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Notes on Iain Banks’ Transition

September 26th, 2009 · 42 Comments

Iain Banks’ latest novel, Transition, is perhaps his strongest work in recent years, straddling his science fiction persona (Iain M Banks) and his non-genre, non-M persona (Iain Banks). For me, it combined his fantastic world-building imagination that we see in his Culture novels with the more rooted nature of his traditional novels – with a good splash of the mystery and weirdness that characterised The Bridge (another crossover novel that sits among my favourites).

A common complaint of Transition is that it leaves too many unanswered questions. It certainly seems that way, but a closer reading of the novel suggest that answers to most – if not all – of those questions can be uncovered, and it’s quite fun to speculate on them.

Since there isn’t much speculation about the book online yet, I’m starting a resource here where I explore some of the questions raised. Obviously it contains MEGA SPOILERS so if you haven’t read the book, you really should go away, right now.

I’ve tried to root all of these speculations in the text of the book, with relevant quotes. I’d be very happy if anyone with alternative theories contributed in the comments – I’ll then add them to the blog post if appropriate. I intend to keep on updating this post as more and better theories are generated.

So, let’s start:

Who (or what) is Mrs. Mulverhill?

There are several unusual things about Mrs. Mulverhill:

  1. She almost always wears a veil. Even when she isn’t, her eyes are often obscured, e.g. “hair veiling her face.” Why? “Madame d’Ortolan had always assumed this was mere affectation, but perhaps the lady wished to conceal some angle from which she looked less than racially pure, when the race concerned was human. Who knew?”
  2. She never provides a first name.
  3. We get to see her eyes on two occasions. Adrian Cubbish sees “catlike slits for pupils, not round ones,” and Temudjin Oh sees “slitlike pupils in amber irises.”
  4. Adrian Cubbish describes her as an astonishingly good dancer: “…she moved round me, curling and uncurling and rising and falling, circling about me like she was caressing my personal space.”

Let’s face it: Mrs Mulverhill has something to do with cats. She has cat’s eyes, and she dances like a cat. Her clothes often seem catlike (all black, etc) and she occasionally speaks in a ‘purr’. Madame d’Ortolan doesn’t even think she’s fully human. And interestingly, her lack of a first name may then be related to the fact that Madame d’Ortolan’s cats do not have first names either (M. Pamplemousse, and Mme Frenolle). All of this has a bearing on the next question…

Of course, Mrs Mulverhill isn’t actually a cat – she looks like a human. But Adrian Cubbish does find it hard to place her: “The face behind the veil looked Asian, I thought. Maybe Chinese, though less flat than Chinese faces usually are. Sort of triangular. Eyes too big to be Chinese, too. Cheekbones too high as well. Actually, maybe not Asian at all.” Later, he says, “You look a bit alien yourself, Mrs M. No offence.”

Adrian’s difficulty may simply be down to the fact that Mrs Mulverhill comes from another world in which the standard racial types are different. However, there is a tantalising possibility is that she’s from Calbefraques – a world in which the Mongols had a much greater influence over world history, and could conceivably have mixed genes in interesting ways. Does this have any significance? It’s not clear yet.

Are Mrs. Mulverhill and Madame d’Ortolan the same person?

Perhaps – and if they aren’t, they’re certainly related (but not necessarily in a familial sense).

The word ‘Ortolan’ comes from ‘Ortolan Bunting‘, the name of a bird that’s eaten in a rather interesting way:

For centuries, a rite of passage for French gourmets has been the eating of the Ortolan. These tiny birds – captured alive, force-fed, then drowned in Armagnac – were roasted whole and eaten that way, bones and all, while the diner draped his head with a linen napkin to preserve the precious aromas and, some believe, to hide from God. – The Wine Spectator

Draping a linen napkin over your head to hide from God – it’s a bit like wearing a veil, no? And Mrs Mulverhill always wears a veil! Very curious, but not conclusive of any extraordinary relationship. (Thanks to Naomi Alderman for spotting the ‘Ortolan Bunting’ connection!)

