What They Say: Imagine a world that is one of infinite parallel worlds, that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse. Presiding over this world is the Concern, an all-powerful organisation whose operatives possess extraordinary powers. There is Temudjin Oh, an unlikable assassin who journeys between the high passes of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and a wintry Venice; Adrian Cubbish, restlessly greedy City trader; and the Philosopher, a state-sponsored torturer who moves between the time zones with sinister ease. Transition is a high-definition, hyper-real apocalyptic fable for terrible times.
What Elaine Says: Wow. Right where does one start with a book like this? You might want to find a comfortable seat.
Transition is only the second Iain Banks book I have read (The Wasp Factory being the other) and I’m happy and terrified to say this messed with mind in just the same way.
As I’m sure most readers of this blog are away, Banks also passed away earlier this month after his battle with cancer. I was about halfway through this book when I heard and it made reading the last half a rather more touching affair. It really is a loss to the literary world. Banks was a phenomenal author.
Transition is a bit of an oddball in the Banks canon. It appears that after some debate it was actually released in America under Iain M Banks (Banks’ sci-fi pseudonym). I’m not sure I’d call it sci-fi but it’s certainly speculative fiction and I can see why the US used the Iain M Banks name to avoid confusion.
So what’s it all about? Well having read it, it’s still quite difficult to explain. Transition is set during what is deemed ‘the golden time’ between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the twin towers, a time when we didn’t realise quite how good we had it. The plot is based on a rather complicated multiverse theory wherein (if I’ve got it remotely right) there are as many versions of Earth as we choose to imagine. The story unfolds through many different narrators including a self-serving city trader, a state contracted torturer who refers to himself as ‘the philosopher’, and a world hopping assassin. Following so far?
The stories do eventually intertwine but for the most part they are fascinating in their own right and that’s even before coming to the overall story arc (a shadowy multiworld organisation known as ‘The Concern’) .
The sections of the book told from the point of view of ‘The Philosopher’, generally made me retch and I mean that most literally. Banks is an author that has the power to make me physically react to what’s on the page. I’m not sure if that’s normal but my goodness is it powerful. There are moments when I was so uncomfortable with what I was reading I simply couldn’t carry on. My husband seems to think this is a bad thing and wonders why I persevere reading something like that. To be honest, I’m not sure why but surely it’s the sign of a truly great author?
Then we have the sections of book told from Adrian’s point of view (the self-serving city trader). These made me laugh, a lot, and normally out loud on the bus.
I was confused, amused, repulsed, but always enthralled by this book. I have so many questions after reading it I kind of want to read it again but then there’s also a whole host of Banks novels out there that I’ve yet to experience. If only there was some sort of multiverse whereby I could relive Transition and read the rest of his novels simultaneously.
RIP Iain Banks
Elaine's Rating: 9/10
“Perdition awaits at the end of a road constructed entirely from good intentions, the devil emerges from the details and hell abides in the small print.”