The State of the Art

Iain M. Banks

Orbit 1991
A book review by Danny Yee © 2000
When the Culture General Contact Unit Arbitrary arrives at Earth, it finds nothing that is at all novel in the global scheme of things — a textbook "sophisticated stage three" culture, this one obsessed with weird concepts like "property" and "money". But for the people on board it is still rather exciting, and they respond in radically different ways: Sma argues for contact, for an attempt to try and fix the mess; Linter goes native, even choosing to have his body crippled so as to be more like the locals; and Li argues that dropping a micro black hole into the Earth's core would be a more elegant way to dispose of the whole "incontestably neurotic and clinically insane species" than using a virus or collapsed anti-matter. But the Arbitrary has ideas of its own and, being a million times more intelligent (and powerful) than anything else in the system, it gets to call the shots.

With its direct juxtaposition of the Culture and Earth reality, the novella "The State of the Art" is less subtle in its politics than Banks' other Culture novels, but still a major addition to the corpus. It takes up half of the collection named after it; seven short stories make up the rest. Among them are two more Culture stories ("A Gift From the Culture" and "Descendant"), the playfully macabre "Odd Attachment", the surreal "Road of Skulls", and another alien contact story with a twist ("Cleaning Up"). Newcomers should start with one of the novels, but Banks fans won't want to miss The State of the Art.

June 2000

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%T The State of the Art
%A Banks, Iain M.
%I Orbit
%D 1991
%O paperback
%G ISBN 1857230302
%P 216pp