Every Banks reader has the Culture novel that really stood out to them, in a way it probably didn’t to others. This one is it for me. I loved this book. Iain M Banks never fails to deliver riveting, action packed science fiction. I strongly believe Surface Detail is among his best overall Culture novels. I would place it below Use of Weapons, but above almost everything else (there is one more similarly good novel coming soon to my reviews). Its action sequences are probably second only to Consider Phlebas, though the story has far fewer holes than Phlebas. The visual landscapes created in Surface Detail are second to none.
There are basically six main point of view characters we follow throughout though I would consider Lededje Y’breq the main protagonist. Her story of revenge is probably smaller in the overarching universe sense, but also probably the one we care about most. Banks’ descriptions of the Hells created by species for punishment in the afterlife are unbelievable. His wit and humor are evident throughout, particularly with the ship “Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints.”
Like all of Banks’ culture novels Surface Detail can stand on its own, but I think having a background from a couple of his early culture novels does help. With this book particularly there is a reference at the end that sheds more light on what is happening throughout that you will not get without having read a specific one of his early novels. I highly recommend Surface Detail…it is truly a tremendous read.