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Dead Air

Posted by phduffy on 2004-10-27 22:49:06
6 forum posts
You may or may not know that Iain M Banks is one of my favourite authors on the planet (if not the favourite). Under the name Iain M Banks he writes the best sf has to offer.

However, he also writes under the name Iain Banks. These novels are typically more mainstream. This is the third of such novels that I've read, after The Wasp Factory and The Business.

The Wasp Factory was his first novel, and it contains one of the least likeable protaganists I've ever read, and some fairly graphic and gross scenes. The Business was a perfectly serviceable novel about a giant corporation that controls everything.

Dead Air is about a leftist shock jock (do we have those in NA?). The alleged premise of the novel is that he's at a party, throwing thigns off the roof of an apartment building, and then they hear about September 11th.

I say alleged because that's really not important to the story. I guess Banks just figured he had to mention September 11th in a book about a policitally active guy, so he did.

Dead Air starts out pretty poorly. The first half of the novel is mostly just recounting Ken Nott's (the aforementioned shock jock) political rantings, anti Bush ideas, anti Israel, anti Palestinian, etc ideas, and him doing lots of drugs and having lots of sex. There's a subplot about him agreeing to debate a Holocaust denier on television, and the mention of him having the perfect plan for this debate.

When he gets to the debate the plan is somewhat clever, but the idea really doesn't go anywhere.

Dead Air picks up at about page 250, with the development of the plot regarding Ken and the married woman he's nailing. One of the good things about reading a Banks novel if you've read his other novels is that you know he's not afraid to end things darkly (such as killing off the main character on the last page of the book), so that keeps you on your toes and guessing about how the plot will be resolved.

I don't think I can recommend this novel. Getting interesting 250 pages into a 400 page book isn't good enough. (Now, Cryptonomicon didn't get good until page 300, but it was a 1000 page book, so that's forgivable). I'm not sure how Banks does it: he's one of the best current writer of SF, and one of the best of all time, and yet his mainstream output is pretty mediocre.
He uses some similar devices, but I'm not sure they're needed. At times, he can be an incredibly clever writer, in a good way (Use of Weapons); however, the cleverness in this novel really wasn't that clever, and was somewhat lessened by the main character telling us what a clever idea it was.

Also, I'm not sure why this story wasn't told chronologically. it started in the middle, went back and forth for a bit, and then finished. I don't know if that's because his gimmick is to jump around in time, so he does it even when it's not neccessary (see: Tarantino, Quentin), or if he thought it added something to the story. Perhaps noting on the first page that at some point in the novel someone is going to want to kill the main character will make readers intersted in the slow 250 pages that are to follow.

Oh well, onto the Iron Council.
  6 forum posts