The setting is in the far future on an artificial satellite world called Masaq' Orbital, home to about 50 billion members of the Culture. This story takes place some 800 years after the particularly nasty Idiran war, which took out several planets, killing all inhabitants. Composer Ziller, who lives on Masaq', is informed that an emissary, Major Quilan, from Chel will arrive soon. Everyone thinks Quilan is coming to bring the extremely talented composer home to Chel, while Ziller thinks Quilan is coming to kill him; in fact, Quilan is a plant with deep-seeded instructions to blow up the entire orbital as retribution for the souls lost during the war. It seems the Chel believe that these lost souls will only reach heaven by taking an equal number of Culture casualties. With sentences like, "The sky above you brightened first, then the rising star seemed to coalesce out of the infrared, a shimmering vermilion specter emerging out of the haze line and then sliding along the horizon, shining dimly through the Plate walls and the distant abundances of air and only gradually gaining height, though, once it had properly begun, the daylight lasted longer than on a globe," on the same page with, "She nodded vigorously, 'Abso-fu#!ing-lutely!,'" this is quite a piece of fiction. I will be the first to admit that the characters are highly unusual and "alien." But I spent most of the book waiting to get the gist. When I got to the last sentence, "Life never ceases to surprise," I knew I wouldn't. Although toted as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, YA readership will be limited to those who like their SF way out there. KLIATT Codes: A—Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2000, PocketBooks, 483p., Hoy
When the 800-year-old light of a distant space battle reaches the Masaq'Orbital, an emissary from Chel arrives on a mission hidden even to himself. Only Ziller, a Chelgrian composer, can unlock a secret that could save or destroy an entire world. Banks (Consider Phlebas; Inversions) uses the far future as a playground for the interplay of ideas and images. First published in Great Britain, this literate and challenging tale by one of the genre's master storytellers belongs in most sf collections. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Another of Banks's far-future Culture yarns (Inversions, 2000, etc.). In the Masaq' Orbital artificial habitat (population about 50 billion; run by an artificial intelligence called the Hub) lives the composer, Ziller, a five-legged Chelgrian, and his friend, Kabe Ischloear, the huge, pyramidal Homomdan Ambassador. The two chat like Ivy League professors. A century ago Chel fought a dreadful civil war over its caste system; Ziller was so disgusted he left and never returned, but the Culture admits it fomented the war by political anticaste manipulations. Also in the recent past was the Culture's war against the expansionist Idirans, won handily by the Culture. As a fighting spaceship, the Hub fought in that war and, to its everlasting anguish, was responsible for many deaths. Back on Chel, life has held no meaning for Major Quilan since he lost his beloved wife in the civil war. When approached by mysterious agents, he accepts a suicide mission to Masaq' even though the details are withheld. Will Quilan merely attempt to persuade Ziller to return to Chel? Of course not, though readers know that whatever dire plot's a-brewing cannot succeed, thanks to the godlike powers of the Hub. Matters will culminate as Ziller conducts his latest masterwork and, in a melancholy commemoration, the light of a nova caused by the Hub during the Idiran War reaches Masaq'. By turns imposing, ingenious, whimsical, and wrenching, though too amorphous to fully satisfy.