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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Matter, by Iain Banks

Matter, by Iain M. Banks, was published in 2008.

Apparently, Banks is an important writer, but this is the first time I have read his work. The book is long (593 pages, including a glossary, and some appendixes, which I found useful).

As a reviewer said, the book seems to be about the construction and operation of shell worlds (artificial worlds with several levels, which may be inhabited by different types of intelligent beings) and the interactions between many intelligent species, or about warfare in a civilization with perhaps World War II technology, until well past the halfway point, when a reader realizes that it's about something else, entirely, and that the first part was a long introduction.

I won't give away the plot. You can check the first link, above, if you want to read about that, or you can read another review, here.

Let me muse about a few things.

The title comes, I believe, from a discussion between two beings, one apparently a far-future descent of humans, one not, on p. 348. The human asks the non-human about wars. Why must they be carried out in matter, rather than in simulation? The non-human replies ". . . where would be the fun in just playing a game?" (New York: Orbit Books, 2008).

The setting is far in the future, and the whole galaxy (perhaps more than one galaxy) seems to be inhabited.

One assumption that Banks makes, and a lot of other writers also seem to, is that members of non-human intelligent races would all think alike. We don't. Why should the Klingons? Or the Oct, one of the species in Matter?

One of the issues in Matter has to do with the relationship between species at different levels of technological development. How much interference should be used? How much guidance? These may, some day, become real issues.

There are gods in Matter, who are actually highly developed species, apparently immortal, or nearly so. They aren't omniscient or omnipotent.

On technological progress:

"The type of progress you guys are used to doesn't scale into this sort of civilisational level; societies progress until they Sublime --god-like retirement, if you will -- and then others start again, finding their own way up the tech-face. But it is a tech-face, not a tech-ladder; there are a lot of routes to the top and any two civs who've achieved this summit might well have discovered quite different abilities en route. Ways of keeping technology viable over long periods of time are known to have existed aeons ago, and just because something's ancient doesn't mean it's inferior." (540)

Banks doesn't seem to acknowledge the real Author, either in his worldview, or explicitly, but he has written a book on a grand scale. I enjoyed it.

I have posted on the possibility of intelligent life on other worlds.

Thank you so much for reading!

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