Excession (Culture Series #4)

Excession (Culture Series #4)

by Iain M. Banks, Iain M. Banks

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553575378
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1998
Series: Culture Series , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 497
Sales rank: 180,962
Product dimensions: 4.16(w) x 6.87(h) x 1.07(d)

Read an Excerpt

The ship shuddered; the few remaining lights flickered, dimmed and went out. The alarms dopplered down to silence. A series of sharp impacts registered through the companionway shell walls with resonations in the craft's secondary and primary structure. The atmosphere pulsed with impact echoes; a breeze picked up, then disappeared. The shifting air brought with it a smell of burning and vaporization; aluminium, polymers associated with carbon fibre and diamond film, superconductor cabling.

Somewhere, the drone Sisela Ytheleus could hear a human, shouting; then, radiating wildly over the electromagnetic bands came a voice signal similar to that carried by the air. It became garbled almost immediately, then degraded quickly into meaningless static. The human shout changed to a scream, then the EM signal cut off; so did the sound.

Pulses of radiation blasted in from various directions, virtually information-free. The ship's inertial field wobbled uncertainly, then drew steady and settled again. A shell of neutrinos swept through the space around the companionway. Noises faded. EM signatures murmured to silence; the ship's engines and main life support systems were off-line. The whole EM spectrum was empty of meaning. Probably the battle had now switched to the ship's AI core and back-up photonic nuclei.

Then a pulse of energy shot through a multi-purpose cable buried in the wall behind, oscillating wildly then settling back to a steady, utterly unrecognisable pattern. An internal camera patch on a structural beam nearby awakened and started scanning.

It can't be over that quickly, can it?

Hiding in the darkness, the drone suspected it was already too late. It was supposed to wait until the attack had reached a plateau phase and the aggressor thought that it was just a matter of mopping up the last dregs of opposition before it made its move, but the attack had been too sudden, too extreme, too capable. The plans the ship had made, of which it was such an important part, could only anticipate so much, only allow for so proportionally greater a technical capability on the part of the attacker. Beyond a certain point, there was simply nothing you could do; there was no brilliant plan you could draw up or cunning stratagem you could employ that would not seem laughably simple and unsophisticated to a profoundly more developed enemy. In this instance they were not perhaps quite at the juncture where resistance became genuinely without point, but--from the ease with which the Elencher ship was being taken over--they were not that far away from it, either.

Remain calm, the machine told itself. Look at the overview; place this and yourself in context. You are prepared, you are hardened, you are proof. You will do all that you can to survive as you are or at the very least to prevail. There is a plan to be put into effect here. Play your part with skill, courage and honour and no ill wilt be thought of you by those who survive and succeed.

The Elench had spent many thousands of years pitting themselves against every kind of technology and every type of civilisational artifact the vast spaces of the greater galaxy could provide, seeking always to understand rather than to overpower, to be changed rather than to enforce change upon others, to incorporate and to share rather than to infect and impose, and in that cause, and with that relatively unmenacing modes operandi, had become perhaps more adept than any--with the possible exception of the mainstream culture's semi-military emissaries known as the Contact Section--at resisting outright attack without seeming to threaten it; but for all that the galaxy had been penetrated by so many different explorers in all obvious primary directions to every periphery however distant, enormous volumes of that encompassing arena remained effectively unexplored by the current crop of in-play civilizations, including the Elench (quite how utterly that region, and beyond, was comprehended by the elder species, or even whether they really cared about it at all was simply unknown). And in those swallowingly vast volumes, amongst those spaces between the spaces between the stars, around suns, dwarfs, nebulae and holes it had been determined from some distance were of no immediate interest or threat, it was of course always possible that some danger waited, some peril lurked, comparatively small measured against the physical scale of the galaxy's present active cultures, but capable--through a developmental peculiarity or as a result of some form of temporal limbo or exclusionary dormancy--of challenging and besting even a representative of a society as technologically advanced and contactually experienced as the Elench.

The drone felt calm, thinking as coldly and detachedly as it could for those few moments on the background to its current predicament. It was prepared, it was ready, and it was no ordinary machine; it was at the cutting edge of its civilisation's technology, designed to evade detection by the most sophisticated instruments, to survive in almost unimaginably hostile conditions, to take on virtually any opponent and to suffer practically any damage in concentric stages of resistance. That its ship, its own manufacturer, the one entity that probably knew it better than it knew itself, was apparently being at this moment corrupted, seduced, taken over, must not affect its judgement or its confidence.

The displacer, it thought. All I've got to do is get near the Displace Pod, that's all...

