Hard to think of two novels less alike than Iain M. Banks’ penultimate sci-fi epic Surface Detail and the first in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, All The Pretty Horses. For me they’re linked only by having started both whilst working in Abu Dhabi, and having finished each from a grapevine-sheltered terrace high above Dubrovnik.
Surface Detail is awesome, and serves as a potent reminder of how much of a talent we’ve lost in IMB. Such a clever, complex but action-packed tale: I couldn’t recall a better Banksian space opera. This features the best of his moralistic dark side – fabulously gruesome renderings of virtual hells maintained by otherwise super-advanced futuristic civilisations – and brilliantly fun interplay between primitive humans, advanced pan-humankind, mad aliens and spectacularly-intelligent, ultra-powerful sentient spaceships.
I’m reading McCarthy in order, and All The Pretty Horses has much in common with his earlier books: utterly rooted in wild American landscapes, dominated by lengthy and often lonely journeys, and packed full of pain and discomfort. But unlike its predecessor Blood Meridian, which is utterly extreme in its violence – surreally so – Horses seemed to me warmer and softer, with love between a young man and woman and brotherly love both balancing out the scenes of hardship, murder and privation.