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Transition is the latest book written by Iain Banks, Banks is a Scottish author who writes 'contempory literary critique' books as Iain Banks and sci-fi books as Iain M Banks. He is famous for his Wasp factory under the Iain Banks nomenclature and as Inversions as Iain M Banks. Here he creates a novel in which people can move between parallel universe Earths and as such it sounds like a Iain M Banks novel but is written as Iain Banks placing it in the 'social commentary' angle of Iain's writing.
The book is written as paragraphs and pages all in the first person perspective of a range of characters, they range from the obscure in terms of patient 8262 who appears to be in a mental asylum, the transitioner, the philosopher, Madame D'ortolan, Adrian, and others. All have links to a society called the Concern; the concern regulates movement between parallel Earth's. They are controlled by Madame D'ortolon and the transitioner, philosopher and Adrian are all characters who either can or become able to move between worlds. Madame D'Ortolon wishes to establish a dictatorship with her controlling the movements between worlds as the transitioning has to be helped by use of a drug which the Concern controls. Contesting this view of Transitioning is the shadowy Mrs Mulverhill, she is a character who appears in all except the mental patient's narrative as either an antagonist, an aide or a corrupting influence.
The characters are all set in the first chapter of the story; we are instantly shown the capacity of the transition and the brutal methods used by the Concern to make sure that corrupting or evil forces are kept in check by killing people before they have a chance to create alternate worlds. The philosopher is a man who transitions between worlds killing people the Concern deems to evil for their future corruption of a perfect future. The Concern appears to be a force for good, but under Madame D'Ortolon the number of killings has increased and the targets selected have become questionable, Mulverhill a previous teacher of the transitioners has split with the Concern and now runs a rival terrorist organisation. As with all stories the individual character lines of plots slowly come together however even at the conclusion the book is still written as a set of individual perceptions on events.
This is a classic Iain (M) Banks novel, plenty of social comment, sex and violence. The characters tend to be in their 20-30's and the level of sexual tension throughout the novel is incredible. Bank's has always had a reputation for peppering his stories with lots and lots of very explicit sex, but in this novel he out does himself, all the characters are young, fit, sexy and permanently horny. This extends to the central character Mrs. Mulverhill who is almost a prostitute in the way she uses her body to corrupt first the philosopher, the transitioner and finally Adrian. Even the poor mental institute character has a kind of sexual experience but not in the nicest manner.
The plot moves with the story, slowly at times but very fast at others introducing the process of transitioning gives the author a chance to write about other Earths, the impact of humans and the chance to have a little bit of fun here and there. So we visit planets where Moscow has been destroyed, a terrorist Christian fundamental movement and one where a comet has wiped humanity from the map. I say visit because the majority of the book is set on an Earth just after the credit crunch and indistinguishable from our own.
The book just misses out from a five star because the ending feels incomplete, and some of the storylines don't feel like they have been fully played out. There is also the level of sex, nearly every chapter and almost every major segment of the book has a huge amount of very explicit sex. Yes everyone loves a bit of titillation but the constant barrage of young sexy bodies grinding against each other though Banks does add an extra element by explaining how some transitioners can take others with them and I'll leave to you to work out how.
Overall as with all Iain Banks there is brilliance throughout, I suspect the novel should really have been under the Iain M Banks banner but I enjoyed reading it and wonder if he might return to the concept as there feels like another story remaining in this world.
First of all, I think this book does deserve a trigger warning for anyone who is uncomfortable with the subject of rape. There is a slightly graphic rape scene in the book and another rather harrowing account of a character's experiences and whilst all of this is three chapters in the book, which as far as I can understand, have absolutely no relevance to the plot so could easily be skipped, may be off-putting for some readers.
'Transistion' is almost standard Iain Bank's fare. It is his latest modern fiction novel concerning half a million unreliable narrators, a vague and sinister plot by some evil multi-dimensional corporation, more sex than an evening in with Channel 4 and a sprinkling of coke.
From the blurb, I was expecting something like 'Dead Air,' a tale with at least one foot in the real world and modern politics, with Bank's sharp commentary on society and its ills. However, this is probably far closer to his science fiction works. Very little action takes place in the world we know, and the majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of 'The Transistioner' who can flit between people's bodies and different timeframes at will.
There are a few other characters who contribute to the narrative but this, combined with the constant jumping of time frame and reference point makes the narrative hideously disjointed. Whilst you can see the tentative links beginning to appear between different plots, a lot of the linking appears too obvious and arbitrary. For such a clever narrative idea, Bank's does a good job of making all the plot 'twists' unnoticeably obvious.
