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Literature / Transition

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Transition is a novel by Iain Banks, first published in 2009.

It is based on the premise that a virtually infinite number of parallel dimensions do indeed exist. Set between the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the Twin Towers, Transition centres on a shadowy organisation called 'The Concern' whose members can transport their consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting people in other dimensions by ingesting a drug called Septus and thus meddle with the socio-political development of other Earths.

This book provides examples of:

  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The novel has a torturer's POV, in which he describes, among other things, his favorite methods, the importance of simply scaring people into talking, and the need to inflict a minimum amount of pain so that the agency he works for will remain feared.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The Philosopher Wouldn't Hurt a Child. While some of his colleagues are happy to oblige when a child must be tortured to force a parent to talk, he thinks doing so is "both morally objectionable and suspect in principle."
  • The Men in Black: The novel utilises the trope in the form of a faction of L'Expédience, a parallel-world hopping secret service, suborned by Madame d'Ortolan to suppress the search for extraterrestrials across the many Earths. Subverted somewhat in that L'Expédience are given an internal politics and diverging aims.
  • Necessarily Evil: The Philosopher does not enjoy torturing people, but is "not ashamed of it", and would even say he was proud of it. Put simply, he believes "it is something that has to be done, and somebody has to do it"
  • Selective Slaughter: The Philosopher, a torturer, refuses to hurt women or children. He notes that some would claim that it was because he once heard his father raping his mother, but he believes that it's because he's a gentleman.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: A torturer/narrator explains that the worst torture of all is just describing what will happen. Later in the same book, torture fails to work, but only because the character being tortured teleports out of his body first.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: Invoked. A man who frequently travels between universes at one point looks up at the sky when arriving in a new one, searching for zeppelins. As he says, he 'likes it when there's zeppelins'.