Surface Detail (Culture)

Another Banks masterpiece. This was a very well-crafted story written in the post-modern literary style of a very talented author.

Having read almost all of his science fiction at this point, I can definitely stratify them according to my preferences into three distinct tiers. This belongs in the same stratum as The Player of Games and Look to Windward, ie. my favorites of his works.

Specifically, I enjoyed how Banks took what could have been a classic revenge story and turned it on its head, into a Culture story. If you’ve read much Culture, you know that they generally proselytize the virtues of his fictional civilization through the counterpoint of various circumstances, plots, and characters.

The central point of this novel is the concept of the afterlife. There is a “war in heaven” (in this case, in a virtual simulation since the heavens and hells are also computer simulations of deceased consciousnesses) and it looks like the pro-hell side is winning. The Culture has claimed to be on the sidelines, but are they really? Can they be when something so offensive to their value on life is so threatened?

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