no critical faculties 2: ian banks’ transition

I read a review of Transition which alleged that beneath the screaming surface pleasures were hidden depths to delight and inspire the discerning reader. Now I like my hidden depths as much as and perhaps more than the next guy (witness my rampant Wolfe fanboyism), but I must not be very discerning, or else was distracted too much by the surface sheen, carried along to the end without bothering to look too deep.

Because I can say this for it: for the most part, it moves.

So there’s a multiverse and specially trained people can jump to different realities by inhabiting the body of someone in them. There is an organization which takes advantage of this to make changes that will steer different worlds in allegedly positive directions. They are benevolent and only seek to improjbksbkgdkgkdvkvjhsdhakd OH WAIT NO SHENANIGANS ARE AFOOT.

Thrill as our hero Something of a Cipher learns his place in the high stakes world of international poker transdimensional espionage where the evil and selfish seeming side turns out evil and selfish and the maybe a little morally ambiguous but generally alright side turns out maybe a little morally ambiguous but generally alright and really, don’t read this shit for any shocking revelations in the overall plot. Read it because Banks has a good time fucking around listlessly in the margins but still keeps things going at an alright clip (with a few exceptions I’ll get around to bitching about shortly). The differences between variations of earth he brings in are often lazy and a bit predictable, but his exploitation of the abilities that allow people to move between them are inventive and sometimes fun. There’s sex and drugs and violence and moderately thoughtful conversations counterpointed by lazy molestations as it lurches headlong toward its not-particularly-harrowing conclusion.


Maybe the aforementioned review was referring to the way certain points of view in Transition hold no discernible purpose in the actual arc of the story, they just provide background or a way for Bank’s to spout off on something relevant to you, the reader’s exciting and modern-day world: the torturer, whose pov seems to exist entirely to provide an eventual “torture is bad and doesn’t really work ok” speech from one of his clients; the patient in the sanitarium, who did little for me other than set up a question (just just who the fuck is this guy? is he one of the other characters?) that I quickly answered for myself, and provide a punch line for the whole mess that’s cute enough, I guess, but seems to set up a potential sequel and hardly seemed to justify the long stretches I spent bored inside his head. Are there things here, true believers, which I was simply too much the impatient Neanderthal to notice on my way to the next more immediately gratifying section? Had I stopped and lingered and attended better in general would I have discovered the true rewards of a sociopath’s autobiography and a poorly-veiled future other-lead’s exhaustively detailed and interminable period spent lying abed, talking gibberish to crazy people, and getting needlessly paranoid about that ward, down there?

Could be.

Does he tackle Big Issues and Deeper Themes? Yes, but it’s usually by walking up to them, pulling out the laser-pointer he keeps on his keychain for just these occasions, and carefully pointing out all the different parts he feels the reader needs to be familiar with before they can consider themselves a full and rounded human being.

The ending is rushed, and dependent on a major character suddenly stumbling into awesome and god-like abilities previously undreamed of in the world of jumping between bodies in the multiverse. Banks tries to set up something else as a potential foil for his new god-like abilities, but their eventual conflict amounts to no conflict at all: turns out it’s just not interested in trying to foil him, and he runs off into the prologue.

Overall it was diverting and I do not regret buying this and almost immediately selling it back.


~ by ironcupshrug on 12/02/2009.

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