Banks, Iain M.: (04) Excession

I skipped to Excession in my intermittent re-read of Iain M. Banks’ Culture books, one sunny weekend day when I wanted to be outside and I saw a random mention of a black-body object, which always reminds me of this excellent back cover copy on my edition:

Two and a half millennia ago, the artifact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared. Now it is back.

I’d remembered Excession as a fun book and the one most about the Culture proper, at least until Look to Windward. I’d forgotten that it involves Dajeil Gelian, a woman who deliberately remains nine months pregnant for forty years. So, as you might imagine, when I opened up the book in my sixth month of pregnancy and encountered her, I blurted out, “The hell you say!”

A moment’s reflection told me that the same level of bioengineering that let her halt her pregnancy must also give her the ability to ameliorate all the many physical side-effects of being pregnant, which allowed me to just barely suspend my disbelief. Still, as Chad put it when I mentioned this to him, the Culture, which has pregnancies, is written by Iain M. Banks. In contrast, the Vorkosigan universe, which is much less technologically advanced, nevertheless has uterine replicators, and is written by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Anyway. The Excession appears and plots immediately spring up around it, which end up affecting a number of vastly self-absorbed individuals such as Dajeil. The wide-angle stuff is fine, just as entertaining as I remembered, with the minor exception that the Affront (Banks really has a flair for names) is maybe too similar to the society in The Player of Games. But the small-scale stuff ends up being mostly about Dajeil, and because I can’t get a handle on her, it ends up falling flat for me. I first read this in college, and then I barely thought about whether she made sense. Now, I spent a lot of time trying to construct any sympathetic or sensible model of her in my head, and I just couldn’t do it.

So, not as successful a book for me on this re-read, but I am now in the mood for the rest of the series, if only my free time would cooperate.

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