Excession [Spoilers]

J-Sun

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Seems like I've recently started a thread on a book that didn't really do it for me and here I go again but I could only find a thread on the Affront and one that initially focuses on Excession but is more general and it seemed like the Banks forum ought to have an Excession thread.

Repeat: spoilers.

I feel like I've read a book which, in its widest scope, was a mystery about a gizmo that acted as an intercosmic highway that kicked up the Culture's anthill but was the kind of "mystery" with no real point in solving. You just wait and see.

Inside that, there's a mystery about a conspiracy of AIs wanting to sucker the Affront into attacking so they could teach them a lesson ("We have no interest in Kuwait, Mr. Hussein.") but, again, this is a mystery I didn't feel provided me with a lot of clues for its solution, and I could only wait and see.

Inside that, and given fair warning by the prominence of being put in the boring prologue, was the true main story of the three- or four-cornered issue with Byr, Dajeil, Ulver, and Quietly Confident/Sleeper Service. Unfortunately, Ulver struck me as a petulant and unappealing child, Dajeil as a selfish murderous psycho, Byr as an irresponsible hedonist-to-excess who was actually my "favorite" if only from having a (largely negative) sense of "fun", and the ship seemed interesting but unduly concerned with these people.

It also kind of annoyed me that, while the first 120 pages were more or less interesting, the book starting going in the tank with the drone, Sisela Ytheleus 1/2, being destroyed and it turns out that, aside from some guilty ships and an Affront conspirator, the drone was the only entity that actually died. It's not because it died that the book went in the tank but it coincided with the feeling that the book should take off about then, but it instead just lost the point of interest the drone represented. Despite moments and elements that piqued my interest, it went further in the tank after the second century of pages and didn't pick up again until 30-60 pages from the end.

Banks' own characters provide all the necessary comment the plot/pace needs:

Shoot Them Later: "I wish something would happen!" (172)
"The ship [Fate Amenable to Change] was bored." (235)
Byr: "And what's happening with the war?" - Grey Area: "Nothing much." (302)
"Well, here we go, the ship [Fate, again] thought. Should be interesting..." (322)

And, indeed, shortly after that, it finally does get a little more interesting.

Stuff I liked: I loved Vice-Consul Lellius' phrase of wanting to become "cavort-prone" so much that I've (temporarily) made it my user title. :) I love moments like "'Whee-hee!' said the gelfield suit". I found the Affront interesting (though, after being on stage some of the time, they were almost dropped from the book in a direct sense for the last couple hundred pages or so). I loved the imaginative habitats such as the conglomeration of Phage Rock, the internally displaced Pittance (and its weird, and dramatically - if temporarily - killed inhabitant), and the multi-cultural Tier which we only spent moments on and which weren't very important, as such. I also liked Killing Time, though it only got involved in discovering the war (239-246) and returns to attack (287-291) and finally actually does (324-328) which also illustrates how Banks can annoyingly drop threads to the point that you don't think they're ever coming back.

Back to the negative. The psychosexual dynamics between Byr and Dajeil in this alien society were strangely TwenCen West, as well, and the full-bore (pun not intended, but gladly accepted) pacifism was a bit much.

And Banks loves his own writing more than I do - at various points, things might get exciting but he takes Byr for a walk into the night life of Tier or belatedly gives us "the gist" the Use of Weapons guy got about ultraspace, but at the wrong time, or gives us "charadumps" along the navel-gazing "tell me about your childhood" lines, or starts time-tripping about Byr and Dajeil's past in the middle of "the war" finally kicking in so he can slow it down.

Anyway - I didn't like the characters and didn't like the plot and such sfnal ideas as there were were kind of beside the point except to say the whole Culture (and most of the book's contents) was trivial (but every tiny individual - except Sisela Ytheleus 1/2, apparently - counts).

I gather that Banks values certain things and devalues certain others and is fine with writing books that are good enough to read twice but not good enough to read the first time and so on - this can be called a "good book" but it's not my kind of good book. If one finds the characters likable and the plot exciting or doesn't mind a preponderance of unlikable characters and a sort of anti-plotness, then they could enjoy the heck out of this. But that person isn't me.

