Against an even darker background
I remember getting caught amidst the brilliant pages of the Player of Games in a bookstore, standing there not really minding myself, but still trying to be out of the way, and after a bit of fiddling with the thought I bought the book. It was probably 6-7 years ago. (Sure, others tell the tales of their first encounters with Banks’ books as he started publishing, decades ago. But then go and find their blags.) And the inventiveness of it, combined with the graspability of the storytelling, the sort of complexity of a task presented with the absolute ease only a true artisan is capable of.
Then years go by, I get my hands on the other books. The Use of Weapons turns my perspectives inside out, the Look to Windward folds them back, the Algebraist, a fairly recent addition to my experiences, though not part of the majestic Culture series, or more probably because this added degree of freedom, feels even closer and gives even more to the fortunate reader. Then Excession and Inversion. The former is the joyful splashing of the semi-intellectual waves of science-fiction as playful childs trying to outsmart each other so the other ends up more sploshed, except the story is about Minds, super-intelligent hyperspaceships. Then Inversions, a bit like the book Matter, much more surface-bound, but not at all without the operaness.
Matter, the genius of the whole setting, the sophistication of the interaction of the different layers. Whereas in the Use of Weapons time was interleaved, here space is. And Surface Detail and now The Hydrogen Sonata, more linear, more traditional space opera. Not a bit less interesting or immersive.
I’m not a fast reader, and lately I’m getting more scattered in my mind and reading activities, and have suffered from a no-reruns syndrome. (I have re-read almost no book. Yet. And I don’t like rewatching old movies.) So there are details that have escaped me the first time I read these books, so that’s a little consolation, knowing that little gems are still there, laying dormant, waiting to be ingested. But the fact that that it’s very improbable that there will be more is, defeating, like a full stop.
Oh, and. There’s one other thing.
There is an other Banks, without the M, the less-scientious, more gritty. Author of The Wasp Factory and so and so, highly acclaimed. And there’s a book I think best combines the two, a most remarkable lesson in contemporary reality - if viewed from the right angle, told via a very nicheous fiction, set in a solar system drifting in intergalactical space, far out in the black. So, Against a Dark Background a constant chaotic struggle of a society expanded to a dozen or so habitats orbiting their sun, to get a grip on itself resulted in a fragmented, oft violent and fragile stagnation of nations, ciy states and various influence groups. Smaller armed conflicts here and there, but without any chance of a solid resolution in sight, rich with injustice, small tyrants and zealous short-sighters, or whatever label you’d want to tack on the ethically-challenged. Sometimes ignorants, but that is not an excuse and neither a cause of their harmfulness.
We love twisting ourselves out of responsibility, we know the so common phenomenon of a discussion breaking down, or up into sub-problems and regressing to ideological differences, but we give up, instead of slapping the fuck out of our esteemed peers. There are hard problems, either lacking data to make an educated decision, or known obstacles on the path toward change and resolution. (Think the many incomplete schools of economics, think the recently surged North Korea conondrum.) But the more pressing concern is right at home, or next door. Fundamentalist fathers, merciless mothers, narrow-minded neighbours.) In a perfect (or ideal, or just, or caring) world any of ethical ideologies on the current table would work. But we don’t live in one. We have to find best approximations in limited timeframes against a backdrop of easily corruptible (hence corrupt) entities acting by a frustratingly stupid playbook. And it’s tiring, tiresome, it’s burdenous. It’s a hard thing to face the fallibility of others, it’s a lonesome responsibility to go even further and point out their errs and blind alleys of their logic, it’s even harder to see some limits of others (maybe with a hint of hope that they are soft boundaries, constantly improving), but then experiencing a sort of a no-go in myself is different. It doesn’t offer resolve, it doesn’t help understanding other - quite the opposite actually, after all the hardship of trying to malleate myself to be more effective, to be more ideal, more functioning, more accepting of these constraints of society were not exactly fruitful. And it could be frightening to some, that someone wants to liberate themselves even more to accept the fallacies of others, but currently I can’t even as give myself a good fuck with my oh so high and mighty open mind and full spectrum perspective.
I see the multidimensional constraints of our current problems, yaay, high IQ and all. But I lack the cognizance of what could/should be done, lack the motivation and energy to try to explore the solution space, and most saddeningly I even lack the resources (or prospective future of having enough) to organize a serious programme for change, or to contribute to similar efforts of others.
Yet, I’m still here. Enjoying life as best as I can, laughing vividly at the inside jokes of The Hydrogen Sonata, and hoping; no, seriously unfairly and selfishly demanding more from Banks. Even though he has already and still provides with so much sustenance for us.