned.  Nothing is forever. Sometimes promises are broken with no hard feelings. I need to tell people how I feel before it’s too late. I need to write those letters now, before it’s too late.

I’ll let you in on a little Use-of-Weapons-eque secret: this post isn’t really about Iain Banks.

this post is about how to cheat time.

Time steals everything from us, but more so because we willingly give it the power to. This is my request, to anyone reading this post: Write those letters now.  Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, do not wait.  Did someone have a positive influence on your life? Did someone unknowingly help you through hard times? Let them know.  I suggest writing a letter because I am shit at verbal communications, and a letter allows the person on the receiving end some time to process what you’ve just said.  Written communication means less awkwardness later.

This is not permission to start stalking someone. Do not mail people dead chipmunks as a token of your love, and I better not see any marriage proposals on twitter.  Just send them a letter or an e-mail. These are the people who deserve far more than “thanks for being there for me” or “omg I love your books, when is your next one coming out???”. Tell them WHY their existence in your life was important to you.  Cheat time.

129131The State of the Art (short story collection) by Iain M. Banks

published in 2007

where I got it: gift from a friend

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Iain Banks’ Culture novels were love at first page for me. I didn’t mind being thrown far into the deep end, I was amused by the silly names and dry humor, I adored the drones and the Minds. Succinctly, I love me some Culture books.

But. . . . they are long, and tough to get into, and being tossed in the deep end isn’t for everyone. The State of The Art isn’t entirely Culture short stories, but it’s enough to give someone an easily survivable introduction to The Culture universe and Banks’ writing style. Even better, there’s an entire chapter A Few Notes On The Culture, which is quite a bit more than a few and gives even more indepth info, including what someone can expect if they live in The Culture (and where they’ll live), body modifications, life span, interactions with other civilizations, why everyone has such a long name, and the reason why most Culture novels take place on the edge of their sphere of influence. In fact, I wish I’d read that portion first, even though it’s at the end of the book.  Also, Banks insists on making it very clear that The Culture is completely fictional.  Pretty telling that this is the 2nd scifi book in a row where the author felt the need to do that.

Short enough to be read in a  few sittings, the first story, Road of Skulls, serves as a wry introduction and so should be read first, but other than that you can bounce around and read the rest in any order you please.

here are my thoughts on some of the entries:

The State of the Art – Featuring one of my favorite Culture characters, Diziet Sma, The Culture discovers Earth, circa 1978, and they are trying to decide if they should make contact with us or not. Along with other Culture people who can blend in and look human, Sma and her counterpart Linter are sent to Earth for one year to observe us. Linter goes missing and Sma is sent after him. Has he gone native? Did he fall in love with an Earthling and doesn’t want to leave? What could possibly make an Earth life more attractive to Linter than living in The Culture, where everyone has everything they could possibly want?

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Use of Weapons_595Use of Weapons (a Culture novel) by Iain M. Banks

published in 1990

where I got it: gift from a friend

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apologies in advance: if you’ve never read a Culture novel, this review may not make any sense to you. The only thing for it is to read a Culture novel, and then you’ll know what all the fuss is about.

People have described Use of Weapons as the ultimate in space opera and as Banks’ best work. As a fan of space opera and a somewhat newbie to Banks’ Culture novels, I have to completely agree. This is only my third Culture novel, and I was smitten with Banks on my very first Culture read. The Culture is a far-reaching post-scarcity society whose citizens have everything they could possibly want. Waited upon by AI drones and whisked across the galaxy in ships run by uber-intelligent Minds, The Culture really thinks they are all that. Often, they try to press their values on everyone they meet, even if that society isn’t interested in that particular brand of decadence.  Also, the drones are hysterical, and The Minds have a really twisted sense of humor. I love that stuff!  Few things are funnier to me than a drone telling someone to “go fuck yourself!”

A sprawling story that mentions countless planets and conflicts, yet a plot that centers around a single individual, Use of Weapons is the intimate story of one Cheradenine Zakalwe. I’ll admit I did feel a little lost during the first 50 pages or so, but once the main story got going, I couldn’t put the book down. Throwing the reader in at the deep end seems to be a Banks thing, and just going with it, even though I didn’t yet know what “it” was, was the best thing I could have done.

Contracted by Special Circumstances, Zakalwe is called in to do their dirty work: namely, starting wars and political conflicts on planets so The Culture can come in and save the day. Sometimes Zakalwe’s side wins, and sometimes it doesn’t, and Zakalwe spends his evenings wondering if any of this matters in the grand scheme of the universe. He’s a very private man, yearning to tell someone, anyone, of the struggles of his youth. There’s only one person in the galaxy he’s willing to tell the truth to, and an audience with her is his price for his latest job with Special Circumstances.

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It’s that wonderful time of the year again! When we bake cookies and get cards in the mail and forget that we need extra time to warm up our cars in these cold, cold mornings.

It’s also time to talk about the best books we’ve read this year. I confess, I cheated a little on my list, I didn’t limit myself to books that came out in 2012, I’ve even got a reread on the list. Mostly space opera, a little fantasy and time travel, even a YA book made the list! In no particular order, here are my top  books that I read this year, with review excerpts and links to the  review should you feel so inclined to learn more about the titles that rocked my world this past year.

Redhead’s Best of 2012

224_large Faith

Faith, by John Love (2012)  – I read this all the way back in February, I knew right then it would make my best of the year list.  An amazing debut from author John Love, Faith is a dark and tense stand alone science fiction novel. The pages drip with a danger and fear that doesn’t quickly dissipate after you’ve put the book down.  This isn’t a book for everyone (that’s a polite way of saying it has lots of violence, amorality and swear words), but for those of us that like this sort of thing, Faith is quite the hidden gem.

(full review here, and I got to interview the author here)

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente (2012) – has anyone been putting out short stories, novellas and full length novels as fast as Valente? she’s the hardest working writer I know, and this year she got to walk away with Hugo for Best FanCast to show for it.  it’s no secret that Valente is one of my favorite authors, and the Hugo nominated Silently and Very Fast is certainly her most science fictional piece.  With her signature flair for poetic metaphor and lyrical storytelling, this novella follows the life of Elefsis, a house AI who was told fairytales by the human children in the house. To Elefsis, life is a fairytale, and it should have a happy ending.

(full review here)

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (2012) – I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, but when I do it’s a treat for it to be a beautifully written as this series (the 2nd book And Blue Skies from Pain came out later in 2012).  Northern Ireland, the 1970s, Liam Kelly would prefer to live a normal life. He’s not interested in getting arrested or learning secrets about his heritage. But all of those things are very interested in him, and in destroying everything in his life that he cares about.  Leicht spoiled me for urban fantasy.  I am eagerly awaiting future novels in this series.

(full review here)

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.