Books of 2011: Surface Detail, by Iain M. Banks
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters. It begins with a murder. And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself. Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture. Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality. It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
Quite enjoyed it, Banksy's usual mix of cool ships, even cooler tech, epic space battles and myriad plotlines. I did sort of feel that it did go on a bit in places. Nice characterisations, especially of the Ships and Ship Avatars. By the end I felt slightly let down - one of the plot lines comes crashing to a conclusion, then there's a kind of post-credits 'what did they do next?' section. Felt a bit like he'd realised he had a deadline and needed to sweep up all the plot strands. And the final reveal felt almost random and unnecessary. Still, the plot strands were all tied up nicely in the end. Still, it was the best Culture book he's done for ages, far better than Matter. I give it seven implausibly-named space ships out of ten.
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