Title: The State of the Art
Author: Iain M. Banks
Series: Culture, #4
The State of the Art left me cold... in a good way. Frequently bizarre and often haunting, Iain M. Banks uses the Culture setting to weave a variety of compelling (and dark) tales.
After enjoying Consider Phlebas and falling in love with The Player of Games and Use of Weapons, I've been meaning to pick up the next Culture book for some time. And hark! When I went to visit the library, there it was.
Iain M. Banks isn't exactly known for his short fiction, but like Miéville in Looking for Jake, he uses this opportunity to explore ideas and themes that wouldn't necessarily work in a novel. About half of the collection is short stories, while the other half is a novella (also called The State of the Art). Most of the stories seem to be dealing with the Cold War in some way, shape, or form, which makes sense, as the book was published in 1991.
So what is Banks trying to say about the Cold War and humanity in general? ...it's kind of hard to tell. Almost all of the stories have an anything but reliable narrator, the morality is iffy at best and not to be counted upon, and the trend is sometimes so disturbing that it takes some time to process. Overall, it appears that while Banks is dissatisfied with materialism (and consequently capitalism), he questions alternatives at the same time.
Basically, it feels like Banks is telling us, "Well, aren't we in a shitty situation?"
The stories that seem less tied to Earth politics (literally, as in some stories or metaphorically, as in others) are equally difficult to process. An Odd Attachment left me staring at the final page for some time. All I could think was, "Did I really just read that?" (The answer was: Yes. Yes, I just did.)
There are also many stories with "twist" endings. Normally, I detest such things, but in these cases, it seems to not be Banks laughing and going "gotcha!" and more just another pile of wtfery on top of Mount WTF. It doesn't matter if you see the twist coming from a few lightyears away. You still can't imagine Banks did that.
I wasn't sure at first whether to rate this three or four stars, but the more I sit back and think about the effect it's had on me, the more I think it merits four. It takes a lot for a book to leave me with such visceral feeling and while I'm not entirely sure what feelings Banks truly inspired in me, he definitely left me with some taste in my mouth. Not an entirely unpleasant one, I might add.