The constant flitting around also makes it hard to enjoy any of the individual stories. There are one or two characters that appear unexpectedly for a chapter in the middle of the book and then you hear nothing until the finale from them. It does feel sometimes that just as you are beginning to sit down, put your feet up with a particular story, Bank's is immediately skipping off in this chaotic story telling.
Sometimes this isn't a bad thing because many of the characters, particularly Adrian, are utterly insufferable. Adrian is about as one-dimensionally selfish a character that has ever been written. For Bank's all the characters seem to have their assigned plot role and therefore their assigned personality characteristic and they waddle around in their dull ways, being dull and taking their clothes of every five minutes. It does seem that there really was an attempt in this book to make up for substance and intrigue with sex.
The ideas and philosophy of the many worlds that the Transistioner's can travel between is actually quite interesting. There is some real imaginative genius behind the idea of the Concern, the big shadowy bad guys and just some of the powers that characters develop are very creative.
The largest problem with this supposedly plot driven book, is that the plot just fizzles under a mess of confusing narratives and so much of it just feels superfluous. It's probably worth reading just because there are one or two stunning descriptions of landscapes and the 'flitting' of the Transistioner's and the moral complications of being able to do this are quite interesting. Even so, I feel the prose in this book is some of Bank's worst, with dull metaphors, unimaginative description and just generally being as bland and unexciting as the characters describe.
It's not so dire as to be unreadable, Bank's talent definitely saves it there, it just falls so short of being anything wonderful. You won't care about the characters, you won't care about the plot, but maybe the idea of the 'many worlds' will tickle your imagination enough to make this a good bit of fun.
Transition by Iain Banks is one of his finest creations. I bought the book online from Waterstones for about £10. It's paper-back, a bit larger than the usual size and is 416 pages long. The cover is a metallic black/grey with a picture of a plane above and an eagle below. The word 'Transition' is written in a luminous green/yellow on the front, its striking, and compels you to open and begin reading.
The Blurb reads;
'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 organisation with a malevolent presiding genius, pervasive influence and numberless invisible operatives in possession of extraordinary powers? On the Concern's books are Temudjin Oh, an un-killable assassin who journeys between the peaks of Nepal, a version of Victorian London and the dark palaces of Venice; and a nameless, faceless torturer known only as the Philosopher. And then there's the renegade Mrs Mulverhill, who recruits rebels to her side; and Patient 8262, hiding out from a dirty past in a forgotten hospital ward. As these vivid, strange and sensuous worlds circle and collide, the implications of turning traitor to the Concern become horribly apparent, and an unstable universe is set on a dizzying course.'
The story surrounds our hero, 'Oh' who has many names and transits between places and more (explaining this would ruin the story). It's set in a future all too close to the present, and essentially forms the structure of a Bildungsroman, but with a real twist! The plot is really thick and complex; several characters have their own views expressed through Banks' trademark graphic, vulgar yet figurative and fluid narrative style. All of the characters although seem unrelated all come together a couple in ways that I didn't predict, or come close to predicting. The essential basis of the story surrounds our hero, and his involvement with 'Concern' who are beyond the government and attempt to create order in the areas to which people transition between. There are plenty of thrilling chases as well as some romance, with black humour mixed in, it's a classic Banks novel.
The book opens with a patient in a hospital, and the prologue with a character stating that he's supposed to be an 'unreliable narrator'. This is classic of Banks' style, mocking the great literary critic David Lodge and his assessment that all narrators that are in the story are unreliable, because their point of view is biased. Banks' takes this and uses it to his advantage and leaves this character's narrative in the back of your mind throughout the novel .
This is much better (in my opinion) than Banks' Sci-Fi range (where he takes the name Iain M Banks) but not quite as good as (in my opinion) his finest novel 'The Wasp Factory'. Transition is bang up to date, featuring a thrilling storyline that is really great for all to read. However, I would express caution in younger teenagers or a child reading it as it does express strong graphic descriptions with reference to sex, drugs and murder. However, I am fully aware than most young people have seen and read things worse than this, but it is a warning nonetheless.
I give this book a 5 star rating, but something like a 9.5 out of 10 this is largely because I think that 'The Wasp Factory' is 10/10. Transition is definitely one of the best books I've read this year, it's not an instant classic. I can promise you though that you've never read anything like it, the story is original and unique, but it can get complex, rushing through it probably isn't the best plan if you want to understand it.