I read this book about 6-Jul-2001. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1990. This note was last modified Friday, 02-May-2014 22:51:27 PDT.
This is book 4 of the "Culture" series.
This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.
This was my first try at a Banks book. I've known he had a high reputation among the Brits, and among the SF literati in the US. This wasn't a wonderful recommendation to me, of course; I don't much agree with the literati.
Banks' creation "the Culture" may be a significant contribution to SF. It was repeatedly hearing how interesting it was that eventually moved me to read a Banks book, and it really is pretty interesting. On the other hand I'm not sure yet whether it's consistent or well-realized; I'm not sure it makes any sense. In some ways I'd call it a post-singularity culture, and there are of course difficulties in conveying too much info about those to current readers.
This book is heavily character-focused, and the main character is not a nice person. That's clear all the way through; and then the surprise revalation at the end is that he's not nearly as nice a person as we thought he was.
The time sequence is heavily edited; lots of the book is flashbacks to previous missions of the main character. In most of them he tries hard and either fails horribly, or succeeds and it turns out that wasn't what people wanted. I'm not completely sure I untangled the mess of timelines correctly; there are few clues. After a while the flashbacks start feeling like filler; I think there are too many of them.
It's unlikely that I'll ever look at a Banks book again.