Iain M. Banks, Feersum Endjinn, Orbit, 1995.
"Feersum Endjinn? Really? C., you do realise I read it when it was first published and that I still love it as much as on the first day?"
I know, I know... But some of the blog readers were actually born in 1995 and may have missed it. So, dear old hands at scifi, I know, I'm going to kick down an open door.
But this is my love letter to Feersum Endjinn and while I hope it will convince new scifi readers to tackle it, I also hope that old hands at scifi will also share the many reasons of why they love it too.
Feersum Endjinn follows four different characters: an - at first - unnamed woman who wakes up and who seems to be a bit simple; Bascule, a young man whose job is to contact the dead in the crypt, a digital afterlife where dead persons' consciousnesses are transferred; Gadfium, a scientist, who believes there's more to their world than there seems to be; Count Sessine, who dies in the very first pages and who is pursued even in the afterlife.
The story takes place on Earth in the far future, but people live within a huge tower and technology seems to have taken a few step backs when it comes to certain aspects. The planet is under a threat: the Encroachment, an interstellar cloud that comes ever closer and that blots all the stars on its passage.
Iain Banks was one of the best contemporary scifi writer and Feersum Endjin is one of his master pieces, whether it comes to storytelling or to the writing.
The story weaves different interests for different readers: there are mysteries a-plenty, whether it is the conspiracy of which Count Sessine is the victim, or the unknown contact in a tower who warns about the Encroachment. Those mysteries lead to a novel with a sustained rhythm and that will keep you guessing.
It is also very much a scifi novel, with threats both galactic and virtual. The virtual (un)dead world also leads to remarkable creative ideas: the bird world, that creates an eerie sense of menace, the place the story takes place in, or the destiny of humanity in that far future.
We all have reasons to love Feersum Endjinn, reasons that are often very personal and very subjective. My own is: dyslexia for the win! (... In case anyone wonders, yes, it's a very personal and very subjective reason) Feersum Endjinn is the only scifi novel I have ever read with a dyslexic main character. Bascule writes as a dyslexic person without complexes writes. Oh yes, it makes for a challenging read (particularly if English isn't your first language and/or if you have yourself some dyslexia symptoms), on the other hand it will feel so liberating to any dyslexic person. But, it is also very daring and only a writer as confident and established as Banks could try something like that. Nonetheless it's more than just a writing exercise: it makes Bascule's voice truly his own.
The writing, when the story goes to another POV, is as remarkable as anything else Banks as ever written: descriptive without ever being boring, tense, thrilling and slightly humourous when it has to be, and always very evocative.
The characters are some of the finest Banks as ever written, and if you have never read any book by him, let me tell you that there is some competition! Banks had a remarkable gift: he made us care about each and any of them by making them incredibly relatable and so very human, even those you slightly despise, even those whose actions seem at first completely incoherent. All of them seem as complex as any real person.
Feersum Endjinn isn't only a major novel of contemporary scifi, it is also a thrilling and amazingly written story set in an incredibly rich world. If you have never read it, now is the time to catch it up. If you have, feel free to share your love in the comments!
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