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The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to morality tale. All bear the indefinable stamp of Iain Banks' staggering talent.


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The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to The first ever collection of Iain Banks' short fiction, this volume includes the acclaimed novella, The State of the Art. This is a striking addition to the growing body of Culture lore, and adds definition and scale to the previous works by using the Earth of 1977 as contrast. The other stories in the collection range from science fiction to horror, dark-coated fantasy to morality tale. All bear the indefinable stamp of Iain Banks' staggering talent.

30 review for The State of the Art (Culture #4)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Kelsey

    There are some authors whose short fiction I enjoy much more than their novels. Iain Banks is not one of them. A couple of these are great, but I think for the most part that he really excels when he has maximum literary space to explore a story and develop his characters. 'A Gift from the Culture' and 'The State of the Art' are definite high points in the collection. Individual stories: Road of Skulls: 2/5 Nothing particularly special. A Gift From the Culture: 4/5 I dug this one a lot. It had a noir There are some authors whose short fiction I enjoy much more than their novels. Iain Banks is not one of them. A couple of these are great, but I think for the most part that he really excels when he has maximum literary space to explore a story and develop his characters. 'A Gift from the Culture' and 'The State of the Art' are definite high points in the collection. Individual stories: Road of Skulls: 2/5 Nothing particularly special. A Gift From the Culture: 4/5 I dug this one a lot. It had a noir quality to it. Told from the perspective of someone who opted to leave the culture for a pre-scarcity society. My favorite in the book. Odd Attachment: 4/5 Pretty humorous encounter with a plant life form. Descendant: 2/5 Another culture story. I didn't particularly like this one that much. Cleaning Up: 3/5 A story about trash disposal gone wrong. One man's trash... The State of the Art: 4/5 This novella, book 4 of The Culture series, takes up about half of the collection. It fell slightly short of brilliant when it focused too much on Earth things, and not enough on Contact things. Still a solid entry in the series, and it was good to see Sma and Skaffen-Amtiskaw again. Scratch: 1/5 Was this some sort of experiment in making unintelligible poetry from newspaper clippings or something? I think it may be a joke written solely to entertain the Author, which is worth a star in and of itself.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Aerin

    My husband overheard me muttering to myself about this book being out of print in the US, so he secretly ordered it for me from the UK. When it arrived, I somehow assumed I'd ordered it for myself and forgotten about it, so I just tossed it on the to-read stack without comment. He had to hint and prod a bit before admitting he'd bought it for me as a gift. He's sweet; I'm a dork. Anyway. Every Culture book I've read so far has been better than the last. Though this one is actually a short-story c My husband overheard me muttering to myself about this book being out of print in the US, so he secretly ordered it for me from the UK. When it arrived, I somehow assumed I'd ordered it for myself and forgotten about it, so I just tossed it on the to-read stack without comment. He had to hint and prod a bit before admitting he'd bought it for me as a gift. He's sweet; I'm a dork. Anyway. Every Culture book I've read so far has been better than the last. Though this one is actually a short-story collection, it includes the fourth installment of the Culture series, a novella called "The State of the Art" that is both funnier and more heartbreaking than the previous three novels (which are all, to varying degrees, quite funny and heartbreaking). Here we meet up again with Diziet Sma, the heroine from Use of Weapons, as her Contact Unit spaceship encounters Earth for the first time, and must investigate the planet and decide whether to formally Contact its inhabitants. I expected this novella to be a... lesser installment among the Culture lore. The fact that it's out of print in the US (while the first three novels recently got shiny new reprints) isn't a great sign, and the premise of a mashup between the über-futuristic Culture and 1970's-era Earth sounded pretty gimmicky. I hadn't expected Earth to appear at all in this series, other than perhaps in a hazy prehistoric "Earth-that-was" sort of backstory. Instead, it seemed we would fulfill another tired science fiction trope: the dopey, pugnacious, backward species disdained by the superior aliens. But, as is often the case with Iain M. Banks, there are deeper levels here than I was expecting, and also, oh, ow, my heartstrings. The other stories in here are hit-or-miss, but that's the nature of short story collections. The one that will stick in my mind is "Descendant", a strange little story about a man in a sentient spacesuit trekking across a deserted planet. It's somber and gruesome and eerie.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    The first two stories are OK, but nothing special. The third one is quite funny. I can't count the number of times I've seen a hapless spaceman get rent limb from limb by a bug-eyed monster. But what's the monster's motivation? Banks comes up with a lovely answer. #4 is also a nice perspective flip in a classic SF scenario. The guy in the space-suit needs to walk a long way across the surface of a hostile planet to reach safety. We always see it from the guy's point of view. How about the suit? #5 The first two stories are OK, but nothing special. The third one is quite funny. I can't count the number of times I've seen a hapless spaceman get rent limb from limb by a bug-eyed monster. But what's the monster's motivation? Banks comes up with a lovely answer. #4 is also a nice perspective flip in a classic SF scenario. The guy in the space-suit needs to walk a long way across the surface of a hostile planet to reach safety. We always see it from the guy's point of view. How about the suit? #5 is amusing too. I liked the alien speech translator: 'First person singular obtaining colloquial orgasm within a Caledonian sandwich,' it said, then looked annoyed, and spoke incoherently into a grille set in its belly, which replied. It looked up and said, 'Sorry. As I was saying, I come in peace.' We're always getting problems like that. #6 is a bit too cute. The ending was nice though. #7 is the title story: when the Culture visits Earth. It's not the most successful Culture story. Banks gets too indignant about our obvious failings, and there are a lot of rather dull discussion scenes. Enough good ideas though that it's still worth reading. #8 is an unusual experimental piece, only half-successful. All in all: not as good as most of his stuff. I can see why he usually sticks to novels, he's not a natural short-story writer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    A selection of short fiction set in the Culture universe, where your tools and equipment have opinions too and can talk back to you. My own tendency to talk to my surroundings would definitely have to change. I really wanted to like the story where the Culture visits Earth. Is it still a first contact story if the Earth doesn’t know it’s been contacted? A bit on the preachy side, obviously written when Banks was annoyed with our treatment of our environment and each other, but acknowledging that A selection of short fiction set in the Culture universe, where your tools and equipment have opinions too and can talk back to you. My own tendency to talk to my surroundings would definitely have to change. I really wanted to like the story where the Culture visits Earth. Is it still a first contact story if the Earth doesn’t know it’s been contacted? A bit on the preachy side, obviously written when Banks was annoyed with our treatment of our environment and each other, but acknowledging that we’ve got something special here. I liked it without have my socks blown off. Banks is such a good writer, but not all of these stories demonstrate his best efforts. It does rather feel like a catch-all, displaying varying degrees of polish. Still, well worth reading for fans of the Culture! Book number 285 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carlex

