Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Author||Iain M. Banks|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Complicity (novel)|
It was Banks' second science fiction novel not based upon or set within the Culture universe.
The book is set on a far future Earth where the uploading of mindstates into a world-spanning computer network (known as "the data corpus", "cryptosphere" or simply "crypt") is commonplace, allowing the dead to be easily reincarnated, either physically or virtually in the crypt. By custom, only a limited number of reincarnations of each type (physical and virtual) are allowed.
Humanity has lost much of its technological background, due partly to an exodus by much of the species, and partly to the fact that those who remained (or at least their rulers) are fighting against more advanced technology such as Artificial Intelligence. Much of the story takes place within a giant, decaying structure built to resemble a medieval castle, in which each "room" spans several kilometers horizontally and vertically, and the king's palace occupies one room's chandelier. The castle was built in the distant past as the base of a space elevator. The physical circuitry of the crypt is built into the castle's structure.
The world is in crisis as the solar system is slowly drifting into an interstellar molecular cloud ("the Encroachment"), which will eventually dim the Sun's light sufficiently to end life on Earth. The Diaspora (the long-departed segment of humanity) have left behind a device (the "Fearsome Engine" of the title) to deal with the problem, although no one on Earth knows the nature of the solution. The book follows four characters who become involved in the attempt to activate the device, with the narrative moving among the four (who do not meet until very near the end) in rotation. Their efforts are opposed by agents of the ruling monarch, and by agents of the chaos that has arisen within the crypt as a result of an attack on its physical structure incidental to an ongoing war between the king's faction and a rival clan.
A quarter of the book is told by Bascule the Teller and is written phonetically in the first person. The phonetic transcription and shorthand, also evinced in the novel's title, corresponds to the modern use of text-messaging. No dialect words are used, but there are (inconsistent) hints of a Scottish and a Cockney accent.
The fourth chapter of the book's Part One opens with:
Woak up. Got dresd. Had brekfast. Spoke wif Ergates thi ant who sed itz juss been wurk wurk wurk 4 u lately master Bascule, Y dont u ½ a holiday? & I agreed & that woz how we decided we otter go 2 c Mr Zoliparia in thi I-ball ov thi gargoyle Rosbrith.
Literary significance and criticism
Feersum Endjinn was generally well-received; while it is far from being "hard science fiction", the completeness of the plot and the detailed description of the mega-architecture and the crypt were praised by critics.
Literary critic and historian Ian Duncan has argued that Banks’s ‘fearsome engine’, like his bridge, “is another allegory of the state, except that this apparatus is not just sublime in its dissociation from human accountability – it is omniscient, providential, and even organic.”
- Caroline McCracken-Flesher Scotland as Science Fiction, (Bucknell University Press, 2011), p. 123.
- Culture, Nation, And the New Scottish Parliament (Bucknell University Press, 2007) edited by Caroline McCracken-Flesher, p. 51.