Matter is anything that is not energy or antimatter.
There are five states of matter (Update: six or seven, now. Add on one of the Fermi statics.):
Solid
Liquid
Gas
Plasma
Bose-Einstein Condensate

I wonder what dark matter is classed as...
Oh well. It doesn't really matter.
The Sphere of Matter from Mage the Ascension is one of the three Pattern magics, its counterparts being Life and Forces. Knowledge of this Sphere allows one to discern peculiarities in individual Patterns, as well as the capacity to alter them as their capacity grows.

Mages new to the understanding of this Sphere can discern irregularities in Patterns, and alter simple changes in Patterns (turning water into wine, or saltines into Ritz crackers, or bad booze into good booze); Masters of the Sphere can fix computers simply by poking at the motherboard, walk through walls, create polyester shirts capable of reflecting lasers, and make black holes out of 8-balls, provided they can avoid the reaches of Paradox.

The Sons of Ether have adopted this Sphere.
Matter is defined, according to General Relativity, as a massively condensed form of energy. This property allows for the conversion of a tiny amount of matter into energy to provide power, both in a controlled electricity-generating form and a destructive uncontrolled form, as the citizens of Hiroshima well know.

Matter also has the property, explained by Albert Einstein, of warping space around it. This topographic manipulation is perceived by us as the force of gravity. .

All known interactions in the universe occur between matter and energy, or any combination of the two, and thus an understanding of both would basically constitute a theory of everything. The closest thing, presently offered, to a theory of everything is superstring theory, which claims that the fundamental particles we know of are actually only larger manifestations of Plank-length sized oscillating strings.

Iain M. Banks' latest novel of the Culture, Matter, is a deceiving book. It, like many of the other Culture novels, finds much of its power in the dichotomy between the world of the Culture itself and the existences of those either outside it or, even more stark, those who protect it while not being of it.

There is much here in the way of elements that is familiar. The Culture itself. Contact and its red-headed stepchild Special Circumstances. Minds, drones and ships with names like Lightly Seared on the Reality Grill, Transient Atmospheric Phenomenon and Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall all populate the book (I have long been a mad fan of Banks' Ships and the Mind humor with which they name themselves and each other). Along the way, events local to a world will sweep us in and, eventually, ripple outwards into the Culture itself. So far, so familiar.

The Story

Sursamen is a Shellworld, an artificial planet built in concentric layers. Within this world, species and civilizations live, fight and die, thriving or huddling in its aeons-old fourteen-hundred-kilometer high levels. One of these civilizations is at war, with early steam technology; we are caught up in a story concerning the succession to this kingdom's throne, with all that that might entail, at the very beginning of the book. There are deceit, and murder, and chases, and escapes, and betrayal and loyalty. A scion of the royal house, on the run from would-be regicide, swears vengeance and goes in search of those who might help him in his cause. One of those is his long-gone sister, taken away by near-mythical beings years before. She was to have married a prince; she ended up emigrating and taking a job.

Her home is the Culture.

Her job is agent, for the Department of Special Circumstances.

Her homecoming will change the world forever, but not in the way you might think.

Seriously; I thought I'd figured out the plot archetype a few times during the course of the book. The first two-thirds is somewhat dry, consisting of a great deal of background and setup. One of the handicaps of writing space opera on the scale of the Culture is that no matter how much you've explained already, there are infinite examples of new wonders to explore and make critical to your plot - and Banks' imagination is no slouch. From a world whose spaces are littered with kilometers-high, aeons-dead machinery that now forms the basis of local geology, meteorology and hydrology, to the familiar and fun snark of Minds and drones at war and play, he leads the reader through a travelogue of wonders to reach an end that did not disappoint me. I suppose the actual plot of the ending isn't new; nothing is. But it is brought about with deft turnings and evasion, executed with crisp skill and left me holding a closed book, almost disconcerted that I'd finished. I hadn't expected that. Banks gave me all the information necessary to have deduced the story, but without even deliberately misdirecting me nevertheless ensured my surprise.

The Characters

There are lots, and happily there's an appendix with notes, because lots of them have truly alien names and all of those names tend to blend. Despite being tolerably familiar with Banks' panoply of characters, I was still engaged quite handily by those in the book. They are examples of archetypes of which he has made use in the past, sometimes often; but I never felt them to be anything short of individual and knowable.