But this isn’t the only time veils are referred to in the novel. When Temudjin Oh first meets Mrs Mulverhill (incognito, at the Venice ball as a pirate), he notes a particular painting of a Doge that’s covered by a black veil. Mrs Mulverhill explains:

“He was Doge for a year in the mid thirteen hundreds [...] He’s covered up because he’s in eternal disgrace. He tried to make a coup to sweep away the republic and have himself declared prince.”

“But he was already Doge,” I said.

She shrugged. “A prince or a king would have had more power. Doges were elected. For life, but with many restrictions. They were not allowed to open their own mail. It had first to be read by the censor. Too, they were not allowed to conduct discussions with foreign diplomats alone. A committee was required. They had much power but they were also figureheads.” [...]

“I thought perhaps he was only veiled for the ball,” I said.

She shook her head. “In perpetuity. He was condemned to Damnatio Memoriae. And mutilated, and beheaded, of course.”

“Of course.” I nodded gravely.

She might have stiffened a little. Was I talking to a local?

The story of the Doge almost exactly parallels that of Madame d’Ortolan, who seeks to supplant the Central Council to gain more power, and is ultimately shot in the head – a modern equivalent of beheading. This doesn’t mean Mrs Mulverhill and d’Ortolan are related; Mrs Mulverhill might simply think it’s poetic justice for d’Ortolan to have the same fate as the Doge, but it is curious – as is the use of the veil (incidentally, Banks didn’t make this up – the disgraced Doge, the veil, etc, it’s all true).

What I find most interesting is the astonishing amount of information Mrs Mulverhill knows about Madame d’Ortolan’s origins, history, intentions, and even thought processes. Madame d’Ortolan herself remarks that Mrs Mulverhill is “rapidly approaching the stage where she will know what I intend to do shortly before I do myself.” It’s possible that Mrs Mulverhill simply found out all of this through hard work, but it boggles the mind that anyone could know quite as much as she does about d’Ortolan (and still be alive, that is).

So here’s my theory of how they’re related: Mrs Mulverhill is an older version of Madame d’Ortolan. After d’Ortolan is ‘headshotted’ at the end, she somehow survives and becomes Mrs Mulverhill. In the process of getting a new head  (by flitting to the world of the humanoid cats, I don’t know), she gains her characteristic eyes. I suppose another, more believeable mechanism might relate to the fact that d’Ortolan has cats on the brain and this influenced her post-headshot flit.

Anyway, this new Mrs Mulverhill is filled with remorse at what she’s done, and wants to stop herself, but as we know, time travel isn’t possible. Instead, she finds a lagging world (or worlds) as similar as possible to the one she’s left, and she attempts to stop that world’s version of Madame d’Ortolan. Being a different world though, Mrs Mulverhill can’t be entirely sure of what will happen this time around, which makes things a little more difficult.

Of course, you may not believe any of this speculation. Instead, you’ll just have to read Banks’ own heavy-handed clue right at the start of the book, where the narrator (Temudjin Oh) says “…Mrs Mulverhill herself said that, I think. Or it might have been Madame d’Ortolan – I get the two confused sometimes.”

Why is Calbefraques unique? and ALIENS!?!11

Calbefraques was the ultimate Open world, the mirror image of the numberless perfectly Closed Earths where nobody knew about the many worlds; a place where possibly every single adult soul who walked its surface knew that it was merely one world within an infinitude of worlds, and a nexus at that, a stepping-off point for as much of that infinitude as it was possible to image.

And a world, an Earth that was close to unique. Logically there had to be other versions of this Earth that were close to the Calbefraques that we knew, but we seemed to be unable to access them. It was as though by being the place that could act as a gateway to any other version of Earth, Calbefraques had somehow outpaced all the other versions of itself that would otherwise have existed. It seemed that in the same way that the true consciousness of a transitioner could only be in one world at a time, there could only be one world that was perfectly Open, and that world, that unique Earth was this one, called Calbefraques.

