Monday, August 15, 2005

25. Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks

Feersum Endjinn book pictureThis is another one of Banks' Culture novels, a collection which I've really loved. He is a great moralist, great in the sense that his books are powerfully moral without ever being preachy or getting in the way of the story. Feersum Endjinn concerns the earth far in the future. The technological and social situation is quite complex, almost too complex to describe here, but basically the future earth is in danger of "The Encroachment" a wave of black dust that may block out the sun and thus freeze the solar system. Instead of working together to address the problem, the leaders are fighting a civil war. Everyone lives in the ruins of giant statues and castles and have access to a virtual reality called the Crypt, all of which was left by a previous society. They don't know much about them, but suspect they have a way to fight the Encroachment. The book traces the paths of the various characters whose actions will impact the plot.

As usual, with the Culture books, there is awesome technology as well as really amazing descriptions and locations. His presentation of the Crypt as a kind of advanced internet in which people can exist for millenia as avatars (or copies) of themselves is thought-provoking and a reasonable guess as to the future of our own data net. So for sci-fi nerds, it's a great read. I think it may be a bit obscure if you're not familiar with Banks' style and the Culture books. For instance, there is a character who can only think and express himself phonetically and there are chapters and chapters written phonetically, which is tough at first (though once your brain is able to read it quickly, it's amazingly well-written).

I think it is quite obviously a metaphor for global warming in our own time and from that perspective, this book actually lacks some of the moral depth and complexity that his other books have. It all ends kind of abruptly and easily, suggesting there is some deus ex machina solution to human stupidity and selfishness that will save us all in the end.

I'm not really able to do justice to the fantastic and rich world that Banks has created here. He really is a master. I strongly recommend any of the Culture books (most of which aren't for sale in the States, or weren't), the listing of which can be found at his website.

For you Culture geeks out there, Feersum Endjinn takes place on earth and only gives very teeny hints to the origin of the Culture and the future of the humans who left the planet (referred to as the Diaspora). The only direct link to the Culture is, I believe, a tiny ant, but I'll need to dig a little deeper to confirm that.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would definitely second the recommendation of taking a look at Banks Culture novels.

The Culture is essentially a trans-planetary society that is composed of humanoids and AIs. They have moved to a fundamentally post-materialistic construct where (often) the pursuit of pleasure is paramount.

As a side note, Banks newest book, The Algebraist, appears to be moving in to an entirely new non-Culture setting. Reviews are mixed.