Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book: Iain M. Banks' "Surface Detail"

I needed a book to read as I flew fourteen plus hour to Shanghai and another fourteen plus on the way back from Delhi to Newark, not to mention all the flights in China, Nepal, Bhutan, and India.  I settled on one more Iain M. Bank Culture book.  "Surface Detail" is the latest culture book to be published though another one will be out soon.

The book explores virtual worlds, specifically virtual afterlives.  In the advanced world of the Culture, people can live indefinitely and, when they are tired of living they can upload their conscious into virtual worlds of their choosing.  Theses virtual worlds have become virtual Heavens.  But what is Heaven without Hell?

Non-Culture worlds, believing that you can not have rewards without punishment have created virtual Hells to punish their criminals for all eternity.

Not everyone agrees the Hells should exist and, to prevent a war, created a new virtual world where the two parties could fight a virtual war.  If the side backed by the Culture wins, the Hells will be turned off.  If not, the Hells will go on existing to torment their victims.  Unfortunately the anti-Hell side ... is loosing the virtual war.

The book follows several different people, some in the real world, some in the virtual Hells, and some fighting the virtual war.  Their lives converge as the anti-Hell faction plans to bring the war out of the virtual and into the real world.

The book was very good.  It really made you think.  If you could live forever, would you?  Would you get bored?  Would you voluntarily choose real, irreversible death?  When does everlasting life become never ending Hell?  And most important of all, how can you tell if the world around you is real or just some incredibly sophisticated virtual world?

The book served its purpose: it entertained me on over twenty-eight hours of flights around the world.  I completed the 627 page book early in the morning at the Newark airport.  There are nine (soon to be ten) culture books.  When I started the series I wasn't that impressed but I stuck to it and frankly, Banks' style and his Culture have grown on me.  I'm looking forward to the tenth book.

Highly recommended.

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