    The book is actually a miscellaneous of short stories and a novella. The latter and one -o perhaps two- stories are set within the universe of Culture, the rest is not. I understand that this should be indicated in some way to the reader before buying the book. That said, some stories and the novella that gives the book its name are very good. Anyway, I can not get rid of the feeling of "porridge" in the book as a whole, by some intrancending stories, some that seem experimental and some other th The book is actually a miscellaneous of short stories and a novella. The latter and one -o perhaps two- stories are set within the universe of Culture, the rest is not. I understand that this should be indicated in some way to the reader before buying the book. That said, some stories and the novella that gives the book its name are very good. Anyway, I can not get rid of the feeling of "porridge" in the book as a whole, by some intrancending stories, some that seem experimental and some other that seems that Iain M. Banks does not take himself seriously ... or us readers. Please do not misunderstand me, Iain M. Banks's talent is evident in every sentence and of course I do not regret having read this work, although actually it can not be considered -except maybe for the editors- as the fourth book of Culture series.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    The only other Banks book I have read is Player of Games which I loved. I think, as a compilation, this book fell a little short for me. I actually love short stories, so I was left feeling a little disappointed. A couple thoughts on the individual stories: Road of Skulls - I felt like this wasn't quite long enough or focused enough. A Gift From the Culture - I liked this one. Kind of a little slice of life showing someone who has left the culture for something much more gritty. Odd Attachment - I l The only other Banks book I have read is Player of Games which I loved. I think, as a compilation, this book fell a little short for me. I actually love short stories, so I was left feeling a little disappointed. A couple thoughts on the individual stories: Road of Skulls - I felt like this wasn't quite long enough or focused enough. A Gift From the Culture - I liked this one. Kind of a little slice of life showing someone who has left the culture for something much more gritty. Odd Attachment - I liked this one until the very end. I honestly think it got a little juvenile. The end didn't need to be that cheap. Descendant - This was my favorite story in the book. It was well paced and interesting. Cleaning Up - I thought this was an amusing premise. Piece - Classic SF with the ending that makes you grin. I do think too many stories in this book focused on philosophical ramblings about religion, though. The State of the Art - The longest story in the book. I like the idea. I like the base story. This story was the WORST offender for just waxing philosophical and being boring. Scratch - I found this difficult to read, and not interesting. So to sum up, I feel like there was more bad than good in this book. Definitely not my favorite compilation of short stories.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    The State of the Art is a collection of short stories, some of which relate to the Culture novels and some of which don’t (or at least, don’t overtly). I actually wasn’t much impressed by Iain M. Banks as a short story writer, it seems: the best of the stories was the titular story itself, which is both a Culture story and rather longer than the other stories in the collection, which gave it more space to interest me, and more space for him to set up the kind of story that’s grabbed me in his no The State of the Art is a collection of short stories, some of which relate to the Culture novels and some of which don’t (or at least, don’t overtly). I actually wasn’t much impressed by Iain M. Banks as a short story writer, it seems: the best of the stories was the titular story itself, which is both a Culture story and rather longer than the other stories in the collection, which gave it more space to interest me, and more space for him to set up the kind of story that’s grabbed me in his novels. There’s nothing wrong with the stories per se, but they didn’t grab me at all (with the exception of the one already mentioned and ‘A Gift from the Culture’). Where I was interested was when it was closest to Banks’ other SF work, but otherwise the stories seemed fairly unremarkable. There are some interesting bits of humour; wry looks at staples of the genre. I’m hoping that’s not a reaction to Banks’ work in general, as I know I did enjoy several of his Culture novels and I was looking forward to reading the rest. Perhaps he just isn’t to my taste as a short story writer. Originally reviewed here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gemma Thomson

    A thoroughly interesting read. "The State of the Art" isn't all sci-fi, and only a couple of the stories included here make mention of the Culture and its related technologies. There is also a rather chilling story to be discovered in "Piece", which I shall not spoil here. I found that I enjoyed the short stories - of a misunderstood vegetable life-form, a traveller writing, a journey across a war zone, a Culture exile and clumsy interstellar bin-men - more than the title piece. They're admirably A thoroughly interesting read. "The State of the Art" isn't all sci-fi, and only a couple of the stories included here make mention of the Culture and its related technologies. There is also a rather chilling story to be discovered in "Piece", which I shall not spoil here. I found that I enjoyed the short stories - of a misunderstood vegetable life-form, a traveller writing, a journey across a war zone, a Culture exile and clumsy interstellar bin-men - more than the title piece. They're admirably detailed pieces of short fiction, many of which highlight the best features of all Banks' writing. "The State of the Art" itself felt like a tribute to L. Ron Hubbard. In it, Diziet Sma (from Use of Weapons) visits Earth of the 1970s, thus revealing that the Culture is a human civilisation far disconnected from our own. The story is essentially a study, examining our culture in a critical and satirical light. I'm usually turned off by such reality in my sci-fi, but I believe that Banks has handled the plot well. The collection is a good one, and will shed new light upon Banks' work if you happen to be a fan; certainly, it has me putting his other works alongside The State of the Art and The Algebraist and speculating as only fanatics can about the Culture's unspoken origins.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Ideiosepius