Then it felt its body scanned by a point source located near the ship's AI core, and knew its time had come. The attack was as elegant as it was ferocious and the take-over abrupt almost to the point of instantaneity, the battle-memes of the invading alien consciousness aided by the thought processes and shared knowledge of the by now obviously completely overwhelmed ship.

With no interval to provide a margin for error at all, the drone shunted its personality from its own AI core to its back-up picofoam complex and at the same time readied the signal cascade that would transfer its most important concepts, programs and instructions first to electronic nanocircuitry, then to an atomechanical substrate and finally--absolutely as a last resort--to a crude little (though at several cubic centimetres also wastefully large) semi-biological brain. The drone shut off and shut down what had been its true mind, the only place it had ever really existed in all its life, and let whatever pattern of consciousness had taken root there perish for lack of energy, its collapsing consciousness impinging on the machine's new mind as a faint, informationless exhalation of neutrinos.

The drone was already moving; out from its body-niche in the wall and into the companionway space. It accelerated along the corridor, sensing the gaze of the ceiling-beam camera patch following it. Fields of radiation swept over the drone's militarised body, caressing, probing, penetrating. An inspection hatch burst open in the companionway just ahead of the drone and something exploded out of it; cables burst free, filling to overflowing with electrical power. The drone zoomed then swooped; a discharge of electricity crackled across the air immediately above the machine and blew a hole in the far wall; the drone twisted through the wreckage and powered down the corridor, turning flat to its direction of travel and extending a disc-field through the air to brake for a corner, then slamming off the far wall and accelerating up another companionway. It was one of the full cross-axis corridors, and so long; the drone quickly reached the speed of sound in the human-breathable atmosphere; an emergency door slammed shut behind it a full second after it had passed.

A space suit shot upwards out of a descending vertical tubeway near the end of the companionway, crumpled to a stop, then reared up and stumbled out to intercept the machine. The drone had already scanned the suit and knew the suit was empty and unarmed; it went straight through it, leaving it flapping halved against floor and ceiling like a collapsed balloon. The drone threw another disc of field around itself to match the companionway's diameter and rode almost to a stop on a piston of compressed air, then darted round the next corner and accelerated again.

A human figure inside a space suit lay half-way up the next corridor, which was pressurising rapidly with a distant roar of gas. Smoke was filling the companionway in the distance, then it ignited and the mixture of gases exploded down the tube. The smoke was transparent to the drone and far too cool to do it any harm, but the thickening atmosphere was going to slow it up, which was doubtless exactly the idea.

The drone scanned the human and the suit as best it could as it tore up the smoke-filled corridor towards it. It knew the person in the suit well; he had been on the ship for five years. The suit was without weaponry, its systems quiet but doubtless already taken over; the man was in shock and under fierce chemical sedation from the suit's medical unit. As the drone approached the suit it raised one arm towards the fleeing machine. To a human the arm would have appeared to move almost impossibly quickly, flicking up at the machine, but to the drone the gesture looked languid, almost leisurely; surely this could not be all the threat the suit was capable of--

The drone had only the briefest warning of the suit's holstered gun exploding; until that instant the gun hadn't even been apparent to the machine's senses, shielded somehow. There was no time to stop, no opportunity to use its own EM effector on the gun's controls to prevent it from overloading, nowhere to take cover, and--in the thick mist of gases flooding the corridor--no way of accelerating beyond the danger. At the same moment, the ship's inertial field fluctuated again, and flipped a quarter-turn; suddenly down was directly behind the drone, and the field strength doubled, then redoubled. The gun exploded, tearing the suit and the human it contained apart.

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Paul McAulay

Excession is wildly enjoyable, an all-out romp orchestrated with masterful precision, grounded upon challenging ethical problems...furthering Banks' reputation as one of the most of SF to have emerged in the last ten years.

