25 March 2012

Iain Banks: Subliming

Look to Windward has a two-page essay embedded in one of its chapters on what happens to mature sophontic civilizations (or sometimes to individuals), which he refers to as "Subliming" (with capital-S, just as non-biological intelligences are "Minds" with a capital-M).  He takes as a given (for purposes of the fiction) that there is an already existent "plane" where intelligent beings can exist as pure energy, and that one-way once-and-for-all (more or less) transference to this alternate existence is (again, more or less) inevitable for even entire civilizations. It's kind of like heaven, but not, and it's real, not pie in the sky spiritual.(Although the practical difference may be hard to pin down). One interesting aside he makes: when any particular civilization undertakes the perfectly possible (in the fiction, again) act of creating a "pure-AI," without "metalogical" (i.e., culturally derived) attributes, such an unbiased "Mind" invariably and essentially immediately Sublimes; thus, as a practical matter, Minds always have some of the cultural biases and attributes of the physical civilization that created them originally, even when they actually design and construct themselves. Anyway, if you haven't read this particular Culture novel, it's a bit of a mixed bag but there are good things in it.

I find that in surveying the novels of the Culture on iainbanks.net, (The Algebraist being not counted as Culture, although I gather there's nothing in it that specifically rules out being part of the same universe)... the only one I haven't read is Inversions, which I suppose I will now proceed to read. I tried to read it once, but, as has occasionally happened to me with Banks, I just couldn't get into it. When I finally do read them, I haven't regretted any of them.

He has a new non-SF book coming out, called Stonemouth. It will be some kind of thriller. I haven't read much of his non-SF, but some of it is quite highly thought of in England; here, hardly a blip.

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