Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Transition - Iain Banks

'Transition' has been rather compelling, after I finished it (for the second time) a couple of days ago. Just to remind you, the setting is the 'Many-Worlds Interpretation' which quantum physics tells us might be the hidden reality of our own existence (expert opinions tend to differ).

There is an organisation - The Concern - which, Culture-like, has operatives who can flit between worlds to avert evil and steer events to better outcomes. Sometimes key individuals must be saved from death; other times the reverse. (But is this the whole story?).

The unreliable narrator has different names in the different worlds but he thinks of himself as Temudjin Oh, a highly trained assassin. He is wooed, in every sense of the word, by the enigmatic Mrs Mulverhill (a senior executive of The Concern and a rebel) and the dastardly Madame d'Ortolan, who is en route to taking over the leadership of The Concern for her own nefarious ends.

Events ebb and flow between London, Paris, Venice, Moscow in this and other realities. Banks gets to examine capitalism and the perverse nature of limited companies, the pros and cons of torture, and the endless war between bureaucratic, fear-driven,conservative power-hunger and the optimistic, risk-taking, liberal-minded urge to novelty and freedom. I leave it to you to decide where you think Mr Banks puts his money on each of these issues.

If the message of Transition is somewhat familiar, it's expressed in a more sophisticated (although not slam-dunk convincing) manner than usual lovey-liberalism. The multiple story-lines and opacity of plot development make a second reading pretty-well mandatory: I really didn't get this novel at all first time through, enjoyable a read as it was and remains.

At heart this is a Robin Hood story, with the gorgeous, cat-eyed Mrs Mulverhill in the ethical outlaw role. I really liked it.
So this is Christmas. Funny how you do so much in the days leading up: shopping, visits, fixing things up, cards, more shopping - and then the day arrives and it rather stretches. I have just been drilling extra holes in my belt, although the scales are sending worrying signs in the other direction ...