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stateoftheartA brief review of The State of The Art by Iain M Banks, a collection of short stories plus the novella giving it the title, all written between 1987 and 1989.

There are a number of Culture stories here, some general SF, Horror, and also some rather Dark Fantasy. Recommended read, as a side order (it’s definitely not a main course!).

This is a collection of short stories plus the Novella that gives the collection its title. All of them were previously published in a variety of magazines, anthologies, and special prints (including a booklet for Novacon!), between 1987 and 1989, ie contemporary to Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games,the first two Culture Novels.
The range of stories is quite eclectic – we have 2 Culture stories which add to the canon, plus some generic SF, Horror, and some Dark Fantasy. Personally I appreciate that Banks didn’t try to make all the stories fit into the Culture Canon, the way AC Clarke shoe-horned everything into the Foundation Universe. Several stories would have lent themselves to the approach – more power to the Author for resisting the temptation.

The stand-out, for a number of reasons, is the Novella ‘The State of the Art’, which describes how the Culture’s Contact GCU ‘Arbitrary’ and crew evaluate Earth (on the ground) in 1977, and decide – no, I won’t tell you what they decide should happen with Earth. But you know what didn’t happen, no?

But all the stories are very readable and enjoyable, despite the huge spread in topics and style. Ah, style… we get the usual language play, puns, tricks with Names (never mind using GCU names for chapter headings), and the customary multi-layered approach. What surprised me are some ‘turn the story around in the last paragraph’ style tricks, something we know better from Frederic Brown short stories.

Can I recommend the book? Absolutely, this is a great introduction to Bank’s writing, or for people who have started digging in, a great addition to the novels. It reads quickly, and doesn’t have too much substance, so treat this as a side dish, not a full meal! You know what I mean…

More Iain M. Banks

Title: The State of The Art
Author: Iain M Banks
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Orbit
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 1991
Review Date: 26 Sep. 07
ISBN: 1857230302
Price: UKP5.99 on Amazon
Pages: 216
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Story Collection

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