    It took me quite some time to get really into this collection because -you'll laugh- I didn't actually realise it was a collection of short stories when I grabbed it from the library. I saw the author, the title and the fact that it was "Culture #4". So the first chapter takes us along a road that has been paved in the skulls of defeated enemies in a cart, only it bears no resemblance to the second chapter which is about a culture citizen who has joined another civilisation covertly. Well, maybe It took me quite some time to get really into this collection because -you'll laugh- I didn't actually realise it was a collection of short stories when I grabbed it from the library. I saw the author, the title and the fact that it was "Culture #4". So the first chapter takes us along a road that has been paved in the skulls of defeated enemies in a cart, only it bears no resemblance to the second chapter which is about a culture citizen who has joined another civilisation covertly. Well, maybe it was a prologue? Thus went my thinking, I was at about the fourth story before I googled and realised that the book was a collection of short stories and once I realised that and stopped trying to make them fit together my reading experience improved. As a book for short stories, some excellent some mildly enjoyable, this book works beautifully. Despite being up to the #4 in the Culture series, I didn't feel I really knew much about the culture because most of the books are from the points of view of non-culture individuals.After this book I feel like I have a much better idea about what the civilisation of the Culture is actually about and how the individuals within it regard their own empire and the ones surrounding them.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Afternoon Drama: The State of The Art By Iain M. Banks Dramatised by Paul Cornell The Culture ship Arbitrary arrives on Earth in 1977 and finds a planet obsessed with alien concepts like 'property' and 'money' and on the edge of self-destruction. When Agent Dervley Linter, decides to go native can Diziet Sma change his mind? The Ship ...... Antony Sher Diziet Sma ...... Nina Sosanya Dervley Linter ...... Paterson Joseph Li ...... Graeme Hawley Tel ...... Brigit Forsyth Sodel ...... Conr From BBC Radio 4 - Afternoon Drama: The State of The Art By Iain M. Banks Dramatised by Paul Cornell The Culture ship Arbitrary arrives on Earth in 1977 and finds a planet obsessed with alien concepts like 'property' and 'money' and on the edge of self-destruction. When Agent Dervley Linter, decides to go native can Diziet Sma change his mind? The Ship ...... Antony Sher Diziet Sma ...... Nina Sosanya Dervley Linter ...... Paterson Joseph Li ...... Graeme Hawley Tel ...... Brigit Forsyth Sodel ...... Conrad Nelson Directed by Nadia Molinari. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hv1dz 4* Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) 4* The Player of Games (Culture, #2) 4* Use of Weapons (Culture, #3) 4* The State of the Art (Culture, #4) TR Excession (Culture, #5) TR Inversions (Culture, #6) TR Look to Windward (Culture, #7) TR Matter (Culture, #8) TR Surface Detail (Culture #9) TR The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  12. 4 out of 5

    Juliane Kunzendorf

    I finished this short story/ novella collection one day before Luke returns from Brazil. So we will record a podcast about this part of our book-club very soon :-)

  13. 5 out of 5

    tom bomp

    Just generally not very good writing, to me at least. Short stories: Road of Skulls: short and pretty flimsy, only the very ending is much interesting. A Gift from the Culture: pretty decent. Has a kind of interesting premise but it's hard to sympathise with someone who leaves utopia in general given it's far beyond our own experience Odd Attachment: vaguely amusing, pretty gross, a little confusing, eh Descendant: best story of the book, about a human and their sentient spacesuit. Not perfect but i Just generally not very good writing, to me at least. Short stories: Road of Skulls: short and pretty flimsy, only the very ending is much interesting. A Gift from the Culture: pretty decent. Has a kind of interesting premise but it's hard to sympathise with someone who leaves utopia in general given it's far beyond our own experience Odd Attachment: vaguely amusing, pretty gross, a little confusing, eh Descendant: best story of the book, about a human and their sentient spacesuit. Not perfect but it's interesting with a well done ending and a pretty unusual perspective. Cleaning Up: Reminds me of some 50s/60s pulp story - some humour that sometimes works, sometimes doesn't, cold war theme, generic giant bad corporation. It's ok but written kind of confusingly and not that interesting Piece: Rolled my eyes hard at the end. Pretty incoherent with some bad poetry stuck in for some reason. Neither a clear "point" or a decent plot or mood or setting or anything. Scratch: "experimental" writing that's like an expression of anger over the Thatcher era and politics/economy in general. Alright over it's pretty hard to read and you get the point pretty quick (luckily it's short) The main novella (State of the Art) itself kind of sucks because it's from the perspective of the Culture looking at Earth and it just feels... wrong. It sort of does an "Earth is unique" thing and tries to justify why we haven't been contacted (which is always a bad idea for a sci-fi thing to do imo) but it's just not convincing. And a lot of the speeches and stuff that go on don't really make sense - they don't fit with what you'd expect from the culture and they just seem silly. I dunno. It felt like another expression of anger but what's cathartic to one person generally isn't cathartic to another. Oh well

  14. 4 out of 5

    Otherwyrld

    State of the Art is a Culture novella with a few additional short stories tacked on, only one of which could be classed as part of the series. The short stories themselves are merely OK, and none of them really stand out. The novella shows what happens when a Culture team arrives to assess Earth, circa 1977, and decide if they will make first contact. This is done in a clever and realistic way, as the Culture agents spend a year visiting the planet, whilst the ship hacks every computer there is a State of the Art is a Culture novella with a few additional short stories tacked on, only one of which could be classed as part of the series. The short stories themselves are merely OK, and none of them really stand out. The novella shows what happens when a Culture team arrives to assess Earth, circa 1977, and decide if they will make first contact. This is done in a clever and realistic way, as the Culture agents spend a year visiting the planet, whilst the ship hacks every computer there is and downloads every scrap of information it can. A spanner is thrown in the works when one of the agents goes native and decides that he wants to stay on Earth irrespective of what decision is made. His conversation with fellow agent Diziet Sma (who appeared in Use of Weapons) is the highlight of the story, as he elucidates the whole purpose of the Culture and compares it (unfavourably) with that of Earth. If you want to understand the Culture, you really need to read this story. The finale is predictably downbeat as (view spoiler)[ the Culture decides against first contact, and basically agrees to let us destroy ourselves, and the agent who was going to stay is killed in a random mugging (hide spoiler)] So, probably 4 stars for the titular story, but the superfluous short stories drag it down to 3 stars

