Literature: Excession

Excession is the fourth Culture novel, written by Iain M. Banks. It concerns the reactions of individuals (mostly Minds) of the Culture (and other interspatial species) to the discovery of an unknown and enigmatic artifact: The Excession.

Excession provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anachronic Order: The book has two plot lines: One running normally* and detailing the reactions to the Excession, and a second that consists of flashbacks about Byr and Dajeil's life.
    *Mostly normally. There are several different plot threads that meet up at or towards the end of the book, but they're only linear with respect to their own plot thread and the eventual merge. All the plot threads have fairly disparate time lines, and successive events on different threads may not be linear. In some cases the second thread presented may have already happened, it just hasn't directly influenced the first thread yet.
  • Appropriated Appellation: The Affront were called as such as criticism of their behavior, but they took it as a compliment and started calling themselves that.
    • At the end of the book, the Excession also announces it is adopting that name.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Subverted. Dajeil has been keeping an unborn baby in suspension for years, and she's the cause of a fair amount of the Sleeper Service's drama.
  • Backup Twin
    • Before it starts a suicidal attack on the hijacked Pittance fleet, the Killing Time asks various ships to accept its mind-state.
    • The Elencher drone Sisela Ytheleus from the beginning downloads its mind-state into its twin as part of Peace Makes Plenty's contingency plan.
  • Badass: To borrow a phrase from another Culture novel, the Killing Time rips through an entire battle fleet like a berserk raptor plunged into a nest of kittens.
  • Big Dumb Object: The titular Excession: it's a large featureless sphere floating in deep space, apparently dangerous, and has about a dozen sorts of physically impossible features (for example, it has mass, but doesn't warp spacetime).
  • Boisterous Bruiser: The Affront are an entire race of them, which naturally causes them some trouble with the Culture.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The Interesting Times Gang. They're all eccentric, but they're not all Eccentric. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Continuity Nod
    • There are plenty of references to the Idiran war.
    • A rather subtle one: In The Player of Games, Yay (who is on an Orbital landscaping committee) expresses her desire to make floating islands on Orbitals. In this novel, Tishlin takes an airship ride among floating islands on an Orbital.
    • A single line appears to reference some rules that were instituted as a result of whatever happened to Azad after the conclusion of The Player of Games:
    Under the terms of the temporary emergencies, allowed subterfuges, post-debacle steering committee report following the Azadian matter...
  • Continuous Decompression: On Pittance.
  • Cool Ship: Most of the characters are ships, but the stand-outs are the Sleeper Service and the Killing Time.
  • Death Seeker: The Killing Time, sort of, after its attempt at Heroic Sacrifice failed.
  • Didn't See That Coming: No-one in the entire galaxy saw the Excession itself coming, and in particular no-one even considered that the Eccentric Sleeper Service was building its own war fleet!
  • Driven to Suicide: Attitude Adjuster, Not Invented Here and the Affronter commander.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The Drone Churt Lyne, who accompanies Ulver Seich on her travels, is mentioned as having been a family friend for a millennia with parts of its personality dating back to ancient household computer programs from 9,000 years ago. The MSV Not Invented Here is also pretty old: Desert-class MSVs were among the original "large self-sustaining" ship designs the Culture came up with two millennia prior to the Idiran War, which itself took place 800 years before the events of Excession.
  • Face Palm: The Fate Amenable to Change, metaphorically.
    If the Fate Amenable to Change had been a human, at this point, it would have looked down, put one hand over its eyes, and shaken its head.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Taken to a mind-bending degree. To get away from its official/unofficial stalker, the Sleeper Service converts all its extra mass into one huge engine — this is a ship with an internal volume of over a hundred thousand cubic kilometers — and reaches somewhere in the vicinity of 230,000 times lightspeed. By the end, the stalker is left asking itself, "Where is it going, Andromeda?!" note 
  • Fate Worse Than Death
    • Creatures genetically altered by the Affront.
      • Not least is that they genetically altered their own females to make sex painful.
    • What Grey Area does to organic creatures it doesn't like. Also crosses over with And I Must Scream.
  • For the Evulz: Affront culture. Every facet. A particularly vile example include the fact that one of the very first things the Affront did when they gained enough knowledge of genetic manipulation was to alter all their females so that they would only feel pain and fear during any vaguely sexual situation.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The Attitude Adjuster.
  • Knight Templar: Grey Area. May cross over with Sociopathic Hero depending on your point of view.
  • Laughably Evil: The Affront, who are so innocently enthusiastic about their bloodthirsty viciousness that most higher civilizations that encounter them can't help but be amused. Not everyone appreciates the joke, though.
  • MacGuffin: The Excession drives about half the plots in the book, despite doing nothing more than sitting there being mysterious.
    • Which is in and of itself fairly impressive when you're dealing with a civilization that is technologically advanced enough that there aren't a whole lot of mysteries left. See Outside-Context Villain below.
  • Macho Masochism: Affronters. Most males lose at least one limb in duels.
  • Mercy Kill: The Affronter Captain that committed suicide in a particularly painful way, rather than live with the shame of defeat, was put out of his misery by the Heavy Messing.
  • Mind Rape: The Grey Area. There is a reason the other Minds call it Meatfucker. Effectors are pretty much this when used as weaponry, which is doing is such a taboo for culture Minds (at least when the victim is a living creature). The Attitude Adjuster kills itself this way, after it realizes it has crossed the Moral Event Horizon and can't live with the fact.
  • More Dakka: Or at least the threat of it, is how the Sleeper Service prevents the impending war between the Culture and the Affront. As well as converting much of its mass to engines, it has also spent its time as an Eccentric constructing more than 80,000 warships. These range from thousands of the smaller Thug and Gangster classes (which are still capable, individually, of killing planets) to 512 Abominator class capital ships (a single one of which curbstomped an entire battle group of warships far more advanced than those possessed by the Affront in milliseconds in Surface Detail).
  • No Punctuation Period: The epilogue message from the Excession.
  • Oh Crap!
    Two hundred and thirty-two thousand times the speed of light. Dear holy fucking shit.
    • And then pretty much everybody when they see what the Sleeper Service has spent the rest of its time doing. See More Dakka above.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: The Sleeper Service; it's an SC ship pretending to be Eccentric.
  • Outside-Context Villain: The Trope Namer based on the Outside Context Problem, of which the Excession itself is a prime example.
    The usual example [of] an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you'd tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative... and you were busy raising temples to yourself and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass... when suddenly a bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you've just been discovered, you're subjects of the Emperor now, he's keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.
  • Planet of Hats: The Affront, an entire race of cheerfully sociopathic Boisterous Bruisers. Deconstructed somewhat, in that they have exactly the sort of international standing one would expect given their behaviour.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: See Planet of Hats and Mercy Kill.
  • Punny Name: While all the Culture Minds have Meaningful Names, they also had double meanings to their names in this novel. Sleeper Service, Killing Time, Grey Area, the list goes on.
  • Really Gets Around: Byr
  • Space Is Cold: Gestra's death.
  • Spikes of Villainy: Affront ships. It's intentional, of course.
  • Techno Babble: A lot. They're Minds. It's expected.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Affront culture. Every single aspect thereof.
  • Torture Technician: Grey Area. It actually carries a huge museum of torture devices, complete with demonstration videos. Its most efficiently painful device? A neural-lace. You know, that one thing that practically everyone in The Culture has.
    • Never mind the library of atrocities committed by various pre-spaceflight races and the Grey Area's penchant for do unto others retributions
  • Was It Really Worth It?: A crucial question.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: What the Attitude Adjuster thought it would be doing.