Three books. One great, one okayish, and one unfinishable.
Banks (with and without the M) is one of my all-time favourite authors. I picked-up a copy of State of the Art back in the early nineties and was hooked. I have since read every book he has written. Many reviewers seem to be labelling Matter as a “return to form”, but compared to his earlier works (say, The Player of Games, or Excession) I found it bloated, slow, and unbalanced. At least a quarter (maybe a third) of the book – Ferbin’s jorney around the eighth and up to the surface – is superfluous. The book warms up when he meets his sister, and ends very quickly with very compressed (if well written) combat sequence. It read like Banks, having written so much, just wanted to be finished with it. I kind of did too.
That said, it did flesh-out the culture universe a bit – introducing various other ‘involved’ civilisations and establishing some scale. The shellworld concept was cool too.
Half way through Matter I did something I rarely do; put the book to one side and started another with the intention of returning to it later. The book was How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and it was wonderful. If I could I’d have read it in one sitting. Originally written for the “young adult” (i.e. teen) market, it seems to have crossed-over into the adult market. The book is about the experiences of a young American girl, Daisy, in near-future Britain during a war and subsequent invasion. Its written entirely in the first person and Daisy’s character just made the book. Definitely recommended!
The unfinishable book was, unfortunately, God is Not Great by Peter Hitchens. I’d been looking forward to this, and bought the hardcover. Although I strongly agree with Hitchen’s thesis (er… that god is not great) this book just read like a rant. He makes points without citing sources (there some end-notes but they are brief) and overall the book comes-across as indulgent and smug. So for now its in the unfinished pile, and I’d recommend The God Delusion instead.
I have just started Richard Carrier’s Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism. So far its excellent and I’d highly recommend it.