Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Iain M. Banks: Feersum Endjinn (1994)

Edition: Orbit, 1995
Review number: 1215

After several more straightforward works this novel is something of a return to the experimental style of Banks' earlier writing. Its structure of multiple interconnected narratives is reminiscent of The Bridge (although simpler), particularly as one of the threads is written phonetically.

The setting, like that of his previous science fiction novel (characterising those published under the middle initial as such) Against a Dark Background, is not the Culture that he is perhaps most famous for, but is uniquely an Earth derived future. Virtual reality of a sort - the rather hallucinogenic crypt - delivered via implants, mingles almost seamlessly with the real world. Death is not always permanent, as eight real lives are followed by eight virtual ones, and personalities can be recorded to live an independent life in the crypt. But the lifestyle is threatened, by what amounts to an interstellar computer virus, and the four protagonists of the narratives are people important in the crypt's fight to get human politicians to accept the need to do something about this.

So many ideas in Feersum Endjinn are familiar Iain Banks components that you might expect it to work quite well, particularly as it also contains new elements. But it never quite takes off. The phonetic narrative is partly to blame for this, being much harder to read than its equivalent in The Bridge even though it's not in Scots dialect. The other three narrators don't come across as distinct personalities, even the Asura, who is supposed to be a kind of blank slate, a being with no initial personality used by the crypt as a messenger in the real world.

Feersum Endjinn is part of the dip in form which marked Banks' writing in the first half of the nineties, from which he emerged with a more populist style.

No comments: