Iain M. Banks
Excession (1996)
Reviewed: 1997-12-12

Banks's forth Culture novel is the wildest yet. One can imagine Banks listening to the commentary of his readers and adding all the little things we were missing or wondering about. The Culture is more anarchic and subversive than ever. There are various groups, factions, movements, wings, and a real conspiracy. The cast of characters is a barely manageable number of humans, aliens, drones, and ships/Minds, all of them in their own way odd, weird, and eccentric, providing a rich playground for Banks's deliciously bizarre humor. Excession is primarily concerned with the Culture itself, rather than using it as little more than a nifty backdrop for the actual story. We learn more about the internal workings of the Culture, how decisions are arrived at, how Minds think and interact.

Millennia ago an artifact from another universe appeared in a remote corner of the galaxy. Now it is back. In previous books the Culture could fall back on its moral and technical superiority over its adversaries. This time, it is confronted with something it can't handle, an out of context problem or excession in Culture jargon. The circumstances are further complicated by the Affront, a young empire of a non-humanoid alien species so transparently and openly bad you could almost find them charming again. The Affronters want to take advantage of the situation to get rid of the Culture which has for some time been an obstacle to what the Affronters consider their natural right of expansion and subjugation of lesser species.

Excession is great world-building, a sweeping space opera, megalomanic, both serious and funny. A delightful novel for fans of Banks's Culture universe, it might prove a tad excessive for those not yet accustomed to Banks.

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