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Literature: Surface Detail
Surface Detail is a 2010 novel of The Culture, set 800 years after Look to Windward (and far after the earlier novels in the series). It tells the story of Lededje Y'breq, an Intagliated slave (covered in tattoos, even on the level of DNA- hence the title) who after being murdered by her master Veppers, is resurrected by the Culture and begins to seek revenge. The story also deals with an online war whose outcome reflects reality that's being fought over the continued existence of a virtual reality Hell in which a copy of an unfortunate person's consciousness endures horrific punishment. The Culture is on the anti-Hell side, but not directly... at least at first...

Surface Detail provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Alliterative Name: Bettlescroy-Bisspe-Blispin, the GFCFian admiral.
  • Back from the Dead
    • Lededje Y'breq. Not a spoiler, it's pretty much the starting point for the book.
    • Zakalwe comes back from the dead over and over during the book; he loses count.
      • The deaths are only simulated, and he's aware of this.
  • Badass Boast: From the The Falling Outside the Usual Moral Constraints through it's avatar Demeisen: "Conscience can be a terrible thing. So I hear. Not if you're something like me of course. I don't give a fuck."
  • Battle Butler: Jasken for Veppers.
  • Blood Knight: The Falling Outside the Usual Moral Constraints. As one character comments the only reason it doesn't employ a tactic which end a particular battle far more quickly is because it's enjoying itself so much.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Jasken is revealed to have been secretly in love with Lededje, but not enough to forsake his duty. Becomes a Bodyguard Betrayal however when Lededje informs him that the powerful alien race that Veppers double-crossed knows about this and will kill him — given that he's already disgusted over how his boss is saving his valuables at the expense of his employees, Jasken takes the flier to rescue them instead, leaving Veppers to Lededje's tender mercies.
  • Continuity Nod: the Sense Amid Madness, Wit Amidst Folly mentions the Sleeper Service at one point.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Veppers, who is kind of like a futuristic, evil(er?) version of your Murdoch or Gates type given an insane amount of power. And he wants more...
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: the Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints against a GFCF flotilla. The GFCFian ship were annihilated without the FOtNMC even breaking a sweat.
  • Distant Finale Not in the novel itself, but it is a Distant Finale/resolution to Use of Weapons.
  • Expendable Clone: Vatueil is duplicated, deleted and re-integrated so many times over the course of the book in virtual reality that even he loses count. Demons in the Pavulean Hell are also mentioned to be all copies of a few sadistic people.
  • Fire and Brimstone Hell... IN VIRTUAL REALITY
  • Hope Spot: Ouch. Very much a plot point in the Fire and Brimstone Hell subplot.
  • Ignorant of Their Own Ignorance: Veppers - CEO of a multiplanetary Mega Corp., owner of hunting estates the size of a small country, schemer, ruthless business mogul, and self-made man - is part of a conspiracy. He's the fall guy. He's so far out of his depth that at one point when he tries to bypass all the machinations and just buy what he wants, an alien outright tells him that all his money is useless in the circles of the Involved, and he still doesn't get it.
  • Jerkass: The Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints straddles the line between this and Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Often between sentences. Examples of his dickery include the outright sadistic usage of one of its avatarsnote  to generally be incredibly rude and foul mouthed to almost everyone. On the other hand, it is capable of acts of disproportionate altruism (which may or may not have ulterior motives attached) and generally treats Lededje well. It's worth remembering that it is one of the Culture's most powerful type of warship, the Abominator class. Being personable is not a high priority.
    • The abused human avatar turns out to have experienced nothing during his period of being controlled by the warship... he had no memory of anything that happened, and his body was fully repaired before return. Basically, the FOtNMC was trolling the other Minds and humans observing it at the time.
  • The Mole: Vatueil/Zakalwe was hired by the pro-Hell side to infiltrate the anti-Hell side and make them lose. Along the way, his outlook changed he decided to genuinely help the anti-Hell side and screwed over his employers
    • Given the Culture's stance on the hells and their knowledge of how he would react, this may have been the Culture's plan all along.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Jasken's attitude toward Veppers.
  • Robotic Psychopath: Like most Culture warships, the Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints falls into this, and might be the most extreme example to date, in that while most of the other warships express their sadism in a Pay Evil unto Evil context, what it does to the poor sucker who foolishly volunteers his body to temporarily take the place of that of Demeisen (one of its robotic avatars)note  was just nasty. On the other hand, the ship later releases his control over the guy's body with it apparently no worse for wear other than having lost weight. When the guy regains control of his body, he discovers the ship has wiped his memories of the experience to his disappointment (The ship reveals later to Lededje that it made point of not leaving him with Self-Serving Fake Memories). Also, this trope comes with elements of Heroic Comedic Sociopath.
  • Space Whale Aesop: Now, readers, don't go and download people's consciousnesses into a virtual Hell after they die!
    • Though this is somewhat more relevant to reality than most examples of this trope, as this is a scenario that a number of real life transhumanists and singularitarians are genuinely concerned about.
  • The Stinger
  • Stock Phrases: The GFCFian admiral has to blow up a friendly ship to cover for a False Flag Operation, so naturally choses one belonging to an officer he dislikes. Moments before his ship is obliterated, the admiral informs him of this fact saying, "This pleases me much more than it will hurt you."
  • Two Aliases, One Character / Tomato Surprise: Vatueil, a high ranked soldier fighting on the anti-Hell side is revealed in The Stinger to be Zakalwe from Use of Weapons.
  • Wham Line: The last word of the book. See Two Aliases, One Character.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Sort of. In the virtual war, you don't die or get injured in reality if that happens online, but you do feel it. The Hell is the same way with the interesting twist that the person might be alive elsewhere while that copy of them is being horrifically tortured, and it doesn't affect the "real" person.


MatterLiterature/The CultureThe Hydrogen Sonata
MatterScience Fiction LiteratureThe Hydrogen Sonata

alternative title(s): Surface Detail
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