Later on, Mrs Mulverhill says this:

Plus I believe that – at the behest of Madame d’Ortolan – there is something else, some already hidden agenda [The Central Council is] working to – the uniqueness of human intelligent life and the singular nature of Calbefraques itself may well point to the nature of that secret – but I never got close enough to the centre of power to find out.

I find this hard to believe; Mrs Mulverhill almost certainly does know why Calbefraques is unique, and how it’s related to the uniqueness of human (as opposed to non-human) intelligent life. The clues lie in her conversation with Temudjin Oh:

I see consciousness as a matter of focus. It’s like a magnifying glass concentrating light rays on a point on a surface until it bursts into flame – the flame being consciousness. It is the focusing of reality that creates self-awareness [...] There is no intelligence without context [...] Just as a magnifying glass effectively casts a partial shadow around the point of its focus – the debt required to produce the concentration elsewhere – so meaning is sucked out of our surroundings, concentrated in ourselves, in our minds.

This conversation is so important that it’s repeated towards the end of the book, after Temudjin’s first septus-less flit, when his powers are expanding and he apparently flits to another world where he’s having the same conversation again.

So what does it mean? On the surface, Mrs Mulverhill is talking about human consciousness and how it comes into effect. At the same time, though, she’s talking about humanity as a whole – she’s saying that humanity is focusing its collective attention, spread across the many worlds, onto itself. This focus is what results in there being only one Calbefraques – it’s why it’s totally unique, the point of the focus.

But there’s a debt involved, a shadow cast on the surroundings. For humanity, that debt is paid by the rest of the universe, which has any meaning sucked away from it – and by meaning, we’re talking about stuff that’s interesting. Like aliens. And so all the talk of solipsism in the book refers to the fact that human consciousness and attention is required to make them exist.

(this reminds me of Asimov’s The End of Eternity, which has a similar message)

All of this is confirmed by the next two lines:

“I’d have said that we give, even… Even that we radiate, emanate meaning. We ascribe context to external things. Without us they exist, I suppose -”

“Do they?” she murmured.

Clearly Mrs Mulverhill doesn’t think that ‘external things’ exist independent of our observation; that it really does matter that we always look inwardly, depriving the rest of the universe (and aliens!) from existence and meaning. Hence the importance of SETI, which Mrs Mulverhill claims d’Ortolan is trying to shut down. Finally:

“- but we give them names and we see the systems and processes that link them. We contextualise them within their setting. We make them more real by knowning what they mean and represent.”

“Hmm [...] Maybe. [...] But everything requires a leavening. Everything.”

In other words, Mrs Mulverhill believes that humanity needs to observe and attend to the external universe to effectively kickstart it into existence. Once we’ve done that, perhaps it can continue on its own, but our attention and imagination is required.

To return to the subject of Calbefraque’s uniqueness, Mrs Mulverhill says this in her lecture:

The closer you go, the deeper you look and the higher you turn your magnification, the more of the same you see. Only the scale has changed.

It might be useful to see Calbefraques as being the ultimate magnification of humanity’s focus towards itself – it’s just the same, and it’s populated purely by flitters – people who are defined by their selfishness. There can’t be more than one Calbefraques because you can’t zoom in any more (and obviously humanity’s problem is that it isn’t zooming out). Madame d’Ortolan wants to prevent any zooming out, as she says in her final confrontation with Mrs Mulverhill:

…It’s all about power, you fuckwit bitch. Not mine; humanity’s. no diminution, no subjugation, no ‘contextualisation’, no aboriginalisation. [...] [I'm] a human racist, and proud to be so.

Why do Transitionaries need to be confident and selfish?

Mrs Mulverhill says of transitionaries:

We try to choose pragmatic, selfish people for such positions [...] All our best people are highly self-centred. It’s the only thing that holds them together in the chaos.

