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Iain M. Banks


Author:Iain M. Banks

By Adrienne Martini | Posted 2/16/2000

Once again, Scottish writer Iain M. Banks proves that it is not the tale itself, but rather he who tells it. In another writer's hands, Inversions, with its carefully intertwined narration and exquisite character construction, would likely be an experiment in schlock. Banks is a best-selling author in the United Kingdom, and the thought of a comparably popular writer in this country—say, Danielle Steel—tackling a work with this much depth should bring a shudder to any reader.

It's a wonder that Banks hasn't broken into American literary circles yet. Granted, we tend to like our books easy to digest, but some pretty weighty tomes invade the coffee-swilling. book-loving circuits, such as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. Perhaps Banks isn't yet on the book-lovers radar simply because he has been known to write—gasp!—science fiction.

Scary as it may seem to those who look down their aquiline noses at any "genre" work, science-fiction writers can put words together as well as any nongenre writer. Sure, 90 percent of most bookstores' science-fiction section is crap, but the same holds true for any other section you care to peruse. And Banks has written nongenre work as well, such as the new-to-the-States The Wasp Factory, which reads like The Prince of Tides on mescaline.

Banks is best known for his series of books about the Culture, a galaxy-encompassing community of highly evolved folk who have every last physical need taken care of by gee-whiz technology, yet still seem to create their own trouble by spending too much free time thinking. Inversions, Banks' most recent American novel, fits right into this stream of Culture books—yet, at the same time, it doesn't. Inversions is, simply, two seemingly unrelated narratives of similar events: One is told by an unreliable, love-struck doctor's assistant; the other is a third-person yarn about a king's bodyguard. Both of these characters are outsiders making inroads into an insular society, and each has a different method for slipping into his respective world. To tell more would be to reveal too much, but suffice to say that there is murder, intrigue, and torture—and you don't have to know a thing about Banks' other works to enjoy these intertwined tales.

The true rewards, however, lurk beneath the surface of this seemingly breezy novel. The narratives themselves are compelling, but nuggets of insight about the nature of power are revealed once you start examining the relationships between the two characters, where they intersect, and, more importantly, where they do not. Sadly, given Banks' poor track record in the States, readers who love interesting books might never discover the rewards of this stealthy, brilliant work.

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