Writing about intelligences that are manifestly orders of magnitude greater than our own is a daunting challenge. In some of the books of the Culture (Excession, for example) it can be difficult to follow what the Minds are up to - but even there, at the end, Banks brings it all into sense. Here, the focus is not so much on the Minds themselves but on the vast scope of races that make up this galaxy. The pecking order, if you will; barbarians, their protectors, those protectors' mentors', their mentors, and so on. The fascinating thing is how alike people from all those races manage to be despite clear differences in their knowledge, their upbringing, their technology, and their motives. Essentially, I'd hazard a guess that the point here is that everybody's human (for meta values of human) and we are shown that in such a manner as to give it the feeling of an axiom.

What is real? This question is touched upon as a manner of exploring the up- and downward play of civilizations and scope, from the galactic to the small group. If the Culture is (as some have argued, including some of Banks' characters) the End of anything interesting, what then is there to do? When the inhabitants of the Culture can have anything, what will they? Who will walk the walls, and why?

Opinion

I liked this book. A lot. It doesn't resonate as one of 'the greats' for me simply because the issues explored within it are not new nor are they even explored in a particularly powerful manner. However, the scale of the worlds which Banks writes about, and the unbreaking skill with which his story holds despite changes in scope that are dizzying to contemplate, make it something I'm sorry to have finished.


Matter

Written by Iain M. Banks

Hachette Book Group (USA) / Orbit (UK) February, 2008 (Hardcover)
593 pp.
ISBN-10: 978-0-316-00536-4

Mat"ter (?), n. [OE. matere, F. matiere, fr. L. materia; perh. akin to L. mater mother. Cf. Mother, Madeira, Material.]

1.

That of which anything is composed; constituent substance; material; the material or substantial part of anything; the constituent elements of conception; that into which a notion may be analyzed; the essence; the pith; the embodiment.

He is the matter of virtue. B. Jonson.

2.

That of which the sensible universe and all existent bodies are composed; anything which has extension, occupies space, or is perceptible by the senses; body; substance.

Matter is usually divided by philosophical writers into three kinds or classes: solid, liquid, and aeriform. Solid substances are those whose parts firmly cohere and resist impression, as wood or stone. Liquids have free motion among their parts, and easily yield to impression, as water and wine. Aeriform substances are elastic fluids, called vapors and gases, as air and oxygen gas.

3.

That with regard to, or about which, anything takes place or is done; the thing aimed at, treated of, or treated; subject of action, discussion, consideration, feeling, complaint, legal action, or the like; theme.

"If the matter should be tried by duel."

Bacon.

Son of God, Savior of men ! Thy name Shall be the copious matter of my song. Milton.

Every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge. Ex. xviii. 22.

4.

That which one has to treat, or with which one has to do; concern; affair; business.

To help the matter, the alchemists call in many vanities out of astrology. Bacon.

Some young female seems to have carried matters so far, that she is ripe for asking advice. Spectator.

5.

Affair worthy of account; thing of consequence; importance; significance; moment; -- chiefly in the phrases what matter ? no matter, and the like.

A prophet some, and some a poet, cry; No matter which, so neither of them lie. Dryden.

6.

Inducing cause or occasion, especially of anything disagreeable or distressing; difficulty; trouble.

And this is the matter why interpreters upon that passage in Hosea will not consent it to be a true story, that the prophet took a harlot to wife. Milton.

7.

Amount; quantity; portion; space; -- often indefinite.

Away he goes, . . . a matter of seven miles. L' Estrange.

I have thoughts to tarry a small matter. Congreve.

No small matter of British forces were commanded over sea the year before. Mi

lton.

8.

Substance excreted from living animal bodies; that which is thrown out or discharged in a tumor, boil, or abscess; pus; purulent substance.

9. Metaph.

That which is permanent, or is supposed to be given, and in or upon which changes are effected by psychological or physical processes and relations; -- opposed to form.

Mansel.

10. Print.

Written manuscript, or anything to be set in type; copy; also, type set up and ready to be used, or which has been used, in printing.

Dead matter Print., type which has been used, or which is not to be used, in printing, and is ready for distribution. -- Live matter Print., type set up, but not yet printed from. -- Matter in bar, Matter of fact. See under Bar, and Fact. -- Matter of record, anything recorded. -- Upon the matter, ∨ Upon the whole matter, considering the whole; taking all things into view.

Waller, with Sir William Balfour, exceeded in horse, but were, upon the whole matter, equal in foot. Clarendon.

 

© Webster 1913.


Mat"ter (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Mattered (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Mattering.]

1.

To be of importance; to import; to signify.

It matters not how they were called. Locke.

2.

To form pus or matter, as an abscess; to maturate.

[R.] "Each slight sore mattereth."

Sir P. Sidney.

 

© Webster 1913.


Mat"ter, v. t.

To regard as important; to take account of; to care for.

[Obs.]

He did not matter cold nor hunger. H. Brooke.

 

© Webster 1913.

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