Inversions - Iain M. Banks This is my favourite Culture novel...probably because it has the least amount of the Culture in it. The smarmy robots, superintelligent AI Minds, and laissez-faire posthumans are all cool and everything, but after you've hung out with them for a few volumes they get kinda same-y. Also, they never pick up the tab at bars. Something about money being barbaric I think.

With Inversions we get, um, an inversion I guess, of what Banks seems to normally do with his Culture stories. Huh. Neat how that worked out, isn't it? Anyway, we find ourselves on one of those non-Culture 'backwards' planets that of course the Culture wants to influence (for their own good, of course) and we are thus presented with two different focuses (or I guess foci) in point of view. One follows the exploits of a mysterious female doctor acting as aide and close confidante to the king of one of the major nations of the planet; the other follows the story of the bodyguard of the de facto Cromwellian despot of another as he in turn follows a philosophically different approach in his 'influence' of events. Both of them are, of course, really Culture agents ultimately trying to prove to the other one that their philosophy is the correct one, though of course none of this is particularly obvious unless you've: a) read other Culture novels and b) read between the lines for some of the less explicable events of the story.

I found both main characters to be compelling and, most of all, interesting in a way that Banks isn't always able to pull off. In addition the narrator of the doctor's story-line, her smitten young apprentice, is quite an interesting figure in himself who displays the paradoxical elements of devoted factotum and scheming spy in equal measure. I guess I like it when Banks is understated. It doesn't happen a lot, but when it does it can be very compelling.