Friday, January 19, 2007

6. The Business by Iain Banks

The Business cover pictureFor those of you who don't know, Iain Banks has a great thing going on. He writes science fiction (generally taking place in the universe of The Culture) under the name Iain M. Banks. He also writes "contemporary" (for lack of a better word) fiction under the name Iain Banks. I believe that The Wasp Factory may be the best known. In Britain, they publish both lines beautifully, each with a distinct look. The non-M books all have very stark, modern black and white covers (like the one pictured here). The M books (the sci-fi ones) are in colour, each one with a specific dominant colour. (Oh, well, going to his website, I see they have updated the line. They still are different, but not so distinctly now. They sure do look cool, though. They know how to make books look cool in England. Check them out: fiction and science fiction).

Anyhow, I'm not sure how I feel about the business. I read the Wasp Factory a long time ago and enjoyed it but it didn't totally grab me. The Business reminded me a lot of a few other sci-fi classics: Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. The protagonist is a high-powered businesswoman working for a giant, ancient company that is more like a meta-company, so big it is considering taking over a small country so it can get a seat on the United Nations. Most of the book, though, deals with the heroine's personal concerns, her role in the company, her unrequited love and sex life and her travel (every flight and car ride is rated and detailed). Eventually, a large plot comes in to view, involving her being sent to a small himalayan kingdom to see how the people would react to the Business coming in and taking over (their monarch is favorable to the idea and there would be a lot of benefits for the country, but obviously it is a mephistophelean deal).

Banks is a solid writer and a complicated, intelligent person. There are very interesting ideas swimming around under the surface of this novel. The construction of the the Business (as it is known) was interesting, though didn't reach the detail of the Cryptonomicon. There was so much emphasis on the trappings of life at the top (the lear jets, the communication devices, the exotic locales) that I felt I could never really get at what Banks was trying to communicate. I wondered what we were doing, where we were going at several points. In the end, there was a semi-satisfying conclusion, but it came rushed and I feel lacked the power that this story had potential to have.

Does anybody have a particular Iain Banks novel to recommend? I find them all so intriguing, but they just don't blow me away like some of the Iain M. Banks books have done.

1 comment:

Jarrett said...

your blog makes me want to unplug the computer, see if it will skip like a stone across some flat water, and pick up a book!