Transitionaries need to concentrate on themselves and keep their imagination on track, otherwise they might flit to undesirable places. Perhaps this is why Temudjin is such an expert flitter – he starts out being self-centred, which allows him to get started, but then becomes less selfish and thus more able to expand his abilities. d’Ortolan is the opposite – she’s totally selfish, very skilled at what she knows how to do, and nothing else.

Why are the alternate worlds so cliched?

They’re all pretty banal, aren’t they? Post-apocalyptic wastelands, neo-Victorian worlds, dirigibles – we’ve seen it all before. But that’s the point. The reason why Banks has only uses cliched alternate worlds is because they are the only ones that the flitters and humanity can imagine – and so they’re the only ones we see. His claim is that humanity doesn’t have the imagination for anything else – we’re too solipsistic. As Mrs Mulverhill says:

We have access to an infinite number of worlds and have visited some very strange ones. We suspect there are some so strange that we are unable to access them just because of that strangeness: they are unenvisagable, and because we cannot imagine going to them, we cannot go to them. But think how relatively limited is the type of world we do visit. For one thing, it is always and only Earth, as we understand it. Never the next planet further in towards or further out from the sun: Venus or MArs or their equivalents. This Earth is usually about four and a half billion years old in a universe just under fourteen billion years old. Usually, even if it supports no intelligent life, it supports some life. Almost without variance, it exists as  part of a solar system in a galaxy composed of hundreds of millions of other solar systems, in a universe composed on hundreds of millions of other galaxies [...]

…Infinity seems to be failing somehow, wouldn’t you agree? [...] It hasn’t produced any aliens. It has produced only us. A single intelligence species in all the wide universe does not smack of infinity. [...]

…It could simply be due to what the transitioneering theorists call the problem of unenvisionability, as mentioned: we cannot imagine a world that includes aliens – or perhaps, deep down, we don’t want to.

Has Madame d’Ortolan seen or met any aliens?

Probably not. But there is a tantalising possibility in Mrs Mulverhill’s Doge-parable about d’Ortolan, where she says:

A prince or a king would have had more power. Doges were elected. For life, but with many restrictions. They were not allowed to open their own mail. It had first to be read by the censor. Too, they were not allowed to conduct discussions with foreign diplomats alone. A committee was required. They had much power but they were also figureheads.

It is perfectly natural and believeable to think that the references to ‘mail’, ‘censor’ and ‘foreign diplomats’ are perfectly innocent; after all, it’s true. Banks didn’t make up this fact, it actually happened. However, I like the idea that ‘mail’ is actually ’signals from aliens’, ‘foreign diplomats’ are ‘aliens’, etc etc. It’s interesting, at least (although I freely stipulate that it’s probably complete nonsense).

Who is Patient 8262?

Temudjin Oh, of course – we find out at the end.

How does Patient 8262 apparently talk to the other patients?

Either he is mad, or the other patients are. Perhaps there’s a better answer to this, though?

What is the hospital in which Patient 8262 hides?

Given all the strange events in the hospital, you do wonder whether this is actually real or not. Could it all be in Patient 8262’s head, a solipsistic moment? Or is he really hiding from the Concern (but why, if he – Temudjin – is so powerful?)

Why is Patient 8262 violated in the hospital?

Not sure about this one yet…

What is Septus?

It’s a drug, of course! Just like the drugs that Adrian likes to go on about. But it’s about expanding horizons, making you imagine more. It’s not necessary to take it to flit, but it helps.

A septum is “A dividing wall or partition, a general term for such a structure. The term is often used alone to refer to the septal area or to the septum pellucidum.”

Perhaps it breaks down walls – or builds them up.

Why is Mike Esteros important?

Here’s how he feels about his movie idea:

He still believes in it. It’s just a dream, but it’s a dream that could be made real and this is the place where that happens. Your dreams – not just of your idea but of your future self, your fortunes – get turned into reality here. He still loves this place, still believes in it.

In a sense, Mike is a hero; he’s a guy who continues to have a real imagination, to keep his thinking zoomed out and to consider the possibility that other things in the universe might exist and might be made real. He’s incredibly important to the world, partly because he exists across so many of them.

