Look to Windward – Iain M Banks (4/5)

Although I read this first back when it came out in hardback, I recently picked up a copy in a charity store for a quid when I lacked anything else to read. This is one of the great things about Banks’ books, in that although they are all very good reads and highly recommended, he does sell an awful lot of copies in Britain so there are bound to be people who get rid of them and hence you can create a fairly comprehensive Banks collection just from charity stores. True story.

Back to Windward is another take of the Culture from the master of the space opera, Iain M Banks. The Culture itself is firmly in the sights for this story, following its intervention with a civil war on another planet that caused a galactic war between various other races. The Culture, being The Culture, feels quite badly about this as although it does believe in intervention where appropriate, most of the time it just wants people/races to get on with doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. So with this ethical backdrop in place, Banks goes on to explore the effects of how people in such races behave when, for example, they pretty much can do anything and not die, and how others deal with apparent death wishes within this framework. This doesn’t sound like a simple premise, or one easily dealt with within a book that’s readable on a summer holiday, but Banks blends such high concepts with believable characters and a strong story to create a blend that stretches your mind as well as entertaining it. Another great read.

Matter – Iain M Banks (5/5)

Another space opera with galactic vision from the master who is Iain M Banks. Set once again against the backdrop of the near omnipotent Culture, this latest romp from Banks takes place for the most part on a constructed world made up of planet sized concentric spheres. The epic nature of this form of construction, and the science required to balance the gravities when some layers are full of water for aquatic creatures and others air, is left to the reader’s imagination to work out – and indeed the Culture themselves take the view that the elder civilization that built it was pretty clever. With this backdrop of engineering scale, Banks focuses in on an apparent localized squabble between two relatively backward races living on adjacent levels. These races know of the sphere and the more advanced races that run it, but are content to exist in their own way until they evolve some more. Well it would seem that way, until some of the more advanced nations take it upon themselves to get involved and the story moves towards its suitably grandiose denouement. Banks blends science fiction, politics and ‘human’ level stories together in a way that drags you along while opening your mind at the same time. A must read for any sci fi fan, and beyond.