This is spectacular. It deals with huge, terrible themes (war, loss, revenge, suicide, suicide bombings) and philosophical questions (exile, redemption, forgiveness), in multiple storylines spread across hundreds of years. The scope is HUGE.
There are three things that came out of Banks's mind I desperately want to be real: GSVs, drug glands and Orbitals. The fact that a large chunk of the story takes place on an O made me very happy indeed. The geography, the landscapes, the subway system - I ate up every bit of physical description I encountered. Conversely, I wasn't quite so interested in the airspheres with the behemoths, so those sections got a bit long for me - hence the 4 (.5) stars.
This time, the AIs, while present, disappear behind the towering humanoid characters. Kabe is magnificient, Ziller is brilliant, Quilan is heartbreaking. The philosphical debates between Kabe and Ziller, in particular, are an absolute joy to behold. I'm gonna quote a short passage for my own amusement:
Ziller was staring at him. 'Are you saying the sun could explode?'
'Well, sort of, in theory. It's a very--'
'You're not serious!'
'Of course I am. The chances are--'
'They never told me that
'Actually, it wouldn't really blow up as such, but it might flare--'
flare! I've seen its flares!'
'Yes. Pretty, aren't they?'
:) And this isn't even one of their great debates, just a small thing that made me laugh. It might not work out of context, but I don't care.
Read this, if you haven't already. You will laugh. You might cry a little. (I did.) You will stare into space, lost in wonder, hoping against hope that someone, somewhere has built such marvels and is going to invite you along for a visit.