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    A collection of short tales, the shortest being about two pages long, the longest, eponymously titled, over a hundred and is the main filler here. Not all the tales are about the Culture, or set in the Culture Universe, but 'State of the Art' is, and is the most fleshed out and most interesting story in the collection. It deals with the Culture discovering the Earth during 1977, and sends down agents to study and learn from our planet. As it's Iain Banks, you probably do not need to be told the A collection of short tales, the shortest being about two pages long, the longest, eponymously titled, over a hundred and is the main filler here. Not all the tales are about the Culture, or set in the Culture Universe, but 'State of the Art' is, and is the most fleshed out and most interesting story in the collection. It deals with the Culture discovering the Earth during 1977, and sends down agents to study and learn from our planet. As it's Iain Banks, you probably do not need to be told the wry, quite funny at times, observations made (flawed, odd and unequal economic system, penchant for wars and killing each other and so on), and debates ensue amongst the Ships crew whether to actually intervene, to make the Culture known to the planet. One of the agents goes native and decides not to leave as he starts to actually like Earth - and starts believing in Jesus and turns into a Roman Catholic, despite the protestations coming from the Cultures ship and Sma's attempted intervention to save him. An interesting tale nonetheless. The other tales - well, just go to show the genius and ability to craft interesting and sometimes quite abstract tales that Iain had. Not a big book, coming in at just over 200 pages, but worth a read through, if nothing else but to read about the exploits of Diziet Sma (who first came to light in Use of Weapons) again.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Probably the worst thing I’ve read by Banks, who usually I love and feel ideologically prone to support. The key novella, where The Culture investigates earth, was terrible. I think earth can definitely exist in the context of The Culture but it should probably have been interwoven into the type of dense and sophisticated plot that is a hallmark of the series, it would have been more intellectually satisfying as an aside in a larger work. This depiction of the West in 1977 is obnoxious. The chara Probably the worst thing I’ve read by Banks, who usually I love and feel ideologically prone to support. The key novella, where The Culture investigates earth, was terrible. I think earth can definitely exist in the context of The Culture but it should probably have been interwoven into the type of dense and sophisticated plot that is a hallmark of the series, it would have been more intellectually satisfying as an aside in a larger work. This depiction of the West in 1977 is obnoxious. The characters preach at one another about humanity nonstop, the protagonist makes weirdly British observations of a few key cities, one person falls in love with the place. It’s extremely dull, for the most part, and felt almost like fan service (was the author nagged into writing it?) The humour and personality that usually bursts off the page in a Culture novel was highly restricted due to the topic and focus. The collection should be criticised as a whole, though, for including such thematically similar stories. This reduces the effect of them individually. A Gift from the Culture - all in all a better, sharper story - that covers the exact same ground. A person from Contact “goes native” in a hellhole because hellholes are so appealing and The Culture is so staid and safe. Banks is sometimes not great at portraying what life in The Culture is actually like (and in sections set onboard the ship here unfortunately everyone comes over as a complete asshole and bore, dubiously horny) but it’s as if he makes this shortcoming canonical by focusing, in multiple stories, on the idea that a post scarcity technological utopia would be boring and numerous people would want to leave. I think this a failure of imagination by one of the most imaginative science fiction writers out there. I guess there is more material for a novel in this tension than someone satisfied in a utopia just going to orgies non-stop but I felt like the point, like many in this collection, was laboured. Instead of letting people’s actions speak for themselves, each viewpoint is assigned a character who gets to give a monologue. It simply isn’t as sophisticated as I’m used to in Banks. How many people from the modern day first world would actually give it all up to live in the feudal era, given the chance? Not many, I’d think. Those that did certainly wouldn’t want to be a peasant. In A Gift from the Culture, the protagonist does really slum it, it’s practically suicide from the start. In The State of the Art, though, the character who wants to stay on Earth does so living a completely self-involved life in the rich west, and even finds religion. It’s a pretty disgusting notion, and Banks in fairness says so, but surely in The Culture - where there are no laws and it is the manners that keep the population from murdering one another - the mere idea of participating in the life of a planet as the privileged oppressor would be anathema and the ship should intervene on the grounds of mental health. The character seems, by the end, to view poverty and pain as a kind of pornography so maybe there’s an implicit message here about gap years but it just felt wrong to me. It may be that he is mentally ill but The Culture being The Culture, despite debating whether to intervene in an entire world of 7 billion people, won’t even directly intervene in the life of one of its citizens. A lot of the collection is quite dated, the tiny stories that open and close the book are little sparks of nonsense. A story about the Lockerbie bombing is really more of a rant about religious fundamentalism. I think it would have embarrassed Banks himself in later years. A childish satire about alien technology popping into existence on earth, again, casts a strange light on the title story. I mean, it’s apparently the more serious sci-fi where a Volvo Estate flies in space so it can be hard to distinguish between absurdities. The only story I really liked, and which captured the full flavour of what I usually love about Banks, was Descendant, about - more or less - a stranded astronaut. Even this was surprisingly traditional. Overall, I was disappointed and look forward to returning to his longer fiction, with or without the M.

