Excession

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Excession, first published in 1996, is Scottish writer Iain M. Banks' fourth science fiction novel to feature the Culture. It concerns the response of the Culture and other interstellar societies to an unprecedented alien artifact, the Excession of the title.

The book is largely about the response of the Culture's Minds (AIs with enormous intellectual capabilities and distinctive personalities) to the Excession itself, a black swan event, and the way in which another society, whose systematic brutality horrifies the Culture, tries to use the Excession to increase its power. As in Banks' other Culture novels the main themes are the moral dilemmas which confront a hyperpower and how biological characters find ways to give their lives meaning in a post-scarcity society which is presided over by benign super-intelligent machines. The book features a large collection of Culture ship names, some of which give subtle clues about the roles these ships' Minds play in the story. In terms of style, the book is also notable for the way in which many important conversations between Minds resemble email messages complete with headers.

Contents

Literary significance and criticism

Banks' view of the Culture

The book, more than any of the other Culture novels, focuses on the Culture's Minds as protagonists.

When asked about his focus on the possibilities of technology in fiction, Banks said about the book:

Also significant within the Culture novel cycle is that the book shows a number of Minds acting in a decidedly non-benevolent way, somewhat qualifying the godlike non-corruptibility and benevolence they are ascribed in other Culture novels. Banks himself has described the actions of some of the Minds in the novel as akin to "barbarian kings presented with the promise of gold in the hills".[2]

Reviews

Most reviewers praised the book's ideas and witty writing, but some complained about its complexity. A few who praised it commented that Excession's complexity and frequent use of in-jokes make it advisable for new readers of Banks' Culture stories to start with other books.[3][4]

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