Is Iain Banks' new book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale worth buying?
September 19, 2007 3:04 AM   Subscribe

Is Iain Banks' new book, The Steep Approach to Garbadale worth buying?

I have read all of his books so far, especially enjoying his sci-fi under the name Iain M. Banks, but have found his more recent fiction writing somewhat lacking.

Most recently I read Dead Air, which was good and involving, but somehow not as gripping and interesting as The Crow Road, Whit or The Bridge, and seemed more formulaic than usual. The Steep Approach to Garbadale is heralded as "Iain Banks's most compelling novel since The Crow Road", but I want to hear what others think before I shell out for the hard-cover.

Extra question: Any authors you would recommend for an Iain (M.) Banks fan?
posted by Surfyournut to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer your first question but can share your disappointment - I haven't read as many recent books due to a similar feeling that I've enjoyed his earlier fiction more.

That said, when it comes to Iain M, I didn't enjoy Inervisions (1999) that much but really enjoyed he Algebraist (2005) so perhaps its not a general slide in quality.

I can have a go at your bonus question. I've also enjoyed:
Neal Stephenson. Try the Diamond Age and Snowcrash to start with, The Baroque Cycle scares me!
China Mieville. Think steampunk meets horror meets sci fi.
Alastair Reynolds. Rollicking space opera in a consistent universe.
Dan Simmons. Ilium/Olympos feature a character or two that would feel right at home in The Culture.
posted by Ness at 3:35 AM on September 19, 2007

Oops my answer assumed the new one was fiction rather than science fiction.

I stopped bothering with the non science fiction since The Business and Song of Stone which I found very disappointing after The Wasp Factory, Crow Road and The Bridge. Ill watch this thread with interest since Iain M when he is on form is hard to beat.
posted by Ness at 3:48 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: No, you're correct, the new book is a fiction (i.e. without the M). I must agree with you on his sci-fi though, some of that has just simply blown my mind.

Thank you for your other author suggestions though, I'll have a look into them. Have you read any Peter F Hamilton? Epic space opera, not for everybody as he's often very long-winded and involved, with dissappointing endings to amazing stories, but it's the journey there which makes it I think. Currently reading his new book 'The Dreaming Void', which is pretty good, although not a patch on 'Pandora's Star'.
posted by Surfyournut at 3:52 AM on September 19, 2007

It's definitely not a patch on his better M novels, or classics such as The Bridge. I found it mildly diverting for a while, but it didn't live up to its promise. At least wait for the paperback.
posted by adrianhon at 4:13 AM on September 19, 2007

It's better than Dead Air or The Business, not as good as The Crow Road or The Bridge.


Christopher Brookmyre

Ken MacLeod
Alastair Reynolds
Charlie Stross
Neal Asher, but his books are silly
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:19 AM on September 19, 2007

Have you read any Peter F Hamilton?

Yes, picked up The Reality Dysfunction recently but I'll admit I have yet to finish it. I read before bed and if things get a little too epic and the author is one of those who doesn't describe his characters very vividly I end up having a hard time following who is who. Hamilton is a little too epic for my bedtime reading it seems, the central characters were vivid enough but I lost track of many of the satellite characters and got confused when they surfaced many chapters after their introduction.

I have this problem with broadly painted characters with Steph Swainston and Neil Gaiman too, at least the latter doesn't tend to have too many characters per book so its not too much of a problem. I really felt that I should have enjoyed Swainston's Year of Our War more than I did but I spent most of the time struggling to figure out which character was speaking.

Perhaps I should make an effort to read when I'm not so tired :)

If you liked Hamilton then I've another recommendation for you, The Gap Series by Stephen Donaldson (I did finish that!)
posted by Ness at 4:55 AM on September 19, 2007

The Baroque Cycle is a fabulous read *and* you get a bicep work out while doing so. I recommend the paper back version.
posted by gomichild at 4:59 AM on September 19, 2007

Like Ness, I can't answer your first question as I stopped reading Non-M after Song of Stone which I found really disappointing.

