Transition by Iain M. Banks (book review).

‘Transition’ is about a multiverse where there an infinite number of Earths ranging from almost similar to the one we know to the drastically different. They may also be further back in the development or somewhat ahead. A number of people are aware of the multiple Earths and have the ability to transition between them. This transition involves a hapless unfortunate subject’s consciousness in the target Earth being displaced by the incoming. While it is the conscious mind that moves between worlds, it does seem that they are also able to take small physical objects with them. This is essential as the act of transitioning from world to another requires septus, a drug usually in the form of a pill, which acts as a catalyst allowing the transition to take place.

Transition by Iain Banks (book review).
Transition by Iain Banks (book review).

Presiding over the transitioners is the Concern, which uses its operatives to intervene in key moments of the alternative Earths to being about satisfactory conclusions. While the Concern is a huge organisation, the key characters in the novel are rather few. We have Madame d’Ortolan who, as de-facto leader of the Concern’s Council, is developing her own agenda. She is opposed by the mysterious Mrs. Mulverhill, who has gone renegade and is recruiting for her cause. Sitting between the two is the assassin Temudjin Oh, who on reflection is probably the main character. I should mention that each section of a chapter has a title and it’s usually the character’s name as the character will be written from that person’s viewpoint. In addition to Madame d’Ortolan and Mrs. Mulverhill, there is The Transitionary (Temudjin Oh), Adrian, Patient 8262 and The Philosopher.

This is a difficult book to review for a number of reasons. Firstly, the plot or main storyline does not become apparent until about page 140. Secondly, not very much happens really, with long passages of dialog which explores various aspects of the Concern and life in general. Having knowledge of Solipsism will help here as it is mentioned a few times as the characters argue their viewpoints. There are sections which seem unconnected to the main story but back fill the characters story. These are interesting although, while reading them, you are wondering what is going on with the main story line. I also became confused at one point where two characters transitioned to a world devoid of humans. If it’s just the consciousness that gets transitioned, where did the bodies come from?

I’m struggling here to not to give too negative an impression which would be unfair as the book had me completely engrossed. The characters were uniquely different and interesting in their own right. The situation of multiple worlds and the ability to transition between them raises interesting morality questions which are touched on. The ending brings together all the story elements in a nice tidy if somewhat surprising fashion. I’d like to read ‘Transition’ again as it feels as though there’s more in the story than you will take in on a first reading.

Andy Whitaker

February 2014

(pub: Abacus. 480 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-34911-927-4)

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2 thoughts on “Transition by Iain M. Banks (book review).

  • Well, the very red paperback copy I have has IAIN BANKS in very big bold white letters. The font size used for the author is easily twice the size of the novels title so it’s hard to get it wrong.

    As for it being SF I’m in two minds (no pun intended) as apart from the ability to move a consciousness from one reality to another, there isn’t anything different to the world we currently live in or have a historical knowledge of.


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