Transition - Iain M. Banks Rating: 2.5-3 stars

Transition isn’t Iain Banks at his best but it’s still pretty good. The SF premise of the novel is that alternate Earths are constantly branching off, and that there are a small number of people who are capable (with the aid of a drug) to move between those alternates – transition. An organization, usually called the Concern (or l’Expedience in some worlds), controls the transition drug, and it has come under the baleful influence of Madame d’Ortolan, who is bent on destroying anyone who opposes her. Opposed to her is Mrs. Mulverhill, who’s established a shadow organization dedicated to wresting control from d’Ortolan.

The novel is told from the point of view of several characters:

Mdm. d’Ortolan and Mrs. Mulverhill, already mentioned. Temudjin Oh, an agent of the Concern; Patient 8262, inmate of an asylum; Adrian, a slick, Wall Street type from our own Earth; and the Philosopher, a torturer.

There are two books here – the first one is a relatively tame SF novel about alternate worlds; and the other is an indictment of modern capitalism, torture, and the national-security state, among other things. He’s integrated them better in earlier works (particularly The Culture novels), and, in fact, the SF elements were window dressing rather than integral to the story. Nor were there any memorable characters. Mrs. Mulverhill and the Philosopher were the most interesting but Temudjin degenerated in the end to an unstoppable deus ex machina.

I’ll recommend it to already-Iain-Banks fans but it’s not where you’d want to start, either with his SF or his mainstream works.