However, the bonus question is irresistible, so here's my two-pennorth:

Seconding/thirding MacLeod, Reynolds, Mieville, Stross and Stephenson.

I'd like to add recommendations for:

Greg Egan - I wasn't fond of Schild's Ladder, but some of his earlier stuff, particularly Diaspora, Distress and the short-story collections Luminous and Axiomatic are mind-blowing.

M John Harrison's Light is simply brilliant (apologies for the pun)

Richard Morgan has written some great hard-boiled style SF, I particularly liked Altered Carbon.

@Ness - I've read the Baroque Cycle, it took me 2 years on-and-off! It's impressively well-researched and truly ambitious in scope. However, I felt it would have benefitted from a serious pruning - 3000 pages felt like 1500 pages too many to me.
posted by NthMonkey at 5:14 AM on September 19, 2007

I liked it well enough, it's kind of like Crow Road light. It won't blow your mind, but it's a pleasant-enough read. Better than most of the crap out there, better than Banksie's worst, worse than his best.

Huge seconding of Richard Morgan, he's one of my current favourites. I love the Takeshi Kovacs series (starting with Altered Carbon) and Thirteen.
posted by biscotti at 5:24 AM on September 19, 2007

I read and really liked The Steep Approach, but then, I was never a fan of the Wasp Factory which seems to tickle most other people.

Have you considered borrowing a copy from your local library? (This is exactly what I did, and will buy it when it comes out in paperback).
posted by triv at 5:28 AM on September 19, 2007

Nthmonkey - Perhaps I'll have a stab at the Baroque Cycle when I've finally got round to tackling Cryptonomicon which I own yet have not tackled, it also scares me.

So I wasn't the only one to be put off by Song of Stone. It really was awfully bleak wasn't it.
posted by Ness at 5:29 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Brilliant replies, keep them coming.

An aside: not quite sci-fi in my opinion, aimed more at teenage audience, but what is the consensus on the His Dark Materials trilogy (with impending film) by Philip Pullman?
posted by Surfyournut at 5:31 AM on September 19, 2007

His Dark Materials - defintely worth a read, even if its only to be able to sit in the cinema and think 'How the hell are they gonna film book 2 and 3'?

I resisted reading it for some time as I'd heard about the religious imagery in it and didn't really like the idea of reading a modern-day Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe but it's really not like that at all.

Besides, talking bears, whats not to like.
posted by Ness at 5:43 AM on September 19, 2007

So I wasn't the only one to be put off by Song of Stone. It really was awfully bleak wasn't it.

I loved A Song of Stone, it was fantastically bleak. And mean. And brutal. And poetic. Beautiful writing about hideous things.
posted by biscotti at 6:00 AM on September 19, 2007

I can't answer the first question because I am waiting for the paperback to come out before I read it. I would agree, however, that his most recent books haven't been up to the standard of his earlier ones. The are still always worth a read though. And its not really his "new" novel since Matter - a new Culture novel - is out soon.

As for other writers I would third Ken MacLeod. He is a long time friend and they have clearly both influenced each others writing. See specifically the dedication to Use Of Weapons. Unfortunately, like Banks, MacLeod's recent books haven't been as good as previous ones. (Although I've not read Execution Channel yet.)
posted by ninebelow at 6:39 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Well that's certainly something to be looking forward to!

Picked up The Reality Dysfunction recently but I'll admit I have yet to finish it.

To that I'd say perhaps it's best not to finish it, or the series anyway. They were good, but a bit crap at the same time, and the ending was the worst bit. Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained were brilliant, if you could cope with the need for the character list and time line.

Triv - Good suggestion. Why didn't the library occur to me!? It's probably a subconscious aversion due to all the money spent on fines whilst at university.
posted by Surfyournut at 6:52 AM on September 19, 2007

Peter Watts! (all books and short stories online). Blindsight was my favourite for this years Hugo; I thought Rainbows End was boring as hell by comparison, but Vinge's earlier work is definitely worth a look too.

