“The State of the Art” by Iain M. Banks

This is a collection – or, anthology, as it likes to be known – of short stories by the illustrious Iain Banks, all written for other publications, mostly before the release of The Wasp Factory and Banks’ rise to deserved stardom. It includes the story actually titled “The State of the Art” which is / was one of the first “Culture” stories, which then took root and became the science fiction series that Banks would write with his middle initial.

There are, undoubtedly, some absolute peaches in here. In particular i draw your attention to “Piece”  – a title which adds no hint as to the astounding climax, which is basically a short, seemingly ineffectual account of a man on a plane. Its not until the final few lines when everything clicks into place. Its a topical thing, and perhaps a little too historical – or even local –  for some people to understand, but its definitely worth the read. And if you don’t get it, simply google the name of the Town thats mentioned…and i can pretty much guarantee it’ll be the first hit.

Another highlight was the creepily odd “Odd Attachment” which is a science fiction “comedy” for want of a better word, which again, looks as if it was written pretty much all at once, with a singular idea forming a good number of pages of exploration, all told from the point of view of a weird looking alien.

Its definitely a science fiction collection; every one of them has tendency for the space-dwelling or out-of-this-world stuff. However, as much as its worth reading, it does have a rather unfortunate fault. This is probably a personal thing, but as this is a personal review, i have to mention it. It has put me off Iain M Banks’ science fiction. The whole “Culture” approach, (not that i claim to have any idea what or who or how the culture are / is) but theres too much light-hearted comedy and satire to make it the immersive hard sci fi i was led to believe it was. Now, i could be wrong; i’m still going to give it a shot – hopefully this year – but i have doubts. Stemmed from two of the short stories in this book. One of which is the abysmal (i’m sorry, but i hated it) “The State of the Art”, which is all to do with culture aliens deciding whether Earth is worth keeping, for all its faults. Its just  a mash of seemingly hilarious asides from the computer drone dictating the story, mixed with oddly rubbish pop-culture references to films and music, which usually tickle my fancy but with this seemed misplaced. The other, a shorter short story called “A Gift from the Culture” wasn’t quite so bad; focussing on a more individual approach as opposed to a global thing, but nonetheless, the point is i wasn’t TAKEN by the whole thing. I was hoping to be swept up in the waves of its fame, but instead i’m left standing on the beach still unsure whether to delve into its massive franchise. So, if the ghost of Iain M Banks is reading this, i apologise, but its going to take something big to make me take the leap…

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