Wednesday 23 December 2020

Book review: Look to Windward

PXL_20201223_212212387Yes, it's P. A. M. Dirac's infamous scifi saga... while I'm here, don't miss Consider Phlebas, arguably a better book.

This is I think the second time I've read this, the first was o my read-through of all the Culture novels, once I discovered them. I found this disappointing the first time, but not this. Mostly, if I recall correctly, because after all the setup (warning: spoilers) it all turns out to be a damp squib, at least in terms of the nominal plot. But since I knew that the second time round it wasn't disappointing.

The story, overall, is respectable and respectably told, in the usual IMB style; I enjoyed it. We get a variety of interesting environments, though I'm not at all sure that the "airsphere" made any kind of sense in any way - in its gravity, or nominal dynamics, or even purpose in the plot: why would you go there to do experiments quietly, when you could just float quietly in your spaceship? Nor is it clear why Sansemin got destroyed, or how... that's a slight irritation, but passes easily. The "Sublimed" don't make a great deal of sense either... indeed the closer you look at the plot, the more it is propped up by implausibilities. Is it really likely that a composer would inspire such adulation?

But there's also moderately extensive sections of trying to fill in what the Culture might be like. It seems to me that the bit people tend to like, the post-scarcity, no-money, limited-only-by-your-own-mind part isn't terribly plausible. Things like the best-most-central house space remain scarce, no matter what: tickets to sell-out concerts; and so on. Lay that aside, and Banks still seems to have left himself the problem of ennui, which can only be held off for so long by lava-rafting. There's something of a connection to Icehenge: what would you do with a very long life?

End criticism: the book has little of the "trademark" Banks violence or horror, with the possible exception of the charnel-room inside the behemothaur, until he remembers and stuffs in the body-filling-with-nanobot-insects schlock-horror at the end.

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