After the rather underwhelming The State of the Art I figured I may as well plough straight on to the next one, ‘cos that was this and this was where it all started and when it did it was good.
However, I now have a decade-and-a-half more context in which to insert all this frippery, which includes the entirety of the Culture sequence, so let’s try and position it and myself a little more finely than that, shall we?
The thing about Excession is that for once, and despite the slight double-bluff of the title, this one is very much internal to the Culture. The excession itself is obviously the ur-macguffin, but this is the first (and to my memory at least the only) book where the real conflict is internal to the Culture itself. Sharper cookies than me have pointed out that mush of this series is a continuing work-through of Western liberal interventionism, and so it’s interesting here to have a conspiracy of Minds engineering a conflict à la Suez, or indeed the Manchurian Incident. All, of course, done with the best possible intentions.
This, needless to say, is an aspect that I missed on my first reading, and I think it’s a clear strength that the book can work at the level of both geeky tech-fantasy and real politik commentary. From what I can recall of the rest of the series, there are no other books that embed themselves quite so clearly within the Culture itself, and this, in addition to the Minds, is perhaps why this remains such strong entry; for once the veil is pulled aside and we get to see that utopia isn’t perhaps quite as utopian as we’d like to think.