Why does Mrs Mulverhill pay Mike Esteros to look for aliens?

Perhaps just to look for aliens. I find this rather weird though – why not fund someone to start a proper SETI programme? Or is the point that his crazy theory of sightseeing aliens just as possible as anything else, and that if Mike looks, he’ll find something, thus conjuring aliens into existence in full?

Why is Madame d’Ortolan watching eclipses at the end of the book?

I can’t say I understand this yet. Does she expect to find aliens? Does she want to kill them? Does she want to kill Mike Esteros? It seems rather small fry compared to (say) blowing up radio telescopes, which might be more effective, but then we know The Concern is very concerned (sorry) about him because he exists across so many worlds.

What’s the significance of Adrian’s story?

Adrian Cubbish is a man who cares only about himself; he’s a solipsist, and one that readers might be able to relate to (and hate) a little better than d’Ortolan. In a way, he’s a human-sized version of what Banks is suggesting humanity has become – something that is only concerned with itself, rather than what else might surround it.

When Adrian meets Chloe, her rant about her father and his single point of view parallels exactly that of d’Ortolan; it’s not enough that he’s selfish, he is convinced that everyone else is, or at least should be, selfish. On a surface level, Adrian’s story is a criticism of unbridled capitalism; on a general level, it’s a criticism of humanity’s consistent selfishness.

What’s the deal with all this talk about solipsism?

The critical section is described by Patient 8262:

Often, in practice, one would be talking to the solipsist concerned in a sheltered institution or outright lunatic asylum. Why did they appear to be there, with all the restrictions such establishments tended to involved, rather than living some life of maximally efficient hyper-pleasure – a god, a super-heroic master-figure capable of any achievement or state of bliss through the simople act of thinking of it?

How this argument affected theh individual solipsist apparently depended entirely on their degree of self-deception and the history and development of their delusional state, our tutor informed us, but the depressing truth was that it pretty much never resulted in a eureka moment and the solipsist – now happily convinced of the existence of other people – returning to society as a rational and useful part of it. There was inevitably some underlying psychological reason why the individual had retreated to this deceptive bastion of selfish untouchability in the first place, and until that had been successfully address little real progress towards reality was likely.

So – this describes Patient 8262’s journey, and humanity’s.

Tags: book · sf

42 responses so far ↓

  • Naomi Alderman // Sep 26, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Oooh. Nice post. So, hmm, some thoughts sparked by it, in no particular order:

    If human beings create things by paying attention to them (nicely Pullmanesque idea), then is Mulverhill *creating* Mme D’Ortolan by paying her so much attention? Did D’Ortolan create Mulverhill by her fear that someone like her would arise?

    Septus. The septum of course is also the barrier in the nose which is most commonly destroyed by snorting too many drugs. The barrier that destroys barriers? That is itself eventually destroyed?

    Another thought about the Ortolan Bunting and the napkin and the veil. The napkin prevents the diner from looking at the Bunting – similarly d’Ortolan wants to shade her eyes from the world around her, to prevent her from seeing anything outside her narrow barriers. The veil prevents one from being seen: is Mulverhill trying to prevent other people from altering her by observing her?

  • Pablo Jones // Sep 28, 2009 at 4:37 am

    Very enjoyable analysis, thanks! The only bit that seemed out of order to me was Tem killing Adrian. Thoughts?

  • Adrian Hon // Sep 28, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Naomi: I like the septus conjecture – makes a lot of sense, given how much time Adrian talks about snorting cocaine! I also like the idea that Mulverhill is trying to prevent people from altering her; veils are clearly an important thread throughout the book!

    I’m not so sure about the idea of Mulverhill creating Mme d’Ortolan – it seems a bit too far, almost :)

    Pablo: That was my reaction on my initial reading. However, Tem actually says:

    “There was no deer, or fox, or any other form of wildlife involved… [I was there] long enough to unfasten the bastard’s seat belt…”

    Tem didn’t kill Adrian – he killed Patient 8262’s attacker:

    “The police think that probably some animal – deer or fox, most likely – made him swerve, and his hand, blood-slicked, slipped on the wheel. It didn’t help that he hadn’t put his seatbelt on.”