Still liked it better than Player of Games, though. ;)

Anyway - ignoring my comments, here's a handy place for general discussion of Excession if anybody wants it.
 

Lenny

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I rather enjoyed Excession, but then my favourite Culture book so far (Excession was the last one I read) is Player of Games, which you're not keen on.

I think I liked it because, if you read the books in publication order, this is the first time we get to really look at the Minds and the ships of the Culture - whilst they appear in all the other books, this is the first time that they appear as main characters.

---

By the way:

[Sisela Ytheleus 1/2] was the only entity that actually died
Are you sure? What about the kid in the spinning asteroid (the one that held all the Culture warships)?
 

J-Sun

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I rather enjoyed Excession, but then my favourite Culture book so far (Excession was the last one I read) is Player of Games, which you're not keen on.

I think I liked it because, if you read the books in publication order, this is the first time we get to really look at the Minds and the ships of the Culture - whilst they appear in all the other books, this is the first time that they appear as main characters.
Yeah, that's what I've done so far (read them in order) but in a way, that may have been part of the problem for me though I didn't think about it so much at the time - the Minds aren't very believably superhuman when you hang around them so much, eavesdropping on their conversation and subjective thoughts (and there are other issues - I came across this review - Iain M. Banks's Excession - after I started wondering if other reviews could back me up or enlighten me about something I'd missed). I thought the earlier books gave a good enough feel for the Minds - less is more in some cases.

As far as continuing in order, I've given up. I have Matter, but that's too long and apparently too medieval (one or both of which seem to be the case with all the other Culture books except one) and I'm just marking that down as a mistake buy. I have the non-Culture The Algebraist and we'll see how that goes but I don't hold out much hope. I'd conceivably be willing to see what State of the Art is like because I like series-associated-collections and Look to Windward just because it seems to have some kind of association (if only conceptual) with the only Culture book I almost like (Consider Phlebas, despite its flaws). It's kind of weird - I like at least aspects of the Culture just like everybody else but not the Culture books themselves. There's no specific Banks book I've read that really captures the Culture or is the definitive Culture book and includes great plotting and characters and efficiency, IMO. Banks' Cave ;) - his novels are just inferior shadows cast onto paper by the Culture.

Are you sure? What about the kid in the spinning asteroid (the one that held all the Culture warships)?
Yeah, that was Ishmethit (be careful not to typo that one :)) in Pittance and he was hanging out on Sleeper Service at the end after being resurrected. I thought his death was awfully sudden and brutal but it seemed necessary to convey the gravity of the situation and the "badness" of the rogue Minds and the Affront - but then Banks goes and undoes it. That other review makes a good point - nothing happens in this book - nothing irrevocably changes - except for "the drone in a pickle".
 

Lenny

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Oh yeah, I forgot the kid came back in the end. Huh.

I wasn't too keen on State of the Art - nothing much seemed to happen in the titular story, and I can't remember a single thing about the others.

You should give Feersum Endjinn and Against a Dark Background a go - FE is good, although I found it as hard to get through in some places as Use of Weapons; AaDB is my favourite Iain M. Banks book. It's closest in feel to Consider Phlebas than any other of his books that I've read, and the things that happen definitely stay happened (again, similar to CP).
 

clovis-man

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The first Banks novel I read was Excession. It was purely by accident: picked up at a charity booksale. But I was hooked and have read everything else since.

I once had a boss who always gave me more to do than I could accomplish. I finally complained about it and he told me that he was aware of it and was just happy if I could get about 60% done. I feel that way reading Banks stories sometimes. If I can understand 60% of what I'm reading, I'm a happy camper.

I've kept all my copies of his books and not because of sentiment. I just figure I'll have to read them again to get a fuller understanding. Since Excession was my first, I am definitely on the short track to getting into that one again.

The fun thing about the Culture is that you can never tell what it will do next in the name of intergalactic social work. BTW, don't rule out Matter. It has its own unique appeal. And I agree with Lenny that Feersum Endjinn is well worth an effort: a real change of pace, that one (Did I fully understand it? In my dreams!).
 
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