Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Tyler Cowen reviews Matter

Matter, Iain M. Banks new Culture novel, is a remarkable literary event. But you need to know that the characters are supposed to lack psychological complexity, and that the last hundred pages are supposed to jarringly clash with the pace of the rest of the book. And that the book is supposed to make you sometimes feel bored and wondering why you should care about the characters and surface plot. You are in fact reading a book that embraces the cruelty and meaninglessness of life. Most of all this is a book about how being adopted by an all powerful and all knowing Culture doesn't gift a woman with a personality and how she can do nothing but follow her primitive cultural conditioning and stumble into accidentally consequential events with no apparent purpose or foresight. I can't recall any other book that so completely trivializes its own moments of crisis. The integration of interstellar travel and digging a big hole in the ground is brilliant. The homage to every other Culture novel from which elements of this were borrowed is loving. I didn't even know how good this book was until I retroactively forgot the epilogue. Bravo.

It is probably the best book this spring. It creates its own manufactured ShellWorld and draws you into the core. Forget the bad reviews from readers who do not take the seemingly throw away conversation that provides the title seriously. The boring and inconsistent parts of the book, like the quest narrative, are supposed to be boring and inconsistent. It's about the tiresome mundanity (yes mundanity as in mundane) of existence, the fact that we aren't special, the lack of any hidden mystery, the certain arbitrariness of earthly justice, and most of all that the possibility of any friendly higher power controlling our fates is absurd.

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