  17. 4 out of 5

    James

    Sort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of Iain M. Banks short stories, paired with a Culture novella which gives the book its title. Taking up half the book The State of the Art tells the tale of the Culture's first contact with Earth, some time in the '70s. Told in the form of a mission report by Diziet Sma, and later translated by Skaffen-Amtiskaw, (prior to their appearances in Use of Weapons ). Sma is assigned to the Contact group, on board The Arbi Sort of in the Culture series, sort of not quite. This is the (first?) collection of Iain M. Banks short stories, paired with a Culture novella which gives the book its title. Taking up half the book The State of the Art tells the tale of the Culture's first contact with Earth, some time in the '70s. Told in the form of a mission report by Diziet Sma, and later translated by Skaffen-Amtiskaw, (prior to their appearances in Use of Weapons ). Sma is assigned to the Contact group, on board The Arbitrary. Contact's role seems to consist more of sampling the feel of a planet rather than actually making contact, and she hangs out in various cities sampling the food, the culture and the people. Unfortunately, the whole thing feels a little contrived – as if Banks had been repeatedly asked (a) is the Culture us in the future, and if not, (b) does the Culture ever come to Earth? Instead of having a story to tell, if feels more like Banks is answering those questions: no and yes, respectively. And, as there's no real story, Banks ends up filling the gaps with 'why humans suck' and 'why humans are so great'. Sma takes the anti-Earth side, wanting the Culture to completely step in and just stop us running things so badly; Dervley Linter takes the opposing side, as he's busy going native anyway. And to be fair to him, he's not suggesting that we're doing well, just that our failures are an authentic part of our path. Points are always rescued by the ships themselves – having The Arbitrary send a postcard to the BBC requesting Space Oddity is just beautiful. The short stories that come before the novella are also a bit of a mixed bag. The Culture feels like Banks's preferred world, and the obvious Culture story, A Gift from the Culture, is probably the most conventional story in the collection and probably also the one I enjoyed the most. Odd Attachment reads like a retro-SF story. A first-contact between a human and a vegetable based lifeform goes tragically wrong, but told from the point of view of the vegetable. Cleaning Up and Descendant were both interesting. The first is the story of a ship of interstellar garbage men dumping their second goods into our sun, except that their transporter is faulty and the items keep appearing in the middle of a paranoia driven cold-war America – what could go wrong. The second follows a man and his smart space suit, crashed on a planet. Does the suit need the man as much as the man needs the suit – for the company if nothing else? The remaining three are a little esoteric. The collection is bookended with Road of Skulls at the start: interesting start, but even for a short story I wanted it to go a bit further. And, at the end, Scratch (or: The Present and Future of Species HS (sic) Considered as The Contents of a Contemporary Popular Record (qv)): pure experimentalism, and I'm none the wiser if it worked or not. The final piece was Piece, which wasn't even science fiction. At first I thought it was an essay on religious extremism, but eventually I realised it wasn't supposed to be Banks narrating. However, as with much of the rest of the collection, it felt a little like being beaten with somebody else's opinions.

  18. 5 out of 5

    prcardi

    Reviewing the novella, The State of the Art: Storyline: 2/5 Characters: 3/5 Writing Style: 3/5 World: 3/5 Banks's name keeps coming up when I come across science fiction awards or mentions of notable series, so I keep reading the Culture novels to see what it is all about. This one - too short to be a novel, but too long for a short story - was about as valuable to me as a DVD's deleted scenes. Large numbers of people must love those (why else would they keep sticking them on the home version of the Reviewing the novella, The State of the Art: Storyline: 2/5 Characters: 3/5 Writing Style: 3/5 World: 3/5 Banks's name keeps coming up when I come across science fiction awards or mentions of notable series, so I keep reading the Culture novels to see what it is all about. This one - too short to be a novel, but too long for a short story - was about as valuable to me as a DVD's deleted scenes. Large numbers of people must love those (why else would they keep sticking them on the home version of the movie?), but I've found them to be more chore than entertainment. It has got to be the die hard fans - the devotees and cult followers - they aim for with those, and this is who will most appreciate the State of the Art. The story isn't a bad story. It isn't particularly remarkable; it is something simply to add to your Culture collection. I do feel like Banks does have an overarching idea he is working through. I don't think he had it formulated with the first few Culture novels, (though it was more forward in the Use of Weapons), and its definitely not completed here. He's working through the significance of obtaining utopia, and what good reasons we humans might have for rejecting it. The nature of utopia has become more and more concrete through the series thus far, but the arguments against it are still fuzzy. In this novella, Banks drops a lot of the subtlety and allegories and goes for a straight comparison between then-present day Earth and the Culture. I had a difficult time deciding which character was voicing Banks's real opinions and concerns; maybe it is all of them. There's a lot of Culture novels left, and at present I'm inclined to keep reading them. I'm enjoying seeing Banks consolidate, rearrange, reformulate, and articulate his ideas. Even though I've not been enamored with most of what I've read so far, I respect that Banks is puzzling through social theory. I'm really not a fan of short stories, and only some of the ones included alongside the novella were related to the Culture series. Most of these presented exactly what I didn't like about short stories (too little development, over-reliance on form over substance, rough draft-like quality), but there were a couple worth reading if you are hanging around the library with nothing else to do. Road of Skulls: 2/5 stars A Gift from the Culture: 2/5 stars Odd Attachment: 2/5 stars Descendant: 4/5 stars Cleaning Up: 4/5 stars Piece: 1/5 stars The State of the Art (novella): 3/5 stars Scratch: 1/5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    A slim collection of short stories (well under 200 pages), most of which show off the author's macabre wit. The worst of the lot is "Scratch", a late cold-war-era story that depicts the escalation of human misery as the world's superpowers square off for world destruction, a premise which it tackles originally by giving us only mass-media noise, scraps of television commericals, fragments of radio announcements, etc.: the story is at least a fascinating failure. Three stories take place in the u A slim collection of short stories (well under 200 pages), most of which show off the author's macabre wit. The worst of the lot is "Scratch", a late cold-war-era story that depicts the escalation of human misery as the world's superpowers square off for world destruction, a premise which it tackles originally by giving us only mass-media noise, scraps of television commericals, fragments of radio announcements, etc.: the story is at least a fascinating failure. Three stories take place in the universe of Banks' Culture novels; "Descendant" is the best of these (and the one most tenuously linked to the Culture), a harrowing tale of survival type story in which an injured soldier is marooned on an uninhabitable planet and is pushed to forge on by his autonomous artificially intelligent suit. "The State of the Art" will be best enjoyed by devotees of Banks' novel of the Culture, as it is the one story which depicts the Culture encountering Earth; there follows a debate among the Culture's Contact division about whether it is more imperative to save Earth from nuclear destruction or to spare them the perhaps-corrupting influence of their own society, and the story has a delightfully queasy set piece that will make you think twice on that very question. A third Culture story, "A Gift from the Culture" is in my opinion sort of a dud. The best three stories have nothing to do with that Culture hogwash, and can be appreciated by any Banks novice with a suitably sick sense of humor. "Road of Skulls" is like an absurd scifi spin on "Waiting for Godot". "Odd Attachment" and "Cleaning Up" are first-contact stories (a mainstay of the genre), and both are as gruesome and hilarious as any good first-contact story should be.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo Sueiras

