After several weeks of chipping away at it, I finally finished Iain Banks' Matter. I am not sure that I can write a proper review of it without reading it again, which I really don't have time for right now. It's a big book. There was an awful lot in it that I liked. I'm not sure it would be possible to top this one for spectacular scenery--I am going to be carrying the image of the Morthenveld nestworld around for a good long while.
Much as I enjoy his writing, Banks strikes me as a little weak on characters; they tend to be interesting people to follow around, but one doesn't often really like them, and I never seem to bond with them the way I do some. In this book, the minor characters actually often struck me as better drawn than the main ones, which may be odd. I was more sad about the Liveware Problem than about anybody else (one of the joys of the Culture books is just how much personality the ships have).
The plot is vast and intricate, operating on both large and small scales, and that may have turned out to be a problem for him. I found the ending of the book extremely unsatisfying, in ways that are quite impossible to explain without including spoilers, which I would hate to do. It was a very enjoyable read for about nine tenths of the way through, but I'm not sure what I think of the way he wrapped everything up--or actually, the way he didn't wrap everything up, since a thousand loose ends were either ignored or literally nuked out of existence. The epilogue should, in my opinion, not have been written; resolving that one issue just pointed up the way everything else didn't get resolved, and it read as if he'd done it in five minutes, to boot.
Continuing the Banks kick, I am now halfway through Use of Weapons and trying to discern whether any other character on my bookshelves has survived as much crap as this one. The only candidate I have come up with so far is Tempus from Thieves' World, and he got vivisected. Maybe if you take the entire Black Company as an aggregate...? Not a sentimentalist, Mr. Banks.