I enjoyed Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained, and didn't mind The Dreaming Void, but it leans a bit too far into fantasyland for my tastes.
posted by Freaky at 7:33 AM on September 19, 2007

It's better than Dead Air or The Business, not as good as The Crow Road or The Bridge.

This sums up my impression of it perfectly.

As for other authors, not yet mentioned:

- Karl Schroeder is probably his equal - Lady of Mazes or Ventus are both good places to start.

- Alistair Reynolds must be mentioned also. He's got a number of books set in his own universe, but I enjoyed his recent Century Rain, which is a stand-alone.

- Walter Jon Williams has a space opera series, the Praxis, that's quite entertaining. His two masterpieces though are Metropolitan and City on Fire. That can be hardish to find though (but are soooo worth it).

- Wil Mccarthy is fun. Start with The Collapsium. If you like bleak and depressing books (yay!) try his Bloom too.

- Scott Westerfield has a couple of very interesting books in this mode. Start with The Risen Empire.

- I'd also like to mention Liz Williams, who doesn't get enough credit for her SF, IMO. Some highlights: The Poison Master, The Ghost Sister, Banner of Souls, Nine Layers of Sky. Ok, that's almost her entire SF output. Sue me; I'm a fan.

- Finally, Roger Zelazny is one of the primary influences of Banks. I envy you if you've never encountered him before. Lord of Light and Creatures of Light and Darkness are closest to Banks in tone.
posted by bonehead at 7:58 AM on September 19, 2007

Sorry: That's Scott Westerfeld.
posted by bonehead at 8:04 AM on September 19, 2007

On the other author recommendations front, a second (or third) on Ken Macleod. For a while I was holding the theory that he was just a pen name for Banks. Admittedly some of his books are better than others (from memory "The Star Fraction" was stormingly good, while "The Stone Canal" kinda ended poorly).

As for Neal Stephenson and "The Baroque Cycle" - dear god, in the time it takes you to read it, you could read "Neuromancer", "Stand on Zanzibar", "Mission of Gravity" and 7 other SF classics. I'd really question if it was worth your time.

And a second on Greg Egan - although again, he is variable. For my taste his earlier stuff is better, while the later books get too caught up in complicated physics, philosophy and (as an accquaintance of mine put it) "the inevitable moment in any Egan novel where the characters question the ontological basis of their own reality".
posted by outlier at 9:11 AM on September 19, 2007

I should probably comment in this thread, if only to nth the Alastair Reynolds suggestion. He was recommended to me after I asked for something similar to Iain M Banks and I really enjoyed the Revelation Space trilogy*, plus there are a couple of other books in the same 'universe' (which I haven't read yet), and a couple more which are stand-alone (Century Rain and Pushing Ice, which I've read and are pretty good). All are pretty 'epic' in scope and have similarities to Banks' style (cool far-future tech, interesting/complex characters, exciting storylines).

*Make sure you read them in the right order though! I accidentally read the 3rd one 2nd since it's not noted anywhere on the book which order they're in. It goes:
Revelation Space
Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap

posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:54 AM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Many good suggestions and some nice, honest opinions of the book in question. Please do keep raving about authors. I can see myself coming back to this thread for years to come for advice on what to read.

A friend recently recommended a novel by Charles Stross that has happily become available for free download (in a number of formats):
Always nice to get something for nothing.
posted by Surfyournut at 12:14 PM on September 19, 2007

Make sure you read them in the right order though! I accidentally read the 3rd one 2nd since it's not noted anywhere on the book which order they're in. It goes:
Revelation Space


Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:56 PM on September 19, 2007

I loved all the previous non-M books (although didn't finish Raw Spirit), but got bored of Garbadale half way through. It just didn't seem as compelling as his other novels.
posted by JonB at 1:30 PM on September 19, 2007

I've read all of Banks's stuff. I do agree that the last few m-less novels have not been anyway near as good as the earlier ones. (The 'm' science fiction novels seemed not have dipped to the same extent.)