    Read this book after a discussion with James and the realisation I had this on my kindle. After having read the last Culture novel so recently, I was a little apprehensive but I am glad to say that I did not need to be concerned. It is a book of two halves - the first a collection of stories, and the second a longer Culture story. The collection of stories show the breadth of Banks' imagination, and I really enjoyed them. They are varied, technically well written and laced with typical Banks humou Read this book after a discussion with James and the realisation I had this on my kindle. After having read the last Culture novel so recently, I was a little apprehensive but I am glad to say that I did not need to be concerned. It is a book of two halves - the first a collection of stories, and the second a longer Culture story. The collection of stories show the breadth of Banks' imagination, and I really enjoyed them. They are varied, technically well written and laced with typical Banks humour. The second half is a longer story which really stands out and is in stark contrast to the last Culture novel. The prose is taut and does not over elaborate, full of wit and some especially funny references to contemporary sci-fi characters (although I did worry that it was in danger of going too far and ruining it) and original. You can take the text and interpret it many different ways as you will no doubt do if you take the time to read this. I am glad I read this, especially after the last Culture novel had left a negative impression. This one restores my faith in Banks's story telling abilities and the Culture franchise.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Simon Hollway

    Iain Banks is my most adored author; State of the Art, his only work I hadn't read. What might have been comparable to a theologian stumbling across the Dead Sea Scrolls, sadly, was not to be. The meat of this collection, the Culture novella, trooped along in a heavy-handed, right-on manner. At times, it sounded like a squealing monologue from Robert Lindsay in the UK sitcom, Citizen Smith. It was of some interest filling in a few inconsequential timelines in the Culture's early history but not Iain Banks is my most adored author; State of the Art, his only work I hadn't read. What might have been comparable to a theologian stumbling across the Dead Sea Scrolls, sadly, was not to be. The meat of this collection, the Culture novella, trooped along in a heavy-handed, right-on manner. At times, it sounded like a squealing monologue from Robert Lindsay in the UK sitcom, Citizen Smith. It was of some interest filling in a few inconsequential timelines in the Culture's early history but not much else besides. Banks' attempts to graft some rather prosaic pop philosophy onto the magnificent muddle of the human condition failed to stick. The war-torn, chiaroscuro theory that there can be no hope without failure, no joy without suffering is fascinating as a footnote, as his embryonic attempt to reconcile the vitality of humanity's imperfection with the stasis of the Culture's perfection. I'm glad that this sublime author soon measured such a pallid, earthbound dialectic as far too shallow a premise and soared into the outer reaches of the universe with his later, operatic Culture novels. RIP Mr Banks.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brock

    It's hard to rate a short story collection because of all the different feelings each story provokes. Banks has a lot of fun with his short fiction and you can tell he used it to wander off (what was already) a very unusual path. Stories both playful and morbid. The chunk of this book is taken up by The State of the Art which is set in the Culture universe. I really enjoyed the story even though it's the most blatant statement of his worldview. I'm not sure I agree with his some of his conclusion It's hard to rate a short story collection because of all the different feelings each story provokes. Banks has a lot of fun with his short fiction and you can tell he used it to wander off (what was already) a very unusual path. Stories both playful and morbid. The chunk of this book is taken up by The State of the Art which is set in the Culture universe. I really enjoyed the story even though it's the most blatant statement of his worldview. I'm not sure I agree with his some of his conclusions, but The State of the Art is a fantastic look at mortality, privilege, and finding the savor in life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Almielag

    The arguments in the titular story in favor of letting earth continue on un-contacted are so trite and nebulous, and stand up so poorly against the actual murder, war, torture, genocide, starvation etc etc which are brought up on the other side that you have to wonder how seriously Banks was promoting that as a legitimate viewpoint. Not to mention the interesting fact that the Contact agent who "goes native" only seems to live in the first world: Paris, Oslo, New York, barring one trip to India The arguments in the titular story in favor of letting earth continue on un-contacted are so trite and nebulous, and stand up so poorly against the actual murder, war, torture, genocide, starvation etc etc which are brought up on the other side that you have to wonder how seriously Banks was promoting that as a legitimate viewpoint. Not to mention the interesting fact that the Contact agent who "goes native" only seems to live in the first world: Paris, Oslo, New York, barring one trip to India (naturally).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shin Gaku

    "The State of the Art" is a small masterpiece. It is ostensibly science fiction. Aliens from highly developed society study human condition in 1970's. Beneath this plot Banks seeks the true meaning of human nature. Why are we so destructive and obsessed with material prosperity? Banks's answer is very dire but I felt slight hope from Linter's love for human being.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Miles