    I find it much more satisfying that Adrian basically killed himself by being so bloody stupid and selfish – he didn’t need any help from Tem in that regard!

  • Naomi Alderman // Sep 30, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Well, the conclusion one would have to draw from those two quotes about the two car crashes is: Tem didn’t kill Adrian, but maybe *someone* did.

  • Doug Pensinger // Oct 17, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    You noted that Oh and patient 8262 were one and the same, I got the idea that all the main male characters (Oh, Kliest, Adrian and 8262) are different versions of the same person. I thought throughout the book that at some point he was going to merge them all.

    Perhaps Patient 8268 is all three men; the sadistic Kleist who is loyal to (the evil) D’Ortilon, Adrian who is loyal only to himself and Oh, the murderer/torturer with a conscience. It’s significant that both Adrian and Kleist are killed by themselves; Kleist by fliting into the body of his own first victim, and Adrian is crushed by a statue of himself.

  • Scott Beeler // Oct 22, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Nice summary of a lot of the questions involved in the book. Some seem maybe a bit far-out for my taste, like D’Ortolan and Mulverhill being the same person, but it’s no fun without some more extreme speculation. I think that Mulverhill has as one of her expanded powers the ability to read people’s minds the way that Oh sort of does towards the end, and that’s how she knows so much about D’Ortolan.

    I think that Robert Charles Wilson’s “Divided by Infinity” makes a great companion piece with _Transition_, on the subject of parallel universes, solipsism, consiousness and what we experience, etc. It’s kind of a reverse, actually — in _Transition_ humanity’s consciousness’s inward focus is restricting them to the more conventional worlds, while DbI theorizes about the more conventional worlds being weeded out and the more unlikely ones remaining.

    Mike Esteros I think is important less because of his technical ability to find aliens (compared to SETI, say) and more because of his unbridled enthusiasm and confidence in it. Possibly he’s more important than other UFO enthusiasts because he’s one of the freakish ability people (Oh, Mulverhill, Bisquitine), though he doesn’t know it, and be able to bring the aliens into existence through his search (handwave a technique — he could “push” his world into a less conventional path, or whatever).

  • Scott Beeler // Oct 22, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    The Patient 8262 sections seem rather mysterious to me. I’m not really sure what the hospital is. At first I thought it was a normal place that Oh or a similar ex-Concern operative was hiding out in. 8262 describes himself as a Concern “fixer/traveler” in Chap 4, talks about his assassinations in Chap 5 (Oh describes the same acts in Chap 13), the Concern and his training there in Chap 6-7.

    Then there’s the strange violation incident and after that none of the discussion of the Concern in 8262’s sections, and in Chap 12 the session with the doctor where 8262’s manipulation of the doll corresponds to effects on the person upstairs. At the time I didn’t know what that was. In retrospect, could Oh have through inaction lost his focus on his presence in this body and become partially or totally that person? Then unconsciously used his ability to manipulate his assaulter, as he does the Concern team towards the end of the book?

    Then there’s the “silent ward” where 8262 finds himself with a bunch of strapped-down unresponsive patients, who at first are stored clinically but later have evidence of family visits etc. This seems obviously like a ward hold the “husks” of a bunch of transitioners (that word is even used by 8262), though it’s possible that’s a red herring. If not, though, is the hospital a Concern front facility? Did they “capture” Oh sometime after the big confrontation with Bisquitine etc with some specialists “guiding” him to flit to that particular body/world where they could keep track of him and other transitioners? And his investigation of the hospital brings him back to his own (Oh’s) consciousness, leading to his escape at the end?

  • Adrian Hon // Oct 31, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I think there’s definitely some questions remaining about 8262, whose identity is left very ambiguous for most of the book. Having said that, I always thought that he was Oh, since you could see Oh’s trajectory through the story (rising up, becoming a wanted man) and it seemed to be similar to Banksie’s usual trick of starting two stories at once that end up being the same one.

