The most recent of Banks’ Culture novels (I think, for I don’t believe that Inversions is one), it has been languishing on my to-be-read shelf for a couple of years now. Since Banks writes about a book a year, if one does not keep reading him steadily, it is easy to fall behind (as opposed to, say, Howard Waldrop).
I’m a fan of Banks mainly for his easy, breezy style and the modernist trappings of his characters. Yes, he writes space opera (when he writes SF), but this is no Star Wars–the characters are never so easily swept into categories of good and evil, nor can the science be so easily removed from the plot to reveal a western in space (I should note here that I am basing this opinion mainly on the first movie, A New Hope–as of this writing, A Phantom Menace has yet to open). A Culture novel would not be filmable, although it would be interesting to see someone try.
The title refers to a spatial anomaly that threatens to change the universe. It is big and spherical and obviously not a part of the “normal” universe, so it triggers the machinations of several conspiracies (what the Culture’s Minds are best at) and a new war between the Culture and the aggressive Affront. The usual cast is there under different names: an independent human male envoy for Contact, a wronged woman, a spunky girl, some old and patient Drones, and some devious Minds. The Affront are interesting as foils to the utopian leanings of the Culture (I think I remember Banks saying that the reason he created the Culture as a utopian society was to show just how inherently unstable such a thing was).
This one jumps around a lot, switching various storylines so often that it is difficult to keep everything straight in your head, especially if you read this over multiple days. Don’t. Read it in one sitting for the pure pleasure of it.
[Finished June 1999]