Matter, Culture Volume VII
Written by: Iain M. Banks
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Genre: Science-Fiction / Adventure
Matter at first seems one of the largest and most complex of the Culture novels, but it’s actually one of the simplest in structure. Harkening back to Inversions (and, to a lesser extent, even Dune), Banks explores for most of the book, an upstart society not yet on par with the Culture. Though, unlike in Inversions, the entire novel is not contained within the confines of this infant civilization. This small detail becomes a focus for Banks in this novel, one which he ingeniously uses to depict the varying degrees of civilizational power simultaneously ongoing at any single moment within the galaxy: from stone-age, planet-bound peoples, to space-faring, to light-speed travel-enabled, all the way up to the powerhouses equal to the Culture. This idea of a multitude of developments has been examined briefly in past novels, Consider Phlebas and Look To Windward in particular, but Matter is the first time he uses it as a story’s fulcrum to detail ideas such as the right to interfere, technological gifting, space-age bureaucracies, and civilizational apprenticing.
In his trademark style he also, somehow, finds time to explore new things: shellworlds, 4-dimensional space, an in-depth examination of a race in the Morthanveld that rivals the Culture’s power better than any since the Iridians, along with the political, peacetime tensions between these two races. But, as ever, he examines these issues in such a way as to make it clear they’ve existed all along, that they are only now being introduced but that since the first book the universe has been much larger than it at first appears, much like our own.
This book does, however, lag towards the end, not in a bad way, but in such a way as to make the book feel just a bit overextended. Still, the conclusion is splendid as always and the novel satisfies in nearly every way.