By Iain M. Banks
Well, this was the last of Banks' Culture novels I had to read. Now I've read it and really enjoyed it so I'm sad about that.
A quick overview : The story's about a coup in a royal house on a shellworld planet, one of a number in the galaxy created aeons ago for an unknown reason by an unknown race of aliens (there is speculation). The coup takes place in an industrialising but still fairly primitive society on one of the "levels" that exist on the artificial world. This happens during a war with the next level down. We follow a prince of the fallen house and his man-servant as they search for help recovering the throne from the world's manager species, then up the chain to the management's "mentors" and beyond them to the "involved" races. The levels travelled are literal (up the "shells") as well as figurative: civilisational and technological advancement. It might not be a coincidence that an archaeological dig is uncovering something very ancient, unexpected and dangerous on the newly conquered level below.
It is a bit of a tour de force, seeing the fresh wonder of the superior technology as it gets more and more magical. Luckily, the prince has a sister, long ago apprenticed to a Culture ambassador and sent off-world for a higher education. She has many of the usual Special Circumstances agent improvements. It is all a lot of fun following it all.
In a sign of a good book, I would have liked to have known a little about the aftermath of it all. I also missed that the book had a few appendices until I got to the end. In many respects this is one of Banks' best Culture novels and it covers a lot of what's special with them. The unbelievably high technology (post singularity), the odd, interesting and often very flawed, alien species, the dynamics of a post-scarcity economy (no money needed) and the repartee (usually between an intelligent robot and human SC agent).
I will have to read some of them again I think.
A long time ago I bought a new comic magazine called Love and Rockets in my local comic shop and discovered the amazingly talented Hernandez Brothers, Jaime and Gilbert. This comic was a real watershed in my appreciation of the art of the cartoon strip.
I've recently been looking through some of these and re-reading a few of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories. Palomar is a fictional and old-fashioned Mexican town inhabited by an odd variety of people (some real eccentrics), dysfunctional families and a cast of children and adolescents that can steal the show. A bit of a soap opera with a latino telenovelo feel to it. Often a bit magical or weird. Now I want to re-read a lot more.
Gilbert Hernandez is very good with the women and children. Here, little Casimira is learning what it takes to be "mom" in her house; much to the horror of her sister Guadalupe. Funny, but also a bit sad (I mentioned dysfunctional already). This is from Human Diastrophism in Love and Rockets no. 24 from 1987.
Click on the images for larger versions.
I would like to return to these pages and my love of comics in the future.
The Royal Scottish Academy has its annual exhibition on just now and it is the usual mix. Some very good art and some terrible.
It was nice to see some Philip Braham paintings (see below). He had an exhibition on at the Scottish Gallery in 2021 but it was virtual only due to the pandemic restrictions. An atmospheric landscape painter; his work is similar to the sort of subject I like to attempt myself (less successfully). All his paintings in the exhibition were strong. There is no substitute for seeing a painting in real life. He is now "RSA (Elect)".
Another painting really stood out to me: an amazingly colourful picture of a plant from the Royal Botanic Gardens: The Corpse Flower by Laura Footes (Acrylic on canvas, 150x120cm). Shown below, I thought it had shades of the great Hockney, especially the garden background. Very impressive work you can see on the RSA site.
The show is free and on until June 12th.