I have written before about Iain M. Banks, one of my favourite authors. His best work is his Culture series of science fiction novels, but he has also written other SF books too. In addition he writes mainstream non-genre fiction under the name Iain Banks (although some of those are fairly slipstream). Feersum Endjinn is one of his non-Culture science fiction novels.
The book is set on a future Earth after part of the population have left (as part of the Diaspora). Those that remain have developed the habit of uploading their mind states to a computer system called the Crypt, which allows reincarnation (in a limited form). But now Earth is at risk of destruction due to the Encroachment, an interstellar molecular cloud approaching the solar system. The Diaspora left behind technology that would save the Earth, and the book is about the power struggle that is being fought, both in reality and in the Crypt, over control of that device (the ‘fearsome engine’ of the title).
The story is told from the perspectives of four different characters, in repeating sequence, with each chapter containing four sub-chapters, one focussed on each character. This way the whole plot comes together as gradually you see how the actions of each character is connected to the others, and eventually they all converge.
I thought that the setting for the book was interesting, and proves that Banks can do great worldbuilding outside of the Culture. The plot was engaging and the use of the multiple narrators was well done. The only complaint I have is that one of the characters is written phonetically, which I previously posted about. While I gradually got the hang of reading those sections (enough to realise that the character had a Scottish accent!) it was still infuriating and I don’t think it really added anything to the book.
Reading this book was actually a fairly bittersweet moment for me because it means that I have now read all of Banks’ SF novels (Culture and non-Culture). I still have four of his other books to read, but it means that I will now have to anxiously await his next SF book, which probably will not be due for another two or three years.
Overall I liked the book a lot. I don’t think it matched the Culture series, which it just fantastic and contains some really outstanding novels. But of the other SF novels that Banks has written this is probably my favourite.