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Excession

Excession - Iain M. Banks
The Culture series is one of the most beloved among today's sf readers, possibly the most beloved but I don't have any hard figures to back it up so I'll leave that hyperbole out for now. Certainly some entries in the series are more popular than others, based on the average ratings and online discussions [b:The Player of Games|18630|The Player of Games (Culture, #2)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386922873s/18630.jpg|1494157] and [b:Use of Weapons|12007|Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388530572s/12007.jpg|1494156] are generally held in high regard, [b:Inversions|12017|Inversions (Culture, #6)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1288930844s/12017.jpg|21864462] and [b:Matter|886066|Matter (Culture, #8)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327954631s/886066.jpg|871329] less so. As for Excession, it is one of the more popular ones, top 4 I think, and I can see why.

"The Culture vs a BDO, yes, please!"
That was my reaction upon reading the book's synopsis which I shall fastidiously avoid writing as always. These things are never more than one click away on Goodreads after all. Apart from being a field day for BDO fans ([b:Rendezvous With Rama|112537|Rendezvous with Rama (Rama, #1)|Arthur C. Clarke|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1405456427s/112537.jpg|1882772] and whatnot) this book also largely focused on The Minds, the series' sentient AI entities which are much more than supercomputers, among other things they are also the real movers and shakers of The Culture society where all the humans are well catered for with everything they could possibly want, leaving little motivation to get involved in politics or anything else of real importance. What is interesting about The Minds is that they are fully sentient, they have their individual personalities, emotions, and motivations; in other words human-like characteristics coupled with vast intelligence. They even have their own version of virtual reality games called "Irreal" (AKA "Infinite Fun"). So when the complex, enigmatic Minds encounter an even more inscrutable BDO (which they classify as an Outside Context Problem) we are in for some interesting times.

The book is not entirely about the Minds or the "Outside Context Problem" artifact however, the author is after all a human being so he did not forget that his human readers need some human characters to identify with the human drama aspect of the book is not central to the main story line but cleverly woven in. As usual with Banks the human characters are well developed and believable though none are particularly likable. The single alien specie to appear in this book are the boisterous and naturally cruel and callous Affronters, they are particularly interesting because they are not "evil" aliens per se, they are what they are, morality does not appear to be part of their DNA. The prose is literate and a pleasure to read as always, the lyrical passages, the action packed scenes and the humorous moments as all there. The only snag with this novel for me is the large cast of characters, AIs, humans and aliens. They all have interesting names but there are so many of them it is hard to remember who all the minor characters are and their relevance to the major plot of the story.

If you have never read any book from this series before, this is probably not the best volume to start with. I would recommend [b:Consider Phlebas|8935689|Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327951890s/8935689.jpg|14366] or [b:The Player of Games|18630|The Player of Games (Culture, #2)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386922873s/18630.jpg|1494157] instead, though if you really want to jump right in with this one you may want to read up some background materials in Wikipedia or Banks' own guide "A Few Notes on the Culture". I am looking forward to eventually catching up with the rest of the series. Excession is an excellent read, well worth anybody's time, but for the moment my favorite Culture book is still [b:The Player of Games|18630|The Player of Games (Culture, #2)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386922873s/18630.jpg|1494157].

(4.5 stars)