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Friday, December 30, 2005

Excession, by Iain Banks

A culture novel, Banks' utopia where Minds (AIs) determine the future of a human-like race. This is a reasonably good novel, on par with Consider Phlebas, but not as good as his best culture novel, Use of Weapons. A nit-picky detail: 32-bit identifiers for his minds isn't very realistic, even though they look neat (structured like IP addresses). Nevetheless, this book is complex enough that a second reading showed up gaps in my first reading that I missed, so the book is still recommended. In particular, the conversation between minds (which would never be anything like what's described in this book) is entertaining.

The funniest part of the book comes early:
An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilizations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop. The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbors were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near aboslute power and control which your halloweed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're all subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your preists.

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