Book review: “Matter” by Iain M. Banks

I look forward to a new Banks novel with more anticipation than any other reading material. His Culture stories are good adventures set in an interesting background full of big ideas. This one is no exception.

That said, I do have a few small criticisms. The biggest one is that the ending is disappointing. I didn’t have enough empathy with what the protagonist characters were feeling during the final showdown, and I felt the question of whether or not they were on the right side needed at least a cursory refresh towards the end. And even with the epilogue, the ending was far too sudden – the climax is identical with the ending here.

The build-up was also pretty slow. It was all interesting and not boring, but things didn’t really start to happen until the last third of the book, and then they happened too fast. The final third felt rushed, as if Banks suddenly realized he’d have to wrap up the story somehow sometime soon but didn’t want to cut any of the earlier material.

I’m also sensing a couple of common themes in the Culture stories: One, Banks loves taking medieval intrigue stories and dropping them into a science fiction background, and two, I get the feeling he works by writing the main threads that lead to the resolution independently and then interleaving them linearly to create the pacing of the build-up part of the story. Maybe that’s a common thing to do and I’m just noticing it now; it’s not a bad thing, just a pattern I observe.

Anyway, rollicking good fun with a couple of nice new megastructures and a strong emphasis on a rarely-seen one. Definitely recommended if you like Banks, but if you like Banks nothing I could say would stop you from reading it anyway.

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