Matter

tylenol4000

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2013
Messages
100
The first Culture book i read was Excession, then Consider Phlebas. I was planning on reading The Player of Games next, then going in publication order from there.

But does it really make a difference? Because, for some reason, 'Matter' has always intrigued me. I'v read up on the book and i really want to read it. It seems like an awe-inspiring epic that i must read.

Anyways, if i were to read Matter now, would i be missing out on something? I also have Surface Detail and am very tempted to read that also, sooner rather than later. What does the reader get from reading the Culture novels in publication order? Or, are there no benefits?

Or does it simply not matter what order the Culture novels are read in?

(i am aware that each book is supposed to stand on it's own. But the fact that the books are always listed with a number- like on this website- always throws me off)
 

alchemist

Be pure. Be vigilant. Beware.
Joined
Sep 22, 2010
Messages
4,063
Location
Ireland
I don't think it matters what order you read them in. I can't remember Matter referencing any earlier Culture novels (I'd read about four). It's an odd book, but as a Banks, always worth reading.
 

Grunkins

Couch Commander
Joined
Jan 18, 2012
Messages
620
It doesn't matter for most of them, but:
Read Consider Phlebas before Look to Windward
Use of Weapons before Surface Detail
Excession before Hydrogen Sonata
 

Sally Ann Melia

Sally Ann Melia, SF&F
Joined
Apr 18, 2013
Messages
115
Location
S A Melia is an English SF&F writer based in Surre
Each book sort of stands alone I would say. I think you get the best feel for what Culture feels like from the inside from The Player of Games,most of the other novels the main protagonist is not from The Culture, and normally has a slightly jaundiced view point of this perfect society having lived on the margins, or seen the impact of Special Circumstances.
 

Anthony G Williams

Greybeard
Joined
Apr 18, 2007
Messages
1,225
Location
UK
My take on Matter, from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy


Iain M. Banks died earlier this year at a sadly young age, after establishing a reputation as one of the most literary SF writers of his generation. He wrote non-genre fiction (as Iain Banks) as well as SF. Most of his SF novels are set in the Culture, a galactic humanoid utopia in which almost inconceivably advanced technology provides everything that is needed, immensely capable Artificial Intelligences sort out the mundane business of running civilisation (the most powerful, known as Minds, usually being established in vast spacecraft or space habitats with quirky names), and citizens are mostly free to do whatever they like – live forever, change gender or even species, travel the galaxy. There are various alien civilisations in close contact with the Culture and a lot of others that are not, plus human planetary settlements that don't enjoy the same benefits. Relationships with such peripheral groups are handled by an organisation called Contact, and they apply less diplomatic means when required by means of Special Circumstances, whose agents are kind of blend of James Bond and Jason Bourne with comprehensive bio-electronic enhancements.

Matter is mainly set in one of the peripheral human civilisations outside the Culture, which has occupied part of the Shellworld called Sursamen. Shellworlds are artificial constructs made by an earlier and long-gone civilisation aeons ago. They are habitats the size of large planets and are made up of fourteen concentric hollow spheres, each one providing a land surface comparable with a conventional planet, held apart by a million vast columns through which travel between the spheres is possible, and lit and warmed by thermonuclear "suns" tracking across the 1,400 kilometre-high ceilings. The Shellworld is one of the stars of the novel just as the Ringworld is of Niven's eponymous novel, its curiosities being described in detail including a huge waterfall which is cutting rapidly back through the soft earth, revealing the remains of a forgotten city of great age and sophistication.

Different species occupy different spheres of the Shellworld, but the humanoid civilisation on the eighth and ninth layers is at a kind of feudal steampunk level, still engaged in fighting wars of conquest. The main focus is on the nation called the Sarl that occupies the eighth layer and is engaged in battle with the Deldeyn of the ninth. The Sarl are mentored by an alien species, the Oct, which have developed an inexplicable interest in the forgotten city, especially in the latest excavations which have uncovered something rather strange. There is treachery and tragedy afoot among the Sarl, which draws home a princess of the ruling family, Djan Seriy Anaplian, recruited as a child by Contact and now a Special Circumstances agent. The story switches between Anaplian and two of her brothers until they are finally drawn together.

