Homer's Travels: Book: Iain M. Banks' "Excession"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book: Iain M. Banks' "Excession"

The fourth Culture book that I've read, Iain M. Banks' "Excession", was probably the best I've read so far. The excession, an Outside Context Problem, is an artifact that doesn't fit in the Culture's knowledge of the Universe. When the Culture encounters an excession everything stops so that it can be studied, understood, and incorporated into the Culture's knowledge base.

The book intertwines multiple story tracks following the Culture's Minds (Sentient computers of unimaginable power), human diplomats, alien races, conspiracies, competitions for supremacy, innocents, and warriors. This leads to the one downfall of this book - too many characters to keep track off. I was confused for a lot of the book but, in a way, this allows the reader to feel what the Minds feel. They too are confused as to the meaning of the excession. Even with their superior intellect they have difficulty following who is on whose side and who is good, who is bad.

The book ends with all the threads coming together, some in unexpected ways just as an outside context problem would, to a satisfying conclusion. The one thing I would change is the epilogue. The last page provides the reader with some explanation of what the excession really was. I think the excession should have remained a mystery, a mystery leaving you wanting for more just like the characters in the book.



  1. It's difficult I think, to know when to leave a mystery be what it is, and when to reveal everything. From your description, it sounds like it should have remained a mystery, letting the reader turn it over, examining his own imagination. I may read it, and save the epilogue for a later date after I reach my own ideas. :)

  2. Misss McC: Have you read Iain Banks before? His writing, what I've read so far, can be a little hit and miss in my opinion. I started reading him when I was looking for a science fiction series. His books aren't really a series but they all take place in the same universe.

    Some mysteries are best unanswered.

  3. Nope, I've never read any of his books. Is there one that I should start out with? I usually try to give an author about two hundred pages to convince me that they don't suck. Is there romantic elements? I'm a sucker for a romantic subplot..

  4. Miss McC: Being a guy, romantic elements are rarely a high priority in my reading. Having said this, there are some background story lines that could be considered romantic in Excession.

    Since there is no continuity within Banks' Culture series, you can pretty much jump in anywhere so Excession would be a good one to start with.

    Remember, I am a geek and a guy and what I like may not always be appreciated by the fairer sex. Be warned.