Jan 11 2011

Surface Detail

Published by at 6:36 am under Books

by Ian M. Banks.
This book is a continuation of Banks’ “Culture” series of space operas (see earlier reviews e.g. Look to Windward ). The story line is similar, but the setting and characters have changed. A mix of super intelligent entities which are self aware, fully conscious, and operate and build most everything are intermixed with broadly human like (‘trans-human’) characters. The human like beings populate the tale so that readers have some thing to relate to. The story includes some interesting ideas and descriptions of fantastic technologies a zillion light years beyond what is now possible.
‘Surface Detail’ weaves a few characters and tales together around rumination on what death and hell might be like in a world in which consciousness can be transferred and replanted in a new body. Some fun, but parts are a little tedious. It has a quite good description of a Hell consistent with commonplace pictures of fire and brimstone, but that runs on a bit long. However, the book’s hell is populated by ‘real’ souls but takes place within a computer recreation (simulation?).
One of the better characters in the book is a conscious warship that seems to love violence; just like a vicious soldier wanting a good little war.
One question not addressed is why the non biological intelligences would “spend” capabilities coddling the relatively stupid, weak, and delicate human beings! The machine intelligences take care of people in all the Culture books but what their motivation might be is never addressed. Why would machine (silicon?) based intelligences like to deal with and coddle biological beings?
Better than some of the recent books in this series, but not the best one.

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