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Excession 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
manque on LibraryThing 27 days ago
An outstanding imaginary universe, complete with AI (artificial intelligences) that are believable and *at least* as interesting, and as distinctly personal, as human beings. The language is crisp and careful, the ideas are either fresh or freshly executed; there is little to mar this novel. A fine balance in plotting, a fine collection of subplots and schemes that fail or go awry.
clong on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Banks is an imaginative, talented storyteller, and this book featured some intriguing concepts, but on balance I was disappointed by Excession. For me there were two areas of the book that failed badly: characterization and universe-building. I intensely disliked the main human characters Byr Genar-Hoefoen, an aimless diplomat whose essential purpose in life is to screw every woman with whom he comes into contact, and Dajeil Gelian, an utterly self-centered victim in need of serious therapy who will never be nominated for mother of the year. Add to this the Sleeper Service, the we¿re-not-quite-sure-if-there¿s-any-method-to-his madness Eccentric GSV who is Gelian¿s enabler, Ulver Seich, a mindless young hedonist of ridiculous proportions (think ¿Riders of the Purple Wage,¿ without the humor), the poorly developed token not-so-bad-representative-of-an-inherently-cruel-alien-species Fivetide Humidyear, and a variety of other ship Minds who are all wallowing in their egocentric worlds and you don't really have anyone for whom to root. The only character I really liked was killed off after a couple of seconds (I kid you not, although a lot of things happened in those couple of seconds). And Gravious showed some promise, but didn't get enough copy to add much to the book. On top of that, I thought this book told us a lot of new things about the Culture that made it a much less plausible universe; Banks creates opportunities to explore sexuality, longevity, and human AI interaction, and completely ignores the implications. Almost as an aside Banks throws in variable gender as a plot device (which somehow turns into an opportunity for a brief moment of gratuitous lesbian sex); yet he seems totally oblivious to the consequences of such a central component of identity (with the obvious comparison to Ursula Le Guin's treatment of the same subject in The Left Hand of Darkness). Similarly, this is a universe where people can live forever; yet this profoundly life altering reality seems to have no impact on how they live their daily lives. Many, many other authors have treated this subject in a thoughtful, thought-provoking way--for Banks, it is thrown in as device around which to steer a plot turn. And perhaps most bizarrely in this book (for me anyway, given the random order in which I am making my way through the Culture series) we learn a whole lot more about ship Minds, things that make it utterly incomprehensible to me that the humans of the Culture would blindly entrust their society to the Minds' wisdom and justice. I don't agree with the reviewer who suggested the book should have been cut by 200 pages (which would be about 40% of its length!). It was slow paced, but I think this flowed from the plot. There were multiple layers of narrative going on here, and it inevitably took time to climb through each layer to get to the central issues and driving events of the story.
Karlstar on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Excession is typical Banks, very thorough and well written, an excellent example of hard science fiction.
grizzly.anderson on LibraryThing 27 days ago
Excession is a story of The Culture,and an encounter with an artifact/intelligence/culture completely beyond their comprehension. It is also a story of how The Culture itself, or at least parts of itself, goes to extremes in pursuit of their various goals. In this particular book the human members of The Culture play a secondary role to the Ship Minds. That aspect of it, and the way the communication among the Minds is handled in the text reminded me a lot of Vinge's Fire Upon The Deep, which also shares a threatening boojum out there. Which is not to say that Banks has lifted any of his story. Just that there were enough similar elements, that part of my mind kept trying to bring remembered elements of Fire into alignment with Excession to predict what would happen next. It never worked.
rdaneel on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Great premise, as always, but doesn't follow through. It makes sense, in a way. In Banks' universe machines (the ships) are vastly more intelligent than humans, and so the human characters, even though they seem central to the story to begin with, always turn out to have virtually no roles in the grand scheme of things. Disappointingly logical.
JosetheSciFiFan More than 1 year ago
If you like Space Opera then you will love this. It doesn't get much bigger or much more dramatic than this. The ship 'minds' are real characters and the dialogue between them excellent. Tension builds and it all ends in a spectacular space battle - what's not to love?
atom_box More than 1 year ago
This is Banks' novel that focuses the most on the ship-minds as characters in their own right. So the main characters are AI's (artificial intelligences). It is readable as an intro but Look to Windward or The Player of Games would be better first novels for an introduction to the world of The Culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The word 'Excession' is brilliant. It's impossible that this word didn't exist before it was created by Banks. The development of the story is fairly slow, but given the title, no problem. I think it fits. The hard science in the story seem to be backed up be recent developments in physics. Beyond this book, in my opinion, Banks' invention of the Culture is brilliant but also utterly realistic: we all use mobiles (cell-phones). When will we tire of holding these 'handsets' to our ears? Who will be the first to have a wireless head-set grafted/implanted behind his or her ears? I think something like that will definitely happen. That will lead to a type of 'telepathy' that effectively is a step towards the Culture, as described by Banks.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Though a great book and a great author, I felt that this book was slow getting in to. This happened a little over half-way for me. I think that the utter creative and 'strange' Culuture-universe that Ian Banks has created was to 'blame'. I would suggest reading Banks' 'Player of Games' as the introduction to this universe and then read this excelent book. Don't get me wrong after I read this book I was sold on Banks' 'The Culture'.