    This collection of stories is a small but significant contribution to Iain M. Banks’ inimitable Culture Series. I didn’t have much of a reaction one way or another to the smattering of Culture-based short stories, so this review will focus entirely on the book’s eponymous novella. “The State of the Art” is a brief but striking juxtaposition of Banks’ ultra-progressive Culture civilization and Earth circa 1977. When a Culture ship and some members of Contact arrive to study humanity’s home planet This collection of stories is a small but significant contribution to Iain M. Banks’ inimitable Culture Series. I didn’t have much of a reaction one way or another to the smattering of Culture-based short stories, so this review will focus entirely on the book’s eponymous novella. “The State of the Art” is a brief but striking juxtaposition of Banks’ ultra-progressive Culture civilization and Earth circa 1977. When a Culture ship and some members of Contact arrive to study humanity’s home planet in the late twentieth century, they set about creating records of all present and past human knowledge, and ultimately must decide whether or not to reveal themselves to the clueless Earthlings. Sma, the protagonist, develops a tense friendship with Linter, another Contact member who, beguiled by Earth and its primitive inhabitants, decides to become human and stay on Earth permanently. I think Banks would have admitted that some of the symbolism and ethical discussions in “The State of the Art” are somewhat heavy-handed, and I also think that was his intention. Shying away from his predilection for narrative sprawl––which sometimes dominates Culture novels to their detriment––Banks offers up a series of bald, incisive, and heartfelt critiques of Earth as seen through the eyes of a far more advanced civilization. During her time on Earth, Sma grows to understand humanity as a rather simple but potentially capable mixed bag of curiosity, ingenuity, virtue, ignorance, and cruelty. Linter, on the other hand, becomes completely enchanted with humanity’s lack of post-scarcity technology, our embeddedness in material and spiritual uncertainty, and our devotion to Christianity. It’s a clever set-up in which most readers will probably conclude along with Sma that, despite his occasionally compelling arguments, Linter is a fool for wanting to abandon the Culture for a life on Earth. I won’t reveal anything more about the story, but I do want to share a few quotes that should give prospective readers a good idea of what juicy mind nuggets reside in this delightful story. Sma imploring Linter not to stay on Earth: "How long do you think this place is going to stay the way it is now? Ten years? Twenty? Can’t you see how much this place has to alter…in just the next century? We’re so used to things staying much the same, to society and technology––at least immediately available technology––hardly changing over our lifetimes that…I don’t know any of us could cope for long down here. I think it’ll affect you a lot more than the locals. They’re used to change, used to it all happening fast. All right, you like the way it is now, but what happens later? What if 2077 is as different from now as this is from 1877? This might be the end of a Golden Age, world war or not. What chance to you think the West has of keeping the status quo with the Third World? I’m telling you; end of the century and you’ll feel lonely and afraid and wonder why they’ve deserted you." (133) Sma reflecting on Linter’s love for humanity and her own desire for Culture intervention: "Here we are with our fabulous GCU, our supreme machine; capable of outgenerating their entire civilization and taking in Proxima Centauri on a day trip…here we are with our ship and our modules and platforms, satellites and scooters and drones and bugs, sieving their planet for its most precious art, its most sensitive secrets, its finest thoughts and greatest achievements…and for all that, for all our power and our superiority in scale, science, technology, thought and behaviour, here was this poor sucker, besotted with them when they didn’t even know he existed, spellbound with them, adoring them; and powerless. An immoral victory for the barbarians. Not that I was in a much better position myself. I may have wanted the exact opposite of Dervley Linter, but I very much doubted I was going to get my way, either. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to keep them safe from us and let them devour themselves; I wanted maximum interference…I wanted to see the junta generals fill their pants when they realized that the future is––in Earth terms––bright, bright red. Naturally the ship thought I was crazy too. Perhaps it imagined Linter and I would cancel each other out somehow, and we’d both be restored to sanity." (136-7) Linter justifying his decision and critiquing the Culture lifestyle: "I have to do what feels right. This is very important to me; more important than anything else I’ve ever done before. I don’t want to upset anybody, but…look, I’m sorry…We’re the ones who’re different, we’re the self-mutilated, the self-mutated. This is the mainstream; we’re just like very smart kids; infants with a brilliant construction kit. They’re real because they live the way they have to. We aren’t because we live the way we want to." (156) The ship’s Mind chiding Sma for questioning its decision to help Linter fulfill his desire to stay on Earth: "What is the Culture? What do we believe in, even if it hardly ever is expressed, even if we are embarrassed about talking about it? Surely in freedom, more than anything else. A relativistic, changing sort of freedom, unbounded by laws or laid-down moral codes, but––in the end––just because it is so hard to pin down and express, a freedom of a far higher quality than anything to be found on a relevant scale on the planet beneath us at the moment. The same technological expertise, the same productive surplus which, in pervading our society, first allows us to be here at all and after that allows us the degree of choice we have over what happens to Earth, long ago also allowed us to live exactly as we wish to live, limited only by being expected to respect the same principle applied to others. And that’s so basic that not only does every religion on Earth have some similar form of words in its literature, but almost every religion, philosophy or other belief system ever discovered anywhere else contains the same concept. It is the embedded achievement of that oft-expressed ideal that our society is––perversely––rather embarrassed about. We live with, use, simply get on with our freedom much as the good people of Earth talk about it; and we talk about it as often as genuine examples of this shy concept can be found down there. Dervley Linter is as much a product of our society as I am, and as such, or at least until he can be proved to be in some real sense ‘mad,’ he’s perfectly correct in expecting to have his wishes fulfilled. Indeed the very fact he asked for such an alteration––and accepted it from me––may prove his thinking is still more Culture- than Earth-influenced. In short, even if I had thought that I had sound tactical reasons for refusing his request, I’d have just as difficult a job justifying such an action as I would have had I just snapped the guy off-planet the instant I realized what he was thinking. I can only be sure in myself that I am in the right in trying to get Linter to come back if I am positive that my own behaviour––as the most sophisticated entity involved––is beyond reproach, and in as close accord with the basic principles of our society as it is within my power to make it." (161-2, emphasis his) Sma’s final thoughts about the contrast between the Culture and Earth: "It strikes me that although we occasionally carp about Having To Suffer, and moan about never producing real Art, and become despondent or try too hard to compensate, we are indulging in our usual trick of synthesizing something to worry about, and should really be thanking ourselves that we live the life we do. We may think ourselves parasites, complain about Mind-generated tales, and long for ‘genuine’ feelings, ‘real’ emotion, but we are missing the point, and indeed making a work of art ourselves in imagining such an uncomplicated existence is even possible. We have the best of it. The alternative is something like Earth, where as much as they suffer, for all that they burn with pain and confused, bewildered angst, they produce more dross than anything else; soap operas and quiz programmes, junk papers and pulp romances. Worse than that, there is an osmosis from fiction to reality, a constant contamination which distorts the truth behind both and fuzzes the telling distinctions in life itself, categorizing real situations and feelings by a set of rules largely culled from the most hoary fictional clichés, the most familiar and received nonsense. Hence the soap operas, and those who try to live their lives as soap operas, while believing the stories to be true; hence the quizzes where the ideal is to think as close to the mean as possible, and the one who conforms utterly is the one who stands above the rest; the Winner… They always had too many stories, I believe; they were too free with their acclaim and their loyalty, too easily impressed by simple strength or a cunning word. They worshipped at too many altars." (201-2, emphasis his) Banks’ acute understanding of humanity, along with his deft use of Culture concepts to prod our blind spots and provide inspiration for better futures, exceeds the capacity of most thinkers and looms large in the world of science fiction. Though not a full-on romp through the Culture Universe in all its weird glory, The State of the Art is a valuable star in Banks’ imaginative constellation. This review was originally published on my blog, words&dirt.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stevie Kincade

