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Surface Detail – Review

Title: Surface Detail
Author: Iain M. Banks

Publisher: Orbit
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 627
Originally published: 2010

Genre: Science Fiction
The dice landed on: 5
Did I finish?: Yes.
Do I like the cover?: It’s OK.

Short summary: Some societies have hells while others are very much against keeping those kinds of afterlives. To settle the matter a virtual war has been going on for a long time. But now, one side is loosing, and the war is moving into the Real.

The short summary isn’t even close to describing all the things that goes on in this novel. The war of the hells are the framework, but in it we have the academics who’s entered a hell intending to get back out again and testify about it, the young woman who is murdered by her owner/rapist only to come back to life on a Culture ship far away, the soldier in the virtual war who keeps getting killed, the Culture agent, the evil businessman, the sweet looking and scheeming against everyone aliens, and a bunch of Culture ships with vastly different personalities.

This book has a wide scope, from galaxy wide politics to individual misery. As all Culture books I’ve ever read this one too is wildly complicated with lots of characters, both pan-human, alien and ship AIs. So, it requires a bit of concentration to keep them all straight in your head. But, if you manage to do that this is both a very entertaining and thought provoking read. The need some cultures have to maintain hellish afterlifes (yes, they are virtual) as treats for their citizens, are of course abhorrent to the Culture, and to most of us I should think. I certainly find their reasons awful and is firmly on the anti-hell side.

I think it’s an advantage to have read several other Culture books, as I would probably find the universe a lot harder to grasp if I wasn’t already familiar with it.  But I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone already familiar with and enjoying the Culture or anyone who likes science fiction with big ideas, complicated stories and the odd space battle. At times it’s also a very funny book.

If you want to familiarize yourself with the Culture I would recommend starting with Consider Phlebas, that’s were I started.

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