Matter – Iain (M.) Banks
Iain M. Banks‘ “Matter” is a science-fiction novel that is part of the Culture series that has been in his books since the last 1980s. It is a sweeping, powerful and thrilling novel that once again explores some of the deep themes and ideas that face those who are interested in science-fiction, the future and the colonisation of the galaxy. It revolves, for the most part, around a “shellworld” which is a four-dimensional planet that has “levels” for different species. In “Matter”, most of the action takes place on the “Eighth” and “Ninth” level where the Sarl (on the Eighth level) and the Deldeyn (on the Ninth) reside. These two races are protected by two warring races, the “Oct” who protect the Sarl and the Aultridia protecting the Deldeyn species. The main character in this novel is a prince of the Eighth, Prince Ferbin, who witnesses the assassination of his father and is forced to venture into the unknown universe in order to seek the assistance of galactic civilizations and his sister in the quest for revenge.
One of the most fascinating things about Iain Banks is that he is committed to a multi-layered novel that concerns itself with different perspectives. It is not solely the perspective of the Prince that we are given access to but it is the other civilizations, other people and other creations. It gives the reader a multi-faceted novel that looks outwards towards the galaxy, rather than inwards towards one particular character. It is a principle feature of his novels and one that has led him to great success, even being named as one of the greatest science-fiction writers in modern times. The Times newspaper writes of this novel that it is “unexpectedly savage, emotionally powerful and impossible to forget”.
The last description “impossible to forget” is what Matter is about. It is not a novel concerned with one character. It is concerned with a world, how it has developed, how it will progress, how it will affect the galaxy. It is a novel that looks across aeons of time to describe how these worlds have come to exist, how their inhabitants survive and what the cause of the feuding civilizations is. One of the most apt reviews of this novel comes from Waterstone’s Books Quarterly who writes “Set in an intricate, yet wonderfully realised world, this latest Culture novel will pull you in and keep you hooked right up to the explosive finale”. The review highlights an important point about this novel – the fact that it is the latest Culture novel suggests that readers new to Iain Banks should not begin with this novel because it is centred around a universe that has been established across half a dozen, if not more, novels.
For those people who are returning to Iain Banks and are familiar with the Culture and how he writes, this is a gripping novel that keeps people hooked on his words. He never lets himself be carried away with his explanations of technology, allowing the reader to formulate in their own mind what the technology is like. Banks believes in the power of imagination and all his novels require a suspension of belief. This novel is no exception. We must believe that the future of the universe is how he describes it. We must believe that there are planets of varying civilizational development. As Scifi.com writes “[Banks] can summon up sense-of-wonder Big Concepts you’ve never seen before and display them with narration as deft as a conjurer’s fingers”.
- Iain Banks Interviewed for Open University Course (iain-banks.net)
- Welcome to the Culture, the Galactic Civilization That Iain M. Banks Built [Books] (io9.com)
- A Gift From the Culture by Iain M. Banks (mentatjack.com)
- Meet the tattooed heroine of Iain M. Banks’ new Culture novel! [The Culture] (io9.com)