No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

State of the Brian / The State of the Art by Iain Banks

The Goth Gardener has already alluded to How the Swine Flu Stole Halloween. But at least I got to pack up all my bitterness and take it to Brian's house for his birthday. But no bitterness can remain when in the presence of Brian, so I had a great time. BBQ and wine and beer, strange children, old friends and new acquaintances. Speaking of new acquaintances, I saw someone take to Rock Band in an even unhealthier and crazier way than even Aaron. An apparently law-abiding member of the law enforcement community turned into a bright-eyed demon monster when handed a pair of drumsticks. "We've got to get this!", he kept shouting as he pounded the plastic skins.

Brian said he loved and hated me. The proximate cause was some dialogue of the you-had-to-have-been-there sort. After the bottle of wine I brought was dead, Brian brought out some red table wine, and there was a bit of discussion of the relative merits of blended wines. I opined that most vintners typically don't want to loudly proclaim that their wine is a blend; it sounds so much better if they can call it something like a meritage. Brian looks at me quizzically, so I say "It's just a fancy word for blend."
Later, we were discussing Dia de los Muertos and Brian was treating it as though it were a Catholic-wide observance. I think zorker said something about it having something more to do with Aztecs than Catholicism. I agreed, managing to dredge up the term "religious syncretism." Brian looks at me quizzically, so I say "It's just a fancy word for blend."
For a fleeting moment, I felt like Voltaire.

Iain Banks' The State of the Art is a collection of short fiction, with the titular story at novella length. Although somewhat touted as being short fiction in the world of The Culture, some of the stories were distantly if at all related to The Culture, like "Piece", a grim and powerful fable on religious idiocy. Since the stories are rather old (from the 1980s) they are also somewhat interesting as archeological artifacts of Banks. On the whole, I didn't find the stories very good. I don't know if that's because Banks hadn't yet matured, or if he's just a novelist and not a short storyist. "State of the Art" is about The Culture carrying out a clandestine survey of Earth circa 1977. More than most of his work, it betrays a lot more of what I presume to be Banks' true feelings about human culture. In a way, the novella reads like the condemnation of mankind in Plan 9:

Jeff Trent: So what if we *do* develop this Solanite bomb? We'd be even a stronger nation than now.
Eros: [with disgust] Stronger. You see? You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!

I didn't find it a very good story, but it provided an interesting critique of, and appreciation for, human society. The same could also be said of the final piece, an essay on the Culture (first published on USENET!) Interesting in how he explicitly contrasts The Culture and our culture. And how much he had clearly thought about The Culture and its background.
Tags: book, friends, party, wordplay

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