April 9th, 2008

breaking bad

Matter

I have just finished listening to the audio book of Matter by Iain M Banks. It's been in the top three downloads of audible UK for a month or so, since it came out. I dithered before downloading it because I knew it would be a big time commitment (21 hours) and Banks' last couple of SF novels weren't quite my cup of tea. Also I felt it would be a very male-oriented book, unlike the woman's-eye view of Sarah Water's The Night Watch, which I had enjoyed so much in March.

I think all Banks novels employ a narrow male-view even though he has female viewpoint characters. In Excession and The Algebraist I think he let it run away with him, constructing species and societies which didn't make sense. Getting all Marxist for a moment, I would say that the male role in our society can only exist because of the existence of the female role. Let me put it crudely - a gender can only express the values 'be clean, but never do any cleaning' or 'be a parent but don't do any parenting' if there is a complementary servant-gender which performs those missing functions. A species without entropy-work or parent-work could exist, but it would be alien in a way that Banks never achieved - despite the superficial trappings of alienness - in either of those two previous books. They too closely mirrored human concerns.

These problems do not arise in the same way in Matter, which I think is in his better work. I have to be careful here, because I thoroughly enjoy having these books read to me, and I feel such admiration for the reader (in this case Toby Longworth) that it might make me insufficiently critical. Matter is an exuberant and entertaining book, perhaps not quite Player of Games but jolly good. Like Inversions it is mainly set in a low-tech human culture - a feudal society which is going through industrialisation. It follows the stories of three siblings
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