Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Review: Matter

Matter is Iain M. Bank's latest novel set in the Culture universe.

It starts out with the classic story of a betrayal of a King by his trusted Lieutenant, witnessed by his son, the Heir to be, named Ferbin. The son flees with a trusted servant, hoping to seek help from his sister, who was gifted to the Culture and is now an agent in the Special Circumstances unit of the Culture.

Along the way, we discover that the world Ferbin is from, Sursamen, is actually a Shell World, a huge constructed world with many levels, each harboring a different habitat suitable for different beings and in the center a machine to control it all. The makers have long abandoned such shell worlds, and the inter-level access is controlled by different species.

The narrative switches between several viewpoints --- the capital, with the evil Lieutenant now running a boy-prince as Regent, Ferbin and his trusted servant, and then his sister, Djan Seriy, who is now a Special Circumstances agent. There's quite a bit of the usual Banks misdirection, but unlike The Algebraist, where I felt the mystery was well constructed and the plot puzzle fair, the build-up, world building, and construction does not quite match up to the ending.

The ending felt very much as though Banks wrote himself into a corner, and then basically solved it all with big explosions. Not that I don't like big explosions, but the result is definitely not one of Bank's best works. Still, mediocre Banks is very good, all things considered. Recommended, but read his other works first, if you haven't already.
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