There is a world that hangs suspended between triumph and catastrophe, between the dismantling of the Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, frozen in the shadow of suicide terrorism and global financial collapse. Such a world requires a firm hand and a guiding light. But does it need the Concern: an all-powerful organization with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers?
Among those operatives are Temudjin Oh, of mysterious Mongolian origins, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice under snow; Adrian Cubbish, a restlessly greedy City trader; and a nameless, faceless state-sponsored torturer known only as the Philosopher, who moves between time zones with sinister ease. Then there are those who question the Concern: the bandit queen Mrs. Mulverhill, roaming the worlds recruiting rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, under sedation and feigning madness in a forgotten hospital ward, in hiding from a dirty past.
There is a world that needs help; but whether it needs the Concern is a different matter.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation. Iain Banks lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Find out more about Iain M. Banks at www.iainbanks.net.From The Washington Post:
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Michael Dirda Iain Banks is well known for one crotchet that every reviewer of his work is obliged to mention: Under this name, the popular Scottish author writes edgy mainstream fiction, often psychological thrillers such as his unsettling first book, "The Wasp Factory" (1984). But as Iain M. Banks he produces science fiction, usually glorious space-operatic science fiction involving a future civilization called the Culture. In these latter books, human beings and sentient AI machines coexist as equal citizens of a pan-galactic utopia, one that has eliminated want, disease and other common social ills. The first two novels in the series are the evocatively titled "Consider Phlebas" -- a two-word quote from T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" -- and "The Player of Games." So, given the presence of that middle initial M., Banks clearly signals that "Transition" should be regarded as a science-fiction novel, even if it's not part of the Culture universe. Yet in Britain "Transition" was published sans M., as a literary thriller or apocalyptic fable, with contemporary social and political commentary attached. It is certainly that, too. In whichever edition you read it, though, Banks's new novel is wildly entertaining, albeit a bit confusing at first. The confusion initially arises because the narrative shifts among several voices and points of view. To all appearances the book seems to be juxtaposing at least four unrelated stories. In the sections labeled "Patient 8262," a man is being cared for in a hospital where the staff speaks a language he doesn't understand. He believes himself to be some kind of super-secret agent, now in hiding from his enemies. In those sections titled "Adrian," we follow a smart, ambitious young drug dealer as he climbs to social and financial success in contemporary London. From the pages assigned to "The Philosopher," we learn about the early years and background of a professional torturer. Only in those sections titled "The Transitionary" and "Madame d'Ortolan" does the novel grow clearly science fictional. Using the common sci-fi notion of the multiverse, Banks posits that there are an infinite number of parallel Earths. Our world -- the world of the Twin Towers and the Wall Street meltdown -- is one of them. But on another Earth, Christian Terrorism poses a serious threat to Western civilized values. There, public outrage at airport bombings has actually led to the socially condoned use of torture on prisoners. It couldn't happen here, of course. Still, the myriad Earths are superficially similar if hardly equal. On the all-important one called Calbefraques certain people have developed the power to shift their consciousness from one body to another. By taking over the "husk" of a person living in an alternate time-stream, a specially trained operative can "transition" between worlds. Obviously, such power must be controlled and carefully safeguarded by the Concern. This governing body -- helped by "foreseers" -- aims to do good for the various Earths, to nudge history down one path rather than another, to benefit multiple societies by carefully timed interventions in people's lives. In short, the body-snatchers "fix what is broken" or "stop things about to break from breaking in the first place." A brilliant young doctor halts to listen to a colleague's suddenly odd remarks -- and isn't killed when the elevator he was about to enter breaks free of its cables and plunges 20 stories to the ground. A mysterious stranger saves a Latin American teenager from being raped -- and thus she will grow up to become a world-renowned professor of psycho-semantics rather than commit suicide before the age of 20. Sometimes, though, the Concern decides that the only useful adjustment is "elision," i.e., the murder of a brutal dictator, for example, or the elimination of a fanatical billionaire with plans to start a political party to rid the United States of non-Aryans. For the most difficult or highly sensitive of these operations, the Concern relies on Temudjin Oh. Of Mongolian extraction, Oh lives, as he says, "an orderly, even quiet life, as entirely befits somebody who spends potentially highly disorienting amounts of time flitting between one world and the next, too often for the unfortunate purpose of killing people." One day Oh is called to a special meeting with Madame d'Ortolan, who countermands his most recent instructions with verbal orders to "elide" (kill) a half-dozen members of the Concern's Central Council. He questions the orders, but this imperious dragon lady reiterates that she and her colleagues have approved this course of action, reminds him that he is sworn to obey his superiors, and duly sends the assassin off to fulfill his mission. Nonetheless, Oh is troubled. Many years earlier he had been the student of the very sexy Mrs. Mulverhill, who has since become a traitor and outlaw, apparently determined to bring down the Concern. Mrs. Mulverhill insists that the powerful Madame d'Ortolan, now in absolute control of the Central Council, has a secret agenda. But what is it? So far Oh's former teacher can only speculate, though she has personal knowledge of hideous experiments being conducted on the apparently autistic to bring out latent but weird mental powers. Meanwhile, Banks keeps interrupting this science-fictional roller coaster with highly realistic accounts of Adrian snorting coke, sweet-talking an elderly hedge fund manager and generally being a joy to listen to, if impossible to quote at length here because of his fondness for various obscenities. When Adrian meets a "bint" in a bar, he tell us that "I . . . gave her the first-level cheeky smile, which has been known to melt many a girl's heart and other parts and which I am not ashamed to admit I have practised in the mirror, to get the effect just right. Hey -- it's for them in the end." Brazenly self-centered but more obnoxious than he realizes, Adrian almost steals the book away. Nonetheless, Banks will suddenly shift from Adrian's cocky monologues to the Philosopher debating the nature of justice with a prisoner, before going on to the mental confusion of Patient 8262, who is trying to figure out what is actually going on in the hospital where he is virtually imprisoned. And then, before too long, it will be back to the cat-and-mouse politics in Calbefraques. Whom can Temudjin Oh really trust? Certainly longtime readers of science fiction will find much that is vaguely familiar in "Transition." The decadent civilization of Calbefraques and the act of "transitioning" both call to mind Alfred Bester's seminal masterpiece, "The Stars My Destination." The mental control of other people's bodies and the sparring between powerful super-minds suggests Dan Simmons's "Carrion Comfort." The novel's overall current of paranoia adds a soupcon of "The Matrix" and Philip K. Dick. But what of the other seemingly realistic, even naturalistic sections of "Transition"? What of the graphic account of the Philosopher's first act of torture? What of the greed, egotism and libertarianism espoused by Adrian? What about Patient 8262's growing suspicion that he might be delusional? And what, too, of all the talk about solipsism and the tendency of power to craze as well as corrupt? Is there a pattern here? Of course there is. Suffice it to say that surprises are in store, as well as much slightly kinky lovemaking, a deliberate disordering of the senses in several bravura stylistic passages and, finally, a classic white-knuckle climax on the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Be sure to read the epilogue.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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Book Description Orbit, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 000-672: Hardcover with Dustjacket. 404 pages. No Defects. A New Unread Book. A beautiful, square, tight copy with clean, unmarked pages. Tight hinges indicate book has never been opened. Perfect Gift Quality. Science Fiction Novel set between the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the 2008 financial crisis, Transition centers on a shadowy organization called The Concern, and how the workings of this organization affect the lives of the novel's multiple narrators and characters. 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 States First U.S. Edition, First Printing 2009. Published by Orbit Books. Bookseller Inventory # 36507
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