I’ve just re-read one of my favourittteee books. And boy is it knee deep in nerdiness. So much so that it warrants the use of the excellent word ‘nerdtastic’ which as you know is defined as…

“Something generally not cool, but to a nerd its fucking fantastic”

The book is Excession by Iain M. Banks, king of science fiction. I’d sort of like to tell you what the story is about, but even though I’ve read it at least three times I still ain’t so sure. What I do know is this….

It’s set in our galaxy, but focuses on a civilisation called the Culture who are basically gods, they can do almost whatever they like, pretty much. They can change sex, never have to die, can cure hangovers just by thinking about them, you know… all the important things.

As for the story itself, well, something appears in the Galaxy that is pretty much capable of time travel – and this gets the characters in the book damp with excitement. Thus ensues a crap load of plotting, subterfuge, counter plotting and sheer confusion for the reader. This does not stop the story being absolutely fantastic.

I think one of the problems with following the twists is that the main characters in the books are Minds. I’ve written that with a capital M because they’re kind of the gods of this already pretty much god-like society and as you know god-like characters need capitalising (of course excluded god, because that’s just silly). The problem with them is that the minds inhabit Ships (note the capitalisation again) which tend to have pretty damned amazing and complicated names. For example

Poke it with a stick
Of course I still love you
god told me to do it
Helpless in the face of your beauty

and my favourite…

Hand Me The Gun And Ask Me Again

Aren’t they amazing! But unfortunately their names coupled with the weird-ass eMail style way they communicate makes it difficult to follow sometimes!

Suffice to say though, it has some love interest, hot sex, kick-ass-weaponry and some big bangs. It’s fine art I say!

Let me find two of the best quotes…

Firstly, describing the ‘Excession’ – the thing that has suddenly appeared in the galaxy…

“An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.”

Next, a romantic encounter…

“She was nearly as tall as he was, perfectly proportioned, and she had four arms! A drink in each hand too. His kind of female, he’d decided instantly, even as she was looking admiringly at his folded, snow-white wings. She wore some sort of gelsuit; basically deep blue but covered with a pattern like gold wire wrapped all over it and dotted with little diamonds of contrasting, subtly glowing red. Her whiskered mask was porcelain-bone studded with rubies and finished with iridescent badra feathers.
She handed him a glass and took off her mask to reveal eyes the size of opened mouths; eyes softly, blackly featureless in the lustrous lights of the vibrantly decorated dome until he’d looked carefully and seen the tiny hints of lights within their curved surfaces.”

Wow! To finish though, part of the problem with the Culture is that it is horrifically, terrifyingly powerful. Ships can easy destroy entire solar systems. But the use of such weaponry gives away the fact that the society is obviously still dependent on them and hasn’t come much further from a caveman from a stick. In the story there is a lot of hand-wringing about weapons and war and guilt and how childish and obsessed some ancient primitives were when they see big explosions…. Well, I spent the entire book rubbing my thighs with glee, total glee, when there was a bit with explosions and compressed anti matter weapons and knife missiles and and and *needs to go and have a lie down*. Sigh, I’m just a caveman, call me Ug and pass me that stick.