I set up a Google Alert (now an obsolete Google tech, but still working) to track any web news about Iain Banks’ new book Surface Detail. Very few uses of the phrase “surface detail” relate to his book though.
I am either getting stuff about astronomy/photography like:
Unfortunately not many snippets about Surface Detail though. All we get is:
His next book is Surface Detail, a Culture novel(released 7 October 2010). The utopian Culture, he tells us was created to reclaim the moral high ground of space opera where so much of the genre was right wing. It was also a reaction against the raft of Orwellian works. The new book “begins with a murder…and will not end until the culture has gone to war with death itself”. Banks describes it as “internal turf wars”.
But there are some good insights about Iain Banks the writer in the commentary on his interview at the Festival:
Questions from the audience return us to the process of creating his novels. Viewing authors basically as entertainers he is aware of the need to make his novels work for the booklover and also to provide subsequent gratifying readings. He describes his method of planning, including colour coded characters to ensure pacing. He admits to some concern that age would lessen his number of unique ideas, which he sees as vital to his science fiction works in particular – mainstream works just need to be well done but not necessarily original. Happily any diminution has been balanced by being better equipped to utilise concepts. While we are not likely to spot many influences in his work they include the Marx Brothers, Monty Python, the Goons, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Jane Austin, Graham Greene, Alan Warner and specifically the novels Catch 22, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Alasdair Gray’s Lanark.
How amazingly self-indulgent of me, but I thought Sunday would be a good day for reflecting on some of the blog posts created over the last month that have also drawn the most hits over the last month, so here they are the top five!
Review of Iain Banks iPhone App – way out in front this one, I think it did particularly well on the search engines and also got picked up by some Iain Banks forums.
You might have heard that there’s a new Culture novel from Iain Banks coming out later this year (October 2010). It’s called Surface Detail and here’s the info about it on his site at the moment:
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.
It begins with a murder.
And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.
Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.
Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful – and arguably deranged – warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war – brutal, far-reaching – is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it’s about to erupt into reality.
It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the centre of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.
More on the App
But there is also an interview with Iain about Surface Detail on his new iPhone App. So what extra information does he give away?
Firstly he tells us that the book is 200,000 words long, whereas his longest books have been usually around 180,000 words (Consider Phlebus for example).
There’s everything you would expect from a Culture novels – drones, spaceships and knife missiles. Oh and also some human stories too!
“Lededje Y’breq is one of the Intagliated”. She appears to be the main character. Her story revolves around how she loses her tatooes, refinds themand then falls in with the Culture, via two spaceships: a General Systems Unit and a derange Abominator class warship.
Intagliated means to be tatooed everywhere including internal organs, to pay debt for families past crimes.
Part of story is set in “hells” and involves the Culture’s wars against the “hells” which are horrible after-life places. Not much more about what these are but I am guessing these are some sort of virtual worlds where the dead go?
Another major character is fighting wars in the virtual world and now in the real world. It has been a long war in the virtual world (over 30 years), and the Culture is desperate to stop it spilling over into the real world.
For some crazy reason I seem to have not spotted some of the videos contained in the protected section of the Iain Banks iPhone App. I have now corrected the original review so please go there to see the whole listing.
It seems that these videos are unique to the app at the moment – can’t find them on YouTube for instance or on a Google search for Iain Banks videos.
As a fan of Iain Banks (see my article on his Wasp Factory), and also a writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy, this is an amazing insight into the mind of one of the world’s best SF writers. I was really interested in how Iain wrote his books – did he plan meticulously, or was he a seat of the pants writer. The answer having read this seems to be that he does a bit of planning, but that this isn’t exhaustive. For instance the information on characters and locations is limited to a list really. But there is also what amounts to a 15 page synopsis of Transition as well, which is quite detailed. So perhaps a bit more of a planner than say Stephen King?
So what do you get on the App:
Free to everyone:
Timeline of Iain’s books
RSS feed of Iain news
3 page list of characters and places from Transition
15 page synopsis of Transition
Video interview about the context of Transtion
Video interview about the context and timeframe of Transition
2 part Video interview about “The Concern”
17 page essay on The Spheres – which I think has something to do with Surface Detail
Video interview about Surface Detail
As far as I can work out the videos are not available on YouTube.
One complaint about the written content is that it’s not very readable on the iPhone – seems difficult to zoom in – perhaps the publisher could have reflowed these as ePub files rather than what look like PDFs? But all in all if you’re a Banks fan and/or a SF writer the app is well worth getting.
To unlock the app you need to either scan a barcode in the paperback edition or if you have the hardback you are asked for a word from a certain page and line in that edition.
I do wonder though if anyone would want all this information if they weren’t a big Banks fan, so is putting a lock on really necessary?
I have listened to eight episodes of Transition so far. It’s quite good, but not as good as some of his best work like The Bridge or Matter. What is clear though, is that, no matter what his publishers might say, this is science fiction. Time travel, alternate realities – completely science fiction.
Which probably means he’s got even less chance of a Booker nomination if his mainstream stuff is going more speculative. There seems to have been a bit of a debate recently about the dearth of SF on the Booker list – see Kim Stanley Robinson’s comments, and the report in the latest Ansible. I had a look at the rules for the Booker and it seems that each publisher can only submit two books per imprint. Which I suppose means that if a large publisher has a specific SF imprint it could submit two books, but on the whole is going to mean they submit books that are ‘Booker’ books – i.e. safe, worthy historical novels that fit with the establishment, rather than anything different, radical, or interesting.
I’m guessing that the US equivalent of the Booker is the Pullitzer. I think it’s interesting that as well as being more interesting in general, ‘mainstream’ US literary culture can also consider SF stories such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for it’s top award.