Transition by Iain Banks


Transition is only the second book by Iain Banks that I have read, the first being The Wasp Factory (one of my favourite reads) back when I was a teenager. As Bank’s final book before his death last year, Transition received a lot of media attention and was described as a cross between Banks and Iain M. Banks (the name he used for his Sci-Fi works).

As The Wasp Factory was my first introduction to Banks – as well the first book Banks published – I thought it would be fitting and rather poetic to read Transition as well.

The story is narrated through a handful of mysterious characters, who’s identities are slowly revealed as the story develops. I don’t mind this style of writing – but I think it has to be done with cleverness and precision. For me, Banks does well to attract initial attention and pull you in as a reader, but fails to keep the reader engaged throughout the story.

I found it really frustrating, because the story had so much potential. Set in a world where the existence of parallel universes is not only known, but where specially trained Transitioners are also able to ‘flit’ between these worlds, Transition reminded me of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (another favourite of mine). However, I found myself disappointed.

For much of the book, nothing actually happens. There’s the disturbing story of  The Philosopher, who brutally murdered his girlfriend’s abusive father before making a living as a professional a  torturer – which makes for intense, enthralling and disgusting reading all at once – but the rest of the narration is plain boring. As I progressed I got the feeling that Banks was building up to a poignant moment, but with only a handful of pages left to read I began to worry – surely there wasn’t enough pages left for this ‘big ending’ that the story was leading me to expect? Nothing’s really happend yet? It’s just all been back-story?

And true enough, I found the ending of the book dissatisfying. Certainly clever, but lacking the gusto that it really needed. It felt almost like Banks had gave up and lost interest in his own creation, and just thought “screw it”.

That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that the ending was so freaking cool. Basically (spoiler alert), the highly-secretive organisation known as The Concern (who are in charge of all ‘fliting’ and observe and keep order of the parallel worlds), have been abusing their power and knowledge of the numerous parallel universes to actively prevent the possibility of Alien/UFO contact. Why? That’s the annoying part. We don’t know, we aren’t told anything more than what I’ve just told you, which just seems like a huge wasted potential if you ask me.

And yet, I think I’m in the minority with my opinions of Transition. It’s received a bunch of amazing reviews, and while many admit it’s not Bank’s best work they all still sing it’s praises. With the risk of being heavily criticised, I can’t help but feel like because it’s Banks last novel before his unexpected passing, it’s been over-hyped.

2 Stars (2 / 5)

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