The State of the Art

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The State of the Art is a short story collection by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 1991. The collection includes some stories originally published under his other byline, Iain Banks as well as the title novella and others set in Banks' Culture fictional universe.



  • Road of Skulls
  • A Gift from the Culture
  • Odd Attachment
  • Descendant
  • Cleaning Up
  • Piece
  • The State of the Art

At 100 pages long, the title novella makes up the bulk of the book. The novella chronicles a Culture mission to Earth in the late Seventies, and also serves as a prequel of sorts to Use of Weapons by featuring one of that novel's characters, Diziet Sma. Here, Sma argues for contact with Earth, to try and fix the mess the human species has made of it; another Culture citizen, Linter, goes native, choosing to renounce his Culture body enhancements so as to be more like the locals; and Li (who is a Star Trek fan), argues that the whole "incontestably neurotic and clinically insane species" should be eradicated with a micro black hole. The ship the Arbitrary (ship) has ideas, and a sense of humour, of its own.

'Also while I'd been away, the ship had sent a request on a postcard to the BBC's World Service, asking for 'Mr David Bowie's "Space Oddity" for the good ship Arbitrary and all who sail in her.' (This from a machine that could have swamped Earth's entire electro-magnetic spectrum with whatever the hell it wanted from somewhere beyond Betelgeuse.) It didn't get the request played. The ship thought this was hilarious.'

  • Scratch (or: The Present and Future of Species HS (sic) Considered as The Contents of a Contemporary Popular Record (qv))

Original publication and variant editions

The collection was published in the US in 2004 by Night Shade Books, in hardback (ISBN 1-892389-38-X) and limited editions (ISBN 1-892389-99-1). The limited edition contains work by Banks not found in the UK version.

The non-SF stories in the collection are the only ones he has published under his Iain M. Banks name, which is only usually used for his science fiction.


Piece was adapted by Craig Warner for BBC Radio 5 and broadcast on 6 June 1991[1]. It was directed by John York. The cast included:

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