Whilst it's no Wasp Factor, The Bridge or Espedair Street, I do think Garbadale is the best m-less novel he's written for a whole, at least back to Song of Stone or may be as far back as Complicity.

Anyway I wrote a review of it here...

For other recommended writers I'll throw in Tim Willocks.
His The Religion is fantastic... it's a historical epic set during the Seige of Malta (the last great battle of the Crusades) and was basically the best novel I read last year. Also Green River Rising, about a US prison riot, is a unputdownable noir and the loose pair of the Southern Gothic Bad City Blues and Bloodstained Kings are worth checking out too.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:31 PM on September 19, 2007

Revelation Space


Redemption Ark
Absolution Gap

Ah yeah, heh. I haven't read that one (yet), but it's not part of the "Revelation Space" series though, right? It's just set in the same universe at that point in time.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:01 PM on September 19, 2007

Unless I'm completely misremembering (entirely possible), at least a couple of characters from Chasm City are in the later books. The pig-headed guy, forex, whassisname.
posted by bonehead at 2:41 PM on September 19, 2007

Cryptonomicon is hands-down my favorite book by Neal Stephenson (I've read everything except "In the beginning was the command line...", I think). It's very funny. But then, I regularly read fantasy epics, so the length wasn't so off-putting. The Baroque Cycle is actually pretty entertaining and interesting, but it's also verging on work. I'm not sure I would recommend it if you don't have a fair bit of time to read them. (I.e., 5 pages a day before bed probably wouldn't be ideal.)

Simmons' Ilium/Olympos are fantastic (Illium moreso than Olympus.) Also---not science fiction---Darwin's Blade is a good read.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:34 PM on September 19, 2007

I'm also a huge fan of Cryptonomicon, it's one of the few books I've gone back to read for a second time (go on Ness, give it a try!).

Surfyournut - I really enjoyed the His Dark Materials trilogy, so much so that I read all of them back-to-back over the course of a weekend.

On the Non-M front David Mitchell is an absolute must read. He's an amazing writer and enormously satisfying to read. Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas are the stand-out works for me, although the others are good too.
posted by NthMonkey at 1:33 AM on September 20, 2007

While Chasm City is set in the same Inhibitors universe it isn't actually part of the trilogy that started with Revelation Space. As such I'd recommend it to people who haven't read Reynolds before since it works as a standalone. I also think it is his best.

His latest novel The Prefect is set in the same location as Chasm City but prior to the nano-plague so it is interesting to read for the contrast. (My review.) One of his short story collections is also set in the same universe.
posted by ninebelow at 2:57 AM on September 20, 2007

The sci-fi is pretty well covered here!

For a non-M read I suggest Tim Winton. Good writing and plenty of darkness as well as humour. Read 'The Turning' for a walk down the Winton road.
posted by asok at 3:23 AM on September 20, 2007

Surfyournut - I've just got back into the library having moved to a place which is about 20 paces away to our local neighbourhood library. I just happened upon the book, being a massive fan of his and jumped at it.

Most places will let you reserve a copy too, so that way you can read a copy before committing to it. I intend to buy it after reading the book now.
posted by triv at 7:27 AM on September 21, 2007

Response by poster: I think my intended course of action shall be thus:
Find a library. Find the book. Borrow and read it. Buy it if I like it.

However, I fear my actual course of action shall run more along the lines of:
Look for library, get distracted. Finally find library, unable to find book. Finally obtain copy via reserve list, take home with all intentions to read. Pay whopping great fine two months later, re-loan book to actually read (having forgotten). <- This last part will loop indefinitely until I find the time and energy to read it, assuming I've cleared my backlog of sci-fi you lot have built for me.
posted by Surfyournut at 2:56 PM on September 23, 2007

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