This was a late find for me. I’ve read most of Iain Banks’ novels at this stage, both the Culture universe novels and the more subtle thought-provoking non-SF ones. Transitionnever really registered on my radar for some reason. Transition is a far cry from Banks’ early Science Fiction series– both Culture and Culture kinda-sorta stories. Rather than a galactic soap-opera featuring privileged elites shuttling from crisis point to crisis point in the Galaxy on gigantic space ships, Transition is about the multiverse, or the theory that there are an infinity of universes that exist simultaneously. A shadowy organization called the Concern has learned how to jump from universe to universe, using a drug called septus. Two factions are warring with the Concern, the talented, ruthless Madame D’Ortolan and the talented, but more reasonable Mrs. Mulvahill. There are many characters in this novel and the story jumps from one to the other, often shifting narrative form from memoir to first person action story.
I’ve rarely felt the sensation of “That’s it? that’s all?” when I turned the last page of a Banks novel; this was a first for me. Banks spends an inordinate amount of time in building the setting (world building isn’t a term that applies– worlds-building might, though). We change from POV characters Adrian and Temujin Oh, and the Philosopher and a patient who clearly had previous ties with the Concern. There’s a great sense of building in this novel, but the payoff seems frenetic and rushed. I did NOT get the sense that Transition was any great commentary on our present times– OUR Earth, it turns out, is just one of the multiple universes and not a very important one at that.
For all that, it was an enjoyable change of pace from an author that wrote galaxy-spanning epics. I thought the setting was great and some of the characters were top notch (particularly the villainous Madame D’ortolan) but their nothing is really fully explained. We have a suggestion of just WHY the Concern exists (towards the ending), but no explanation. We know the motivations of the parties involved, but never is the WHY? explained anywhere. Personally, I wouldn’t rate it among Banks’ better works but it is eminently readable and enjoyable in its own right.