Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Review: Transition by Iain Banks

by Iain Banks
Orbit (U.S)


Reviewed by Brenda Clough

Opening a novel for the first time is like getting into an unfamiliar car. You're going to be spending some time here. Are the seats comfortable? Is the engine going to turn over and run smoothly?

In this analogy, Transition by Iain M. Banks is a high-end Porsche. This is not your father's Oldsmobile! You are sitting behind the wheel of a powerful and sophisticated vehicle, but it is not a cushy ride.

You have to pay attention to get the full benefit out of Transition. Multiple viewpoints, hops through time and space, a complex plot delineated by unreliable narrators -- it takes a little while to get used to the fast, challenging ride. But this baby was built by a master artificer. Banks never loses control of his story, a convoluted account of intrigue and betrayal among interdimensional travelers in an infinity of alternate Earths. And wow, there's a powerful imaginative engine under the hood.

The pure virtuosity of the novel makes it less accessible. This work was not written for newcomers to the science fiction genre, and is not suitable for younger readers (if it were a movie it would definitely be R rated, shading towards X). But if you can see what the writer is doing, it really is a pleasure to watch the whole thing come together. If you are an experienced driver and there are no radar traps, sometimes a Porsche is the perfect vehicle.

Brenda Clough has written seven novels, including her most recent, Doors of Death and Life. Her short stories have been published in numerous magazines, including Analog SF Magazine and the anthology Starlight 3. Other work has appeared in SF Age, Aboriginal, Marion Zimmer Bradley Magazine, and many anthologies. She was a finalist for both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award in 2002. Her next workshop at The Writer's Center is Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy in February. Find her on the web here.

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