As is typical of this author, Matter is a long and complex novel in which the creation of atmosphere and background takes precedence over the action for most of its length. It is full of rich descriptions of places, people and situations, flavoured with Banks' usual wry humour. This slow start means that dramatic tension suffers, although in the latter part of the novel the pace rapidly accelerates towards the explosive conclusion. Until then, this story is not a gripping page-turner but if you like Banks' style, you won't want to miss it. In particular, the Shellworld is an invention that is likely to stay in the mind for a long time.
 

tylenol4000

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2013
Messages
100
Excession was the first culture book I read. It was very good, but since then ive read Phlebas and Player, and feel like it would have been better to start with those first. Excession was a much more complex read. But good nonetheless.

I'll get to Matter at some point. A lot of people seem to be mad that apparently The Culture doesn't play a very big role in it. But to me, it sounds intriguing. Thats a big, wonderful universe he created. He should be able to explore it and all the unique aliens and societies in it. It's his to explore.
 

Grunkins

Couch Commander
Joined
Jan 18, 2012
Messages
620
With Matter Banks said (and reading it bears this out) that he was going for a book that was a long slow burn and then a jam packed explosion of action at the end. It does have less Culturey stuff going on, but is satisfying none the less and certainly fits in the Culture universe.
 

tylenol4000

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2013
Messages
100
I don't get what so many people have against the more recent Banks/Culture novels.

I have yet to read The Algebrist (or however its spelled). I'v read the first 10 or so pages earlier and it what i remember i found quite intriguing. I would have liked to have seen Banks writes more novels that weren't Culture related. Something that's less of a space opera. Like a story set on future earth, or even present earth. Something Phil Dick-like.
 

Grunkins

Couch Commander
Joined
Jan 18, 2012
Messages
620
I don't get what so many people have against the more recent Banks/Culture novels.

I have yet to read The Algebrist (or however its spelled). I'v read the first 10 or so pages earlier and it what i remember i found quite intriguing. I would have liked to have seen Banks writes more novels that weren't Culture related. Something that's less of a space opera. Like a story set on future earth, or even present earth. Something Phil Dick-like.
I have about 150 pages left in The Algebraist, and it's excellent. It could be a three book series by itself.

For more Dick-like writing from Banks check out his non-M stuff. I think those books might be very close to what you are looking for. The Bridge for example.
 

tylenol4000

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2013
Messages
100
I have a copy of The Wasp Factor that I have not read yet. Sounds interesting; from what i know of the plot, it reminds me of this movie i saw a long time ago called The Butcher Boy. Seen it?

One reason why I'v been hesitant to read any "non-M" novels is because most of them seem to be written in the first-person. For a few years now I'v for the most part been avoiding books that aren't written in the 3rd person. Banks has a very formal sounding voice; it works when he's writing SF, and in the 3rd person. But I don't think i would enjoy it in the 1st person. I know that 1st person allows writers to use different character voices, but still....the idea of reading a novel told in 1st person by a sophisticated and formal sounding narrator doesn't appeal to me. I don't like reading Ian McEwan for this very reason: his voice is just so....british. But if he were to write SF, that'd be different. (And I know Iain Banks isn't british ;)

Anyways, i'm done with my rant ;)
 

Grunkins

Couch Commander
Joined
Jan 18, 2012
Messages
620
Have a look at the M Banks Culture novel Inversions. He writes half the book in the first person and it's some of his best prose in my opinion.
 

gdoc

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 19, 2014
Messages
148
You can read the Culture novels in any order; none of them are in any sequence. Matter is not bad, although I'd say his earlier work was his best.
 
Top