Matter is the eighth of Iain M. Banks Culture novels.The Culture series give us our science fiction cake while letting us read our fantasy, too. By incorporating highly evolved civilizations that monitor and observe less developed, nearly medieval cultures, we get the entire range of possibilities.
Matter opens with fast and furious action, war crimes, murder, treachery, and a desperate escape. The focus of the story is on the three children of King Hausk the Conqueror. Ferbin witnesses his father’s murder by tyl Loesp, his father’s closest confidante and adviser, a traitor who had been conspiring for power for decades. He hears enough to know he is believed dead and if found alive, that oversight would be corrected. His younger brother Oramen is too young to rule and tyl Loesp will govern as regent for a time, long enough for him to find a way to rid himself of that troublesome and unsuspecting teen. King Hausk’s other child is Anaplian. She was sent to The Culture by her father years ago and trained to be a Special Circumstances officer, someone with the skills and powers to intervene in events in the worlds The Culture oversees. Learning of her father’s and brother’s deaths, she decides to go to her home to mourn and help her younger brother.
This all happens very quickly. Then the story shifts to Ferbin’s travels to seek help from two possible sources, an old family friend and his sister, Anaplian’s travels homeward, and Oramen’s dawning realization that someone is trying to kill him. This is most of the story and it is a tour de force of invention and imagination in terms of creating new worlds, technologies, societies and organisms. Banks created an incredibly complex world and he wants to make sure we know everything about it. The information overwhelms the plot.
In terms of creativity and imagination, Matter is unsurpassed. There are so many worlds, peoples, technologies, and ideas. The story, though, becomes lost in the volume of information. Matter has all this information parenthesized by fast and furious action, but so much of the middle, except for Oramen’s narrative is a lot of riding around in ships, cleverly named ships, but still mostly a long sightseeing trip full of information on the places visited. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but man…the resolution is so hurried and perfunctory considering it took several hundred pages to get there.
This is the eighth in The Culture series. I have not read any of the other books in the series and do not think that affected my enjoyment. Everything was explained, there was no moment reading the book where I thought I was missing some crucial backstory.