    This Audiobook comes with 5 or 6 Culture short stories and the novella length "The State of the Art". The short stories were mostly too uh short to amount to much but I did enjoy the whimsical "Clean up" about an alien factory ship dumping their garbage across the globe. "The State of the Art" was a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I always presumed "The Culture" were what humanity evolved into, so having Culture agents monitoring humanity in the 1970's was quite a twist on my assumed knowledge. The p This Audiobook comes with 5 or 6 Culture short stories and the novella length "The State of the Art". The short stories were mostly too uh short to amount to much but I did enjoy the whimsical "Clean up" about an alien factory ship dumping their garbage across the globe. "The State of the Art" was a thoroughly enjoyable listen. I always presumed "The Culture" were what humanity evolved into, so having Culture agents monitoring humanity in the 1970's was quite a twist on my assumed knowledge. The plot is minimal but Banks has crafted a fascinating philosophical examination of the Culture through human eyes and humanity through the Culture's. This is the first time we get a recurring character in the Culture series, Sjar from “Use of Weapons”. I noted in the first Culture book i read "Player of Games" that there would be a certain jaded, disaffected mental state that would have come to about in a post need society and I think that is reflected here. There were so many great turns of phrase and insights into both humanity and the Culture here that this is one I am marking to listen to again after I finish the series. Peter Kenny as always is a bloody brilliant narrator.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Pi

    If you enjoy the Culture series and Iain M. Banks' masterful writing style, but not necessarily the series' space warfare flavor, and its one-culture-to-rule-them-all overtones, then this book is for you. My favorite story was A Gift From the Culture. It had this dark, despondent, yet revelational feeling to it. Odd Attachment, with its 'lovely' and humorous plot, surprised me pleasantly, too. And, of course, the eponymous The State of the Art novella, the crown jewel of the collection, really dri If you enjoy the Culture series and Iain M. Banks' masterful writing style, but not necessarily the series' space warfare flavor, and its one-culture-to-rule-them-all overtones, then this book is for you. My favorite story was A Gift From the Culture. It had this dark, despondent, yet revelational feeling to it. Odd Attachment, with its 'lovely' and humorous plot, surprised me pleasantly, too. And, of course, the eponymous The State of the Art novella, the crown jewel of the collection, really drills down the whole idea of moral relativity, which, together with a view on suffering as the natural way to meaning, are the overarching themes of the collection. Definitely my top Culture book so far! Ah, also, the stories in this book prove to me that Elon Musk completely doesn't get Iain M. Banks and the Culture.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Odd assortment of stories which were entertaining but had no clear cohesion and as the book was fairly short, just left a little something to be desired

  29. 4 out of 5

    terka

    The stories were 5 star material, I just hated the novella State of the Art, which I woud give 2 stars to at most. Rambling pages upon pages about non interesting things... at times I almost couldn’t believe this was written by Banks. The other stories were brilliant though.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ian Mond

    The State of The Art is a middling assortment of Bank’s short fiction, elevated by the title novella. Aside from ‘Scratch’ which is an experimental mood piece rather than a narrative, none of the stories are outright terrible; they’re just not very memorable. Even the comedic ones, which I did find funny, have the lasting quality of a throwaway gag. The one stand-out amongst the shorter pieces is ‘Descendant’ which might also be a Culture story, it’s not clear, and is very good indeed. Still, it The State of The Art is a middling assortment of Bank’s short fiction, elevated by the title novella. Aside from ‘Scratch’ which is an experimental mood piece rather than a narrative, none of the stories are outright terrible; they’re just not very memorable. Even the comedic ones, which I did find funny, have the lasting quality of a throwaway gag. The one stand-out amongst the shorter pieces is ‘Descendant’ which might also be a Culture story, it’s not clear, and is very good indeed. Still, it’s ‘The State of The Art’, the novella, that shines brightly. It continues the discussion raised in the previous novels, that is Banks exploration of the advantages and drawbacks of a true utopia.

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