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The State of the Art, Iain M. Banks

Banks has made his reputation with quirky, intelligent books that cross the lines between what people perceive as genre and “literature.” In fact, Banks reminds me of Stephen King. Both are drenched in popular culture and genre, both had first books with astonishing surprises, and both continue to write solid work. Although I have grown tired of King in recent years (due to some part my dissatisfaction with horror writing per se as to any fault of his own), I have to admit that King, like Banks, refuses to take the easy route of churning out duplications of past achievements.

King’s reputation is built on his novels, but he spent years writing short stories for “gentleman’s” and genre magazines. Banks, it seems, started with the novel and has only dallied with the short form. Those dalliances are collected in The State of the Art, an Orbit collection only available in the U.K. that contains the full text of the title novella previously published in the U.S. by Mark V. Ziesing and an additional six stories. The best thing here is the title novella, and that only for Culture aficionados. I enjoyed “Descendent” and “Cleaning Up,” which seemed journeyman SF/horror pieces that I wouldn’t have given a second thought had I read them in a magazine, and I actively disliked “Scratch,” a post-modern jumble of confusion.

This collection is for completists only, I feel. I hope the next collection will show off what Banks can do in shorter limits, because this one didn’t.

[Finished 6 August 1994]


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