When I picked up Consider Phlebas, the first of Iain M Banks‘ Culture novels, I knew this wouldn’t be an easy ride so it was no surprise when I first felt revulsion and then, later on, trepidation for both the story, the author’s obviously skewed sense of imagination, and the characters. That I should feel uncertain as to what it all was about was no big surprise either, but that the feeling would linger after I put the book down was one.
I would go so far as to say that it’s almost impossible to here place a paragraph starting with “This is the story about…”, because honestly, I don’t know.
Despite this I liked and enjoyed the book; it reminds me of my (admittedly rather vague) memory of Sartre’s Nausea – it is kind of more of an exposé of the futility of life and being /a treatise on the smallness of humanity and our wishes and hopes/ than anything else.
On top of this I love the way Banks’ write his prose. He uses ordinary words and sentences to vividly describe the unimaginable, to capture states and worlds no one will ever see except with the inner eye… and he makes them feel real.
This book is definitely not for the weak of heart and mind, and at times it was a struggle to get through it, but it was very definitely worth the time it took to read it.
Recommended reading for anyone with a flair for pretentious, bleak, and well written space opera.
With only 32 pages left of the formal story in this my latest read I just cannot get myself rid of the very definite feeling that the main characters will die, whatever my personal preferences. As a consequence, because I cannot just put the book away, not after reading 418 pages filled with trials and gore, I now read in 2-page spurts.
This is not the first time this happens, and I wonder – am I such a sucker for happy endings? Am I better suited for bubblegum reads, were everyone ends up living happily ever after? I am determined that the answer is NO, so I slog on, reading in micro-instalments. Because the book, this far, has been very much worth the effort even if I still have no idea what to say when I’m asked what’s it all about, and I’m determined that there will be a good reason for the protagonist and his sidekick(s) to die, for the story to actually have some kind of meaning. In The End.
Whatever that may be.
But – isn’t it ironic that me, who definitely don’t believe in there being any meaning with life except the survival of the species (so better make the time worth it!), can’t stand a book without a message or idea?
When I opened the first page of Elizabeth Moon‘s Rules of Engagement I expected a fast and light read, which just what I needed, all things considered. Of course, there has to be some element of drama or danger, or there would not be a book worth picking up, but at least I thought it would not pose an intellectual challenge – what I’ve read so far from Moon is well written but uncomplicated, as in no real complex political or historical context. Even when tackling difficult topics she does so in a straight forward way that lends at least the first four of the Serrano books a decidedly YA feel.
This fifth book ventured into darker territory, though, lending her characters and universe to the writing of a pamphlet against religious fanaticism. This in itself does not imply a darker setting but she takes it upon her self to describe in detail the consequences of the beliefs of this particular sect, not backing down from either the outright gruesome or the more systematic injustices.
The tool for this is to let rich brat girl Brun, once Bubbles, get kidnapped by a sect that firmly believes that women are the tools of men and not to have a voice of their own. The sect has not made it’s mark in Familias Regnant space which means it is a large universe to search through before she’s found, time during which she is subject to the culture of that sect, a culture that thinks a man forcing himself on a woman is in his right, were women aren’t allowed the skills of reading or writing, or to walk the streets or to look at a man’s face.
The ending is pure cliché, with some characters we know from earlier books who haven’t really made an appearance here jump in and make the day, rescuing Brun, without much explanation (or show). Despite this I enjoyed reading the book; in the end it was a smidgen darker than expected but all in all light and entertaining.
Not essential reading, but then not everything need be :D