Posted by: Ele Quigan | October 10, 2010

‘Transition’ Iain Banks

I’ve had Iain Banks (M and sans M) recommended to me a few times, and I finally decided to bite the bullet and give him a go last year with ‘The Wasp Factory’.

If you haven’t read it – do it – it’s awesome – but brutal in many respects. It’s controversial in its own way, as well as engendering a different response from everyone who reads it, similar to Transition.

It’s pretty quirky, with elements of sci-fi, horror, thriller and an incredibly convoluted story centering around our world being more than what we know, power and the responsibilities of those who hold it. It’s more than an allegory, and more than a utopian future novel, I got a sense of how we face the problems of now (financial crisis, greed) and how our decisions effect more than just our own futures.

The male protagonist (again only about 80% likeable) works for ‘The Concern’ a mix between government and some kind of abject religion in a way that is never truly explained, as a Transitioner – a person who can move between worlds via a drug called septus, charged to influence the future. This could be forcing someone to miss a train, or in one instance faking a heart attack to stop a doctor from arriving to work.

This starts positively initially, and moves into a ‘big brother is watching you’ and then into a ‘WTF these guys are evil what why are we doing this’.

One of the most interesting parts to ‘flitting’ for me was the characteristics of the body the transitioner inhabits are noticed from the outset. From the languages spoken to nervousness and stress through to OCD tendencies – it’s all there. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be inside my incredibly neurotic head for one minute, let alone swapping every day and living momentarily as someone else…

There are several mini sub-plots/characters, most of them abhorrent, and they seem to showcase the worst part of the human condition through their greed or exploitative behaviour or ambivalence to violence they cause (and that character is a state-sponsored torturer…) as a way to show the direction our society is hurtling towards at an ever increasing pace.

I absolutely adored this book. It’s complex, it’s got a bit of everything, and I was disappointed to finish it so quickly. I wanted to know more about the concept of flitting between worlds, who the concern are and who owns them, and why they have ‘The Philosopher’ as the torturer.

It’s been in my head of the last week or so since I finished it – why is there the unquestioned response to authority of the military, and the power of banks and money, why do we constantly strive for financial glory, when it could all collapse within a blink of an eye…

I love books that make you think, however some of it was challenging – noone particularly enjoys reading about torture – and at times I felt a little lost – but the overall essence and richness of the story was more than a little bit glorious.


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