Iain (M) Banks is my second favourite author behind out illustrious Robert Rankin, he is the only other writer who's work I think I've read in (more or less) it's entirety (there may be a book or two still waiting on the shelf).
Banks can be a funny author, often leaning towards the “big build up” & this book certainly has that, to the point that the the first 50 pages or so come over as a pretty random intro to the characters. Perhaps at this point (for those who don't know) I should point out the duel nature of Iain's writing. He does SF as Iain “M” Banks & fiction as Iain Banks. This book is published as Iain Banks, but (by his own admission is about 50/50 SF) so could easily have been an “M” book (indeed in America it was). Confused? Tough.
Think “Quantum Leap” but a bit more controlled. This is a Multiverse novel & the drug of choice is Septus. Each section is headed up by the name (or title) of the main character from that section, & it's mainly written in the first person. As I say, each section starts off seemingly unrelated, but as the book goes on they all begin to come together in intriguing ways.
I liked most of the characters on offer here, especially The Philosopher, Patient 8262 & The Transitioner himself. Things are kept pretty much mysterious throughout, perhaps a little to much so. Though the facts leak out as we approach the climax (snigger), but we're still left with a feeling of things unfinished. I must say there is a certain “eh?”ness about large amount of this book.
The Structure reminded me a lot of “Stand on Zanzibar” by John Brunner, which I believe Iain is a big fan of. This is certainly SF, but it's defiantly not “big SF”, there aren't the massive space ships, alien races & concept of his usual “M” books, but there is enough SF on offer to be apart from the mainstream; reality shifting, alien cover ups & immortality can hardly be considered “normal”. I wonder what the non “M” fans will make of this one?
I enjoyed the book & the general structure very much, but by the end it really doesn't quite come together enough. Maybe it would be interesting to have more stories set in this world, but where would Iain (not one for sequels) be able to go with it? Maybe we could have more from the 1000 year plus of the Concern Central Councils history? That could be fun