It doesn’t matter what Banks is about–from metaphysical to mystery, science fiction to horror–he’s always good. Feersum Endjinn is no exception, starting off with multiple viewpoints and plotlines that weave about each other before reaching a grand conclusion, similar to his earlier The Bridge, but within the style of adventure SF rather than metaphysical fantasy. Just because it’s SF adventure, doesn’t mean that it’s entirely fluff–one sixth of the book is entirely in a “Riddley Walker-ish” language as seen in the title (a character “writes” phonetically), which is difficult at times to read but is surprisingly not grating. It’s just another in Banks’ voluminous bag of tricks, and he pulls it off like Harry Houdini.
Stars are disappearing because the Encroachment–a cloud of space dust thick enough to block starlight–is slowly enveloping the solar system. Earth has lost some of its technical maturity due to complacency in the ruling bureaucracy and the departure of former generations. However, there is a computer hive-mind that exists that may have the answers to the coming crisis, if only someone knew how to access it and if the rulers would allow them to do so. As the stars flicker out, and the time to do something–anything–decreases, the characters engage in a political struggle to determine how the crisis will be met.
I was initially disappointed that this wasn’t a “Culture” novel, having grown to love the philosophical fun of those books, but quickly discovered that there was much to love here as well. Feersum Endjinn has that joy of discovery that is the realm of good science fiction, wherein everything is new and different, where nothing is quite as it seems, yet everything is also very familiar. And Banks, that fine purveyor of the trick ending, decides to go for obfusication rather than chicanery, and the result is quite pleasing. Iain Banks continues his winning streak, every recent book a grand slam home run.
[Finished 22 January 1995]