Feersum Endjinn, by Iain M Banks Rothdas book review RSS
3.5 Stars

A lesser Banks book. In the story, humanity has long since achieved vast levels of technological prowess, re-shaping the earth and leaving for the stars. The characters are those who live on Earth millions of years after this technological singularity/diaspora, and make their home amongst the monuments and machines and caretaker AIs that were left behind. In that regard it reminds me a bit of _Tides of Light_, which had a similar dynamic. The impetus for action is the Encroachment, a cosmic dust cloud which is on a collision course for the solar system. The story is about the various attempts to deal with the Encroachment, as it intersects and inflames existing tensions.

While the book is not bad, it suffers from a few flaws. One is that the technology is a little too indistinguishable from magic. The PoV characters are relatively primitive, and are nowhere near understanding what the machines around them are doing/can do. So for the reader there is no good way to model what might happen in the story, and many events just read as authorial fiat. A second flaw is the phonetic chapters. There is one character who has lesser/different mental functioning, and his chapters are written in a phonetic style like in the title. While I could read these chapters, they were more hassle than I really wanted to deal with. I ended up skimming this 25% of the book, which apparently you can do without losing too much of the storyline.

On the plus side, I enjoyed the mega-architecture and indoor climates of the book. And as usual Banks does an excellent job with VR, and with understanding the wildly transformative potentials of technology. Also on the plus side is the chapter near the end, with the extended vision of what of the Encroachment will do to Earth. The entire book can also be read as a parable of global warming, which I appreciate (annnnnd it looks like the book was published in 20+ years ago, and look at how much progess we have made on that front. Fairly fucking depressing.) To a certain extent I think I am being harsh on the book. I've internalized so much of Banks that I don't consciously notice many of his virtues, and instead read it as a sort of preaching to the choir. It's a bit like fish commenting on the wetness of the water today. So as usual let me just say that Banks is extremely creative, easy to read, has interesting and humane characters, and provides a continual stream of action and plot.