I enjoyed Stonemouth for many reasons. To begin with, while the location in the book was made up it came across as very real, as did the characters.
In addition, as someone who moved away from my hometown I could relate to Stewart (Stu) Gilmore’s feelings about returning home. (Not that I was run out of my hometown by gangsters.) Iain Banks caught the sense of returning home and finding oneself in familiar surroundings where things appear to have never changed, time never to have moved on, and yet you feel different.
I liked the way facts about Stu’s life in Stonemouth were revealed and Iain’s treatment of Stu’s interaction with old friends and companions wrung true. His treatment of Stu’s conflicting thoughts and internal reasoning about how his former girlfriend would react to him felt realistic.
The first half of the novel moved relatively slowly and I did wonder if I would have read it had it not been an Iain Banks novel. However, about halfway through it picked up the pace and I found myself not wanting to put it down. In fact, I had to force myself to put the book down at 1am on a midweek night so that I could get some sleep. (I only had twenty pages left at the time and so I finished it in Starbucks the following morning before going into work.)
Iain Banks always likes to take a shot at the establishment. The scene at the golf course presents him with this opportunity and his description of the gathering reminded me of all the recent coverage in the UK press about the “Chipping Norton Set” and the environment of collusion between politicians, agents of law and order, and those with a predilection for pursuits beyond those considered strictly legal, but all for the “better good”, of course. This scene could also be taken as a “hats off” salute to the film, “Hot Fuzz”, in which Bill Bailey’s two characters (Sergeants Turner) are seen to be reading Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks novels, and in which a similar approach to peace keeping can be observed.
It is the first book I’ve read in a long time in which the ending was not a foregone conclusion. Right up until the end it could have gone any number of ways and Iain Banks did a great job of laying any number of false trails that the reader could follow. As I approached the end of the book I had at least four possible endings in mind and I was kept guessing to the last few pages.
Many reviewers have considered this book to be a disappointment for a Banks novel. I do not agree with them. While “Stonemouth” is not “The Bridge”, “Walking on Glass”, “The Crow Road”, “Espedair Street”, “Complicity”, or “The Was Factory”, it is still a good read with a lot to offer and a novel that would have been acclaimed had it been written by someone else.
I finished Transition by Iain Banks. It's the best SF novel I have read (actually I listened to it on an excellent audio version) this year. It seems to me to be a return to form for Banks. It overlaps in theme with some of his early and most successful novels. Like The Bridge and Walking on Glass everything that happens is or may be a delusion in the mind of a person in a long term hospital. Like Walking on Glass there is a mechanism which allows the protagonist to step into the mind of other people and experience what they experience. Like both these stories, and the more explicitly SF Against a Dark Background the theme of solipsism runs through the novel, and as in that book it is linked to the idea that just as a solipsist seems to be alone, so the human race seems to be alone in the universe.
I think perhaps Iain Banks' experience of being an imaginative person underpins these themes. Being imaginative can 'put you into the shoes' of another person, and hence connect you to them. But, you aren't really in their shoes are you? You are running a model of what it would be like to be them, in your head. You are constructing a world of puppets, in your own mind, just when you are trying hardest to connect to other human beings. And interacting with real people is so frustrating and futile compared to controlling the infinite puppets of the imagination. The people in Walking on Glass stood with their heads in imagination, and couldn't tear themselves away to experience the boring real world. The protagonist of The Bridge had to leave his dream and face the fuck-up he'd made of his life. ( some spoilers from hereCollapse )
I know it's not due out until next Thursday, but hey!, some naught bookshops have Transition on their shelves today. I managed to relieve one of said naughty bookshops of a copy and am poised to delve into the prologue.
Iain M. Banks is going to be the guest of honour at Satellite 2, a two-day SF convention being held in Glasgow on July 25th & 26th this year. More information and a downloadable membership form at the website: http://www.satellite2.org.uk. At the con, he will be reading from his forthcoming Iain Banks novel, Transition, which will be published in September.
For those of you in Dublin, Iain Banks will be in Chapters Bookstore at 5pm to 6pm on Friday, 15th May. He will be signing books in advance of attending a meeting of the Trinity College Literary Society.
The one thing that won't be enough [to become like the Culture] is getting to a post-scarcity society; a statistically valid number of us have lived in something very like that for the past decade and a bit and we still collectively behaved like slavering morons, so it'll take more than just having more toys than we know what to do with to make us truly civilised.
This seems very dubious to me. Not that we need more than toys to make us civilised but that we have seen anything like a post-scarcity society and that a post-scarcity society is as simple as just stuff.
The Guardian book club is looking at The Wasp Factory this month:
The Wasp Factory represented me admitting partial defeat, heaving a slightly theatrical sigh, stepping reluctantly away from the gaudy, wall-size canvasses of science/space fiction to lay down my oversize set of Rolf Harris paint rollers, pick up a set of brushes thinner than pencils and - jaw set, brows furrowed - lower myself to using a more restricted palette and to producing what felt like a miniature in comparison.
In the end I went for something that kept me closer to my by-then comfort zone: a first-person narrative set on a remote Scottish nearly-island told by a normality-challenged teenager with severe violence issues allowed me to treat my story as something resembling SF. The island could be envisaged as a planet, and Frank, the protagonist, almost as an alien. I gave in to the write-what-you-know school but with a dose of skiffy hyperbole, mining my own past for exaggerateable experiences.
It occurs to me that a shellworld should suffer from certain technical issues of heat dissipation. In fact, for a level as low as the Ninth to even have seasons at all would require deliberate selective refrigeration. This makes one wonder. The implication of Chapter 22 is that "winter" is caused by light and heat from the Rollstars being partially blocked by ceiling features, but in such an enclosed environment, it seems somewhat improbable that such obstruction alone could cause "seasons" in this way. In an enclosed layer, one would think the problem not so much one of warming the Layer as of dissipating waste heat from it.
The first very hard book this year. I started reading it on my way back from Austria in January. Then continued reading it at home. Yet I never really got into it. On the other hand, it was fascinating enough to keep on trying.
So, could be me, but it is always a surprise whenever I start a new Banks novel. Unfortunately The Bridge doesn’t live up to the expectation I had. The Bridge in this novel is the whole world of a man in coma. Time and space do strange things with perception, dreams and reality, fact and fiction, everything seems to be woven into this story. Not until over halfway this book Mr. Orr, as the main character has been named until then, becomes a story. His history becomes known, slowly, gradually.
Certainly not my favorite book, this one, but it certainly won’t stop me from reading more books by Banks. Whit is next, waiting on my shelf already.
Quote: “Things went on; Lennon got shot, Dylan got religion. He could never decide which depressed him most.” (page 328)