My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My third Ian M. Banks book and perhaps the best so far (Feersum Endjinn and Consider Phlebas being the other two). Matter does not have the distinct writing style of Feersum Endjinn, but is bigger and more interesting in scope. It is a Culture novel and the latest one in the series. Culture novels are distinguished by the fact that they are set in the post-materialistic, intergalactic society/empire called the Culture, but each book is a complete story and environment by itself, so one needn't go in order.
Banks writes epic space dramas where the sci-fi and space elements just add that much more spice and deft story turns, but just like the other two books I've read, the space and sci-fi parts of the book are almost incidental. At the end of the day, it is really a political drama set on the edge of a culture clash between highly advanced and underdeveloped societies. The fact that it is set in space, allows Banks to use everything from extremely intelligent AIs to nanotech to really drive home the deification of a super advanced society from the perspective of the backwards. There is this constant, dark overhanging thought of how little the lives of billions of people matter when two highly advanced societies clash. This was present in Consider Phlebas as entire planets and star systems got destroyed in the Culture-Idiran war and is present in Matter as well.
I enjoy reading about the environments he creates - Matter is set on a shellworld and it is difficult to explain what exactly that means and why it is interesting without revealing too much. Not only does he create one fantastic world, he throws in 5 distinct species competing for this world (in a way) and their own worlds and backgrounds and such. The Morthanveld water world, the Nariscene war-rock, Culture ships, the Oct and Aultridia and of course, the Sarl that form the center of the novel - each species with its own language, planet/star/cluster etc.
The only complaint about this book, really, is that like the others, it is slow to ramp up, sometimes drags along, and then speeds up and barrels like a speeding meteor to an end that is almost entirely unpredictable (until you get into the final few chapters). It also leaves a bit of a "whaaa???" feeling when its done. I had to go back and read the last chapter again - it made things better, but a bit more closure would have been better. Perhaps.
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