Inversions Part Two
Iain M. Banks
Well, I was going to switch gears from Part One and write a conventional review of this particular Culture episode, but then Kamo went hog wild in this insightful post. Now I feel peer pressure to respond. Those jumping into the conversation here would enjoy things more if they, at the very least, read Kamo’s musings. My comments will be both a reaction to them and a continuation of my previous writing. (Spoilers galore though, so maybe best to skip this if one hasn’t read Inversions and plans to soon.)
Of greatest interest to me are the pairs of parallel stories. One set comprises DeWar and Vosill as they attempt to nudge their respective host societies toward The Future. (Or not, in some cases.) The other set traces a pair of Culture denizens as they argue over ethics, then looks at what sort of agents they become for the Culture. (To clarify, I also think that DeWar has gone rogue, but I’m pretty sure he was SC at some point. It’s an open question if he followed Vosill here on his own or they were assigned together. I don’t have a feeling either way and am curious what others think.) I suppose it goes without saying that there are various “inversions” as we muddle along.
In his storytelling, DeWar never says which of the younger pair favors the more cynical, aggressive world view, but I think most would agree that it is DeWar himself. This means that Vosill is the idealist, the one who wants to avoid doing harm for any reason at all, and who carries the banner for naïve hope. Odd then, that many years on, DeWar sits primarily in paralyzed inaction while Vosill carries out a one-woman crusade against cruelty, inequality, and feudalism by, among other things, lying, cheating, and assassinating. It sounds as though DeWar has left a pile of corpses in his wake, but in the text at least, Vosill is by far the more deadly.
She is also far more active, directly challenging the hidebound, lobbying blatantly for progressive causes, and removing the obstacles to a better world by force when necessary. DeWar on the other hand, our erstwhile “gotta break a few eggs” type, seems content to moon about, valiantly protecting a dictator who grows less and less likeable, and pining for a concubine. One could be charitable and suggest that DeWar has hooked his horse to the wrong chariot and is doing what he can by influencing the young prince, but I think that gives him too much credit. From the looks of things, there are plenty of other monarchs out there that need guarding, and plenty of young princes to tell parables to. His inaction is puzzling, especially as I don’t see his relationship with Perrund (the aforementioned concubine) as being fervent enough to keep him around. (At least, not at the beginning of things.)
What messages are we to take from all of this? Is it kosher to wax an occasional noble, if he is sufficiently icky? Is there honor in Duty, no matter the wider context? Should we draw the line before or after raining fire from the skies on backwards societies? I have no idea how to answer these. Banks makes some uncomfortable suggestions in Inversions, indeed any of his books, that force an engaged reader to confront difficult questions.
These are my reactions for now. It’s possible that I will read other posts and be inspired to write more, but for now I may have interrogated things enough. What I really need is another soccer metaphor, but all I can think of right now is coaches from more developed soccer traditions parachuting in to help lesser nations achieve World Cup dreams. If it were Coach Vosill, I wonder if there would be a mysterious trail of dead football officials and aging players in her wake.