This is Iain Banks’ second novel and the second of his I’ve read. He published this under his mainstream name, rather than his science fiction name of Iain M. Banks, which is odd as this is very much in that genre, but maybe he hadn’t adapted that naming scheme yet at this point.
This is three seemingly distinct storylines that are linked together at the end of the story. One follows Graham Park, a man in his early twenties who is newly in love. Another follows Steven Grout, a hyper-paranoid man newly fired from yet another job. The third story is of Quiss and Ajayi, two people confined by law to a mystical castle for past crimes, where they will remain indefinitely until they solve the nearly-impossible games presented to them.
The three storylines in this felt a little too disparate. They come together in the end, but not really in a satisfying way, and it came off feeling like an experiment in writing that just didn’t pan out. Each story had pieces that I enjoyed. The story taking place in the castle in particular felt like it really deserved a full novel. It was such an interesting setting and circumstance that I just wanted to read more.
Steven Grout was a fun story to follow as well, mainly because Iain Banks is great at writing crazy, as seen in his first book The Wasp Factory. I loved that whenever he got anxious he thought ‘they’ were cooking him with a microwave gun.
Of course, he had known they would use the Microwave Gun on him; they always did when he was up in front of somebody, whenever he was at a disadvantage anyway and needed all the help he could get, whenever he was going for an interview for a job, or being asked things by the Social Security people or even clerks in the Post Office. That was when they used it on him.
What we get here are the first acts of multiple interesting stories that don’t mix all that well, the literary equivalent of fusion cooking gone wrong. I really like Iain Banks’ writing, though, and I like that he seemed willing to take chances and explore a bit, so I’ll definitely keep making my way through his books. This is one that probably would have been best left until later.