Iain Banks novel set in The Culture. Not much can disturb the Minds of the Culture - How about the appearance and disappearance of a star? Special Circumstances rides again, and Genar Hofein is dragged away from the barbaric alien Affront to steal a dead woman's soul.

Another good story from Banks. It takes a good look at the splinters of The Culture and an even better one at the problems of superintelligent Minds - why try to change reality when you can create your own? And of course, the usual psychological detail exists. Good book.

The definition of excession given in the novel sparks a really neat idea. Basically, and i don't think i'm spoiling the novel at all here, an excession is what a society simply cannot cope with. Something so completely beyond the scope of the experience and understanding of a culture that encountering it is likely to result in the destruction or drastic modification of the culture. Another term used is "Out Of Context Problem".

The example given, roughly, is of a comfortable existence developed on your own little island, where you've just about figured out what you can eat and what you can't, you've settled down to not entirely exhausting your food supply, you've mastered fire for cooking, spears for hunting, perhaps a little agriculture and some fishing, and everything looks hunky-dory for the continuation of a stable society. And then these large ships show up on the horizon filled with men with firesticks and a fiendishly effective way of cutting down trees and their priests really want to have a nice long chat with your tribal shaman. You have encountered an excession.

Now, think about what would constitute an excession for a spacefaring society like The Culture in Iain Banks' novels...

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