Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Look no further if you're looking for a tale of fantastically huge sources and end results of regret, suicide, the negation of life-affirmation, exploding suns, and excellent tales of love between non-humanoid sentients and nearly god-like Minds.
This is a Culture novel. Ian M. Banks had ten of them before his death and he's known equally well for his hard SF as for his standard fiction, strangely enough.
It shows in this one. I have to admit that I was very impressed by the technological fantastics going on this this novel. Even down to the evacuation of three enormous orbitals in preparation to kill the world-spanning AI Minds, even as a memory 800 years past, was shocking and very disturbing.
The rest of the novel might have benefited from some tightening, as a whole, but in general, I loved being on the planet that would celebrate survival and a symphony just as the light of a few novas finally reached their star system, commemorating the end of an enormously costly conflict between themselves and the Culture as it finally caught up to them at light-speed.
But what of the plot? It's suicide missions, baby, on both sides. Do you really think that such conflicts end so easily, so restfully? Motivations are complicated and hate runs deep. Maybe not on the Culture's side, of course. They're pretty much above or beyond such petty things, even when the death toll is in the billions. They've got a lot more population than just that to consider.
But as for the other high-tech civilizations that still consider themselves impressive when they count their age in terms of mere thousands of years instead of complete revolutions of the galaxy, by hundreds of thousands of years? Well, they tend to be outclassed and out-thought by these nearly god-like AIs devoted to making sure all the citizens of the Culture are happy.
Of course, that doesn't stop grand gestures from giving everyone a really bad day.
This is a rather freakishly impressive novel on several levels and it marks a serious return to huge scopes in the series, but some things did still kind of drag, unfortunately.
Not that I really cared when the emotions started getting to me. :)
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