Scottish writer Iain Banks is known to science-fiction readers largely as the author of the open-ended space opera series concerning the future society he terms the Culture. Feersum Endjinn, though concerned with traditionally science-fictional subjects, is reminiscent of the psychological probing and depth of situation and character to be found in Banks’s nongenre fiction such as The Wasp Factory (1984).
Feersum Endjinn is also something of a mystery story. For many pages, the reader has little or no idea of what is going on or where the plot is leading. The crucial background information that the reader needs to fully understand this societys existence—that Earth is now a backwater planet about to be exterminated and that the initiative has passed to Earth’s long-independent colonies—has to be extrapolated by the reader after many pages. There is also the mystery of what has happened to Sessine, who seems destined to be the storys major character but is rarely present in the narrative. On rereading the book, the reader can find clues that Asura is in fact Sessine, but the enigma of the roles of both characters is a major source of suspense in the novel.
Banks’s concentration in Feersum Endjinn is not on the large macrocosmic canvas but on small incidents and details that reveal the psychology of the world he depicts. The reader has to work to puzzle out the big picture, and this is the way Banks...
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