Excession, Culture Volume IV
Written by: Iain M. Banks
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Genre: Soft Science-Fiction / Mystery
(A note regarding the volume: this is technically the fifth book of the Culture collection, but the fourth book, The State of the Art, is a collection of stories and will not be included in this review series. This is why Excession, despite being the fifth book, is being labeled as Volume IV.)
On with the review!
Yet another foray into experimentation, Excession is a mindtrip of perspective. Much of the novel, though not all, is dialogue amongst a group of sophisticated ship AIs, known as Minds. The reader is forced to consider things from outside a human’s experience because the ships’ logic, motivations, abilities, and desires propel the story forward, while it is understood within the context of the universe that the ships have humanity’s best interests in mind. So while the decisions and trains of logic at many times make no sense, one is compelled to consider everything from a fresh point of view from which maybe they do make sense. And this is all done fluidly and naturally, as the reader comes to know the AIs as true individuals, a deep look into the individuality of true sentience outside humanity that few books have accomplished before or since.
But it’s not only the AIs that make the book great—it’s why they’re convening now more than ever, the Excession. It’s mysterious, spooky, interesting, and important. This idea of what to do during a one in a trillion-trillion event is much like considering how to survive a zombie outbreak. It forces your mind to think and consider in a way that sci-fi is not typically geared toward addressing, and it’s enthralling.
Once again the book lags during the late middle section, as is a common theme with Banks’s longer works, but it’s not an issue, and it picks up again and ends with a bang. Though it seems improbable, Banks has once again created a wholly new novel within an assortment of ideas and characters that will blow anyone or anything with any semblance of a mind away.