Never mind the Ballards
I have been writing about books by J.G. Ballard pretty much to the exclusion of all others. Gradually the posts have tricked out about four novels and ground to a halt. I’ve got a fair way through two other books but I am getting very tired of reading his novels all the time, much as I love them. The mistake I made was that I hadn’t read enough of them in the first place. The project for the site was get the books, read them and then write something. In terms of writing regular posts, this was a bad idea!
Moving the remainder of my stuff out of my parents’ place recently has presented me with the oppurtunity to write another series of posts based on books that I have already read and loved. I’ve been reacquainted with the remainder of my beloved Iain M. Banks novels, which I read voraciously between the ages of 15 and 21. I still pick up the odd one now and then, the most recent being Matter. I am also looking forward to reading Surface Detail once it is out in paperback (I’m really not a fan of either hardbacks or of reading fiction on the Kindle).
I pretty much have all the science fiction novels apart from Inversions, which I need to get a copy of in paperback. Those who have read them will know that they can pretty much be divided into the eight that feature the Culture - a society of technologically advanced atheist pleasure seekers - and those that don’t (Against A Dark Background, Feersum Endjinn and The Algebraist). Dividing the Culture novels up into two chunks according to when they were written also provides a good indication of when their themes and timbre begin to change. This gives me three posts to write over the next few months based on books that I can gently re-read in the evenings.
Three upcoming posts
The earlier Culture novels are probably the most removed from my memory apart from The Player Of Games, which has stayed with me ever since I read it. (In fact, since I re-read it because it was the second time that its horrors began to trouble me, more of which later…) However, it shouldn’t take me too long to revisit them, especially as I am already most of the way through Use Of Weapons (another horrifying tale but one that you truly glory in the gothic ramifications of rather than be shocked by) and I re-purchased and read Excession very recently. Expect a post about these three and the humongous opening novel of the Culture sequence Consider Phlebas in short order.
As the post on the later Culture novels may involve me reading and then writing about the newest novel Surface Detail, I’ll make my second post about the mid-sequence non-Culture novels. In some ways all Banks’ science fiction references the Culture in some way and so these three books will lend themselves to discussion in context of the others despite their stand alone stories.
Banks in fact plays with this notion that the Culture is all pervasive in his work with “Inversions”, which is a Culture novel only because of the presence of the odd capitalised word and a knife missile. This sets the tone for the remaining novels, even if they are more explicit about the trappings of the Culture universe. Much of the fun comes from the Culture’s interventions on other worlds and the description of non-Culture societies - the later novels have to have this focus because the Culture always wins and so the stories require an outsider perspective in order to be interesting.
OK, so I have covered a fair bit of ground here. I hope I haven’t got too far ahead of myself and look forward to posting some deeper thoughts later on.
A note on spoilers
By way of a final warning, the upcoming posts will feature plot spoilers so beware of that. I will try to be responsible and not mention any spoilers until after the more tag of the next post (so you won’t see spoilers on the home page) but beyond that it will be your decision! If you interested in getting involved with the debate and reading ahead, the four novels of the first post will be Consider Phlebas, The Player Of Games, Use Of Weapons and Excession. The post itself should appear in mid-to-late April.