|Author||Iain M. Banks|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publication date||7 October 2010|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||The Hydrogen Sonata|
The events of Surface Detail take place around 2970 AD, according to Banks. The events occur six to eight hundred years after the "Chel Debacle", depicted in the earlier novel Look to Windward which is set a hundred years after the events in Use of Weapons.
Each chapter of the book covers one or more of the six main protagonists—Lededje Y'breq, a chattel slave; Joiler Veppers, an industrialist and playboy; Gyorni Vatueil, a soldier (revealed in the epilogue to be an alias for Cheradenine Zakalwe, the main character of the earlier novel Use of Weapons); Prin and Chay, Pavulean academics; and Yime Nsokyi, a Quietus agent. Some of the plot occurs in various simulated environments. As the book begins, a simulated war game—the "War in Heaven"—has been running for several decades. The simulated war is to determine whether to allow or to disallow cultures in the galaxy from running Hells, simulated afterlives in which the mind-states of the dead are tortured. The Culture, fiercely anti-Hell, has opted to stay out of the war while accepting the outcome as binding.
Vatueil is a soldier who has fought up the ranks of the war game to a position where he can determine policy, and he is instrumental in the decisions first to cheat—attempting to hack the Hells directly as well as attacking various pro-Hell side simulations—and then to take the simulated war into the real world.
Prin and Chay belong to a species, the Pavuleans, which runs a Hell. While still alive, they enter the Pavulean Hell on a mission to reveal the existence and details of this Hell to the general population. Prin succeeds in getting out, but has to leave Chay behind, where she is subsequently tortured, restored to some semblance of sanity, and finally given an involuntary role in the pantheon of the afterlife. Prin, meanwhile, testifies to the Pavulean public of his experiences in Hell and attempts to convince them that it should be abolished.
Veppers is a businessman and industrialist: the richest individual in his society, the multi-planet Sichultian Enablement.
On the planet Sichult, Y'breq—an indentured slave owned by Veppers and a frequent victim of rape—is murdered by him as she attempts to escape. She is unexpectedly reincarnated aboard a Culture ship, having been secretly implanted with a neural lace some ten years previously by a visiting Culture ship super-AI known as a Mind. She immediately wants to return to her homeworld, to find and kill Veppers.
The book hinges on Veppers' involvement in the War in Heaven. He initially appears to be a bit-player, but his involvement is gradually revealed to be more and more critical. The final revelation is that he has made some of his fortune by providing the hardware to run the Hells of various species; over a century he has accumulated about 70% of all the Hells. The hardware is located on his country estate on the planet Sichult. He sets up a secret deal to have the Hells destroyed in an attack which is to be blamed upon the Culture. His motivation is that such an attack will release him from his contracts to run the Hells, which would have become worthless if the anti-Hell side won, but which he cannot wriggle out of in any other way.
Y'breq travels back to Sichult on the Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints, an advanced Culture warship. In hot pursuit is Yime Nsokyi, a Culture agent tasked with preventing Y'breq from killing Veppers. As they and their ships arrive, things come to a head.
The Culture agents conspire to arrange that the attack on Veppers' estate successfully destroys the Hells, while simultaneously appearing to attempt to stop the attack. They also conspire to ensure that Veppers' secret deal is revealed. Veppers himself is at the estate's mansion during the attack, where Y'breq finds him for the final, personal, showdown.
Roz Kaveney of The Independent noted that this was a poor book to introduce new readers to the Culture, but "far from the worst introduction to Banks's series." Alastair Mabbott of The Herald describes the story as having "murder, revenge, pursuit and subterfuge taking place against a backdrop of escalating tension [that] stands up very well, and makes the prospect of further books in the Culture series somewhat less imposing." UK book review site The Bookbag remarked that "...what sets this book apart is the quality of the writing and the depth of the author's imagination."
- "Little Brown Website". Retrieved 2010-09-29.
- "Orbit UK 2010 Publishing Schedule". Retrieved 2010-09-28.
- "Wired.co.uk talks to Iain M Banks about his latest Culture novel, Surface Detail". Wired. 14 October 2010.)
- Kaveney, Roz (15 October 2010). "Surface Detail, By Iain M Banks". The Independent. Retrieved 20-10-20.
- Mabbott, Alastair (11 October 2010). "Make time and space for the eighth novel in The Culture science fiction series". The Herald. Retrieved 2010-10-20.
- Robin Leggett (17 September 2010). "Surface Detail by Iain M Banks". The Bookbag. Retrieved 2010-10-31.