by Iain Banks
Review by Ann Cecil

Capsule comment: Excellent space opera, with lots of plot, battles, murders, aliens, strange points of view, amazing advanced technology, amazingly unadvanced human beings, and a satisfyingly rousing climax with an enigma left off to the side for possible resolution, hinting at some future book. Recommended.

"Excession" is a name given to a mysterious object, found floating in multi-dimensional space by starships of The Culture, an advanced multi-world, multi-being society. The starship Minds that really run The Culture consider this object to be an Outside Context Problem; that is, a potential major scary event, since the object is breaking several of the physical laws known to The Culture. The Minds, each of which have developed personalities of their own, quite as quirky and distinctive as humankind but in a totally different direction, are concerned that the object may mean to do something seriously upsetting, like destroy the known universe and all that is in it, including The Culture.

Humans are very much a part of The Culture, and several kinky members of that species play a part in the unfolding events, along with members of the Affront, a particularly aggressive species, long on tentacles and cruelty, and short on strategy and politeness. I only call the various humans involved kinky because they include a woman who extended her pregnancy for 40 years (the gestational record of all time!), a man who thinks the Affront are really neat, especially when they break his ribs, another man who hasn't talked to another being in over a hundred years and doesn't want to, and a girl who makes spoiled an understatement.

The starship Minds, which have interesting names like 'Shoot Them Later' and 'Not Invented Here,' are not only characters but contribute a sub-plot involving a Conspiracy among some of their number to rig the galactic game. Exactly who is playing what, and how the assorted beings all fit into each other's games, is part of the convoluted fun of the book. Everything balances out, with some reasonably logical pseudo-science for background, and a lot of genuine moral questions lightly touched on in the foreground. In the grand tradition of good space opera, the suggestion of depth is there for those who want more than action, but the action is fast and furious enough to satisfy.

Altogether a great deal of fun, thought it does require that you pay some attention. Recommended with no reservations at all.

Return to Review Indexes by author or reviewer.

Click here to return to the SIGMA mainpage.

This page maintained by Greg Armstrong