    Scott: You aren’t the only person who’s found the Mulverhill=d’Ortolan suggestion a bit far out :) I hadn’t considered the mind-reading idea though, and that’s neat.

    As for 8262, it’s tempting to think that he’s been captured by the Concern and held in the hospital, or he ended up hiding in a place which ended up being rather dangerous. However, I’m not totally convinced by any of them, because the total weirdness of the events that go on in the hospital are difficult to reconcile with these relatively straightforward theories; I’m left with the vaguely unsatisfying conclusion that it’s very much a dreamlike state (which I suppose is a bit like your final suggestion!).

    I’ll have to check out the RCW’s Divided by Infinity!

  • Ian_C // Nov 27, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Too many plot-holes for me. So how did they ‘flit’ to a world with no humans. The probability of Oh flitting into individuals who speak tens of languages every single time he flits doesn’t seem very likely either. Bit rich of patient 8343 complaining about someone putting their finger up his bum when everytime he flits he is basically raping someone elses mind.

  • Doug Pensinger // Dec 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    So regarding the meaning of Calbefraque; Calbe is a town in central Germany but the name comes from an old German word that means to calf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calbe

    Fraque or frack is a mock disease that is used to describe symptoms such as the inability to speak words in a sentence in their right order, switching the first letter of a word for another first letter of a word that comes later in a sentence, and replacing descriptive words with some variation of the word “frack.”http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fraque

    Basically, a place that gives birth to variations of itself. Maybe?

    As far as plot holes go, I prefer a novel that makes me think about what might go in the blanks it creates than one that ties everything in a nice, neat bow.

  • Adrian Hon // Dec 22, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I always thought that Calbefraques must mean *something*, and this interpretation is pretty enticing.

  • Lurky McLurklurk // Jan 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    I’ve just finished the book and I’m very glad to have found this post ‘cos it’s nice to get some external perspectives on it. I was leaning strongly to the idea that Mulverhill and d’Ortolan were the same person throughout reading it, so I’m glad someone agrees. And I like your interpretation of Calbefraques, ‘cos that was one of the loose ends that was bugging me the most. (I suppose I find the idea that the fractal isn’t really a fractal slightly disappointing, but it makes sense in terms of that focus stuff.) I did find myself wondering a bit if the whole multiverse described in the book was in fact part of some much richer situation, and the “aliens” had set it all up in the first place and were coming back and d’Ortolan was trying to prevent that, but that’s probably overreaching. (I was reminded a bit at times of Greg Egan’s Quarantine.)

    On the “How does Patient 8262 apparently talk to the other patients?” side of things, if we take that thread of the plot at face value (which is probably a mistake, because the whole thing feels very much to me like The Bridge), then it could just be him finally becoming properly embedded in that reality and picking up his host body’s languages, even if he doesn’t realise that when he’s coming up with his “gibberish”. The fact that he makes himself understood to doctors as well suggest to me that “well, they’re all mad” doesn’t quite work as an explanation.

    One thing I thought was interesting was the way a lot of the flashbacks switched from first person to third person at somewhere around two-thirds of the way through. Looking back on it, I wonder if that’s a sign of Oh beginning to transcend his self-centred/self-imposed limitations as we see with all the extra abilities he gains.

  • ron // Feb 5, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    i really enjoyed the book and share lots of the questions raised. Why not just put the questions to Ian Banks????

  • Eleutheria // Feb 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Great post (although ortolan=mulverhill is a bit far out and mindreading was the first thing I thought of when I read that theory) and great comments.

    Makes up a lot for my initial empty feeling after finishing the book today.

    My own thinking re Patient 8242 is that he’s simply Oh recuperating in a generic hospital ward after his new powers have emerged:

    - Gibberish: as another guy has mentioned, getting to know his languages again,

    - Mention of “husks”: probably red herring, could also be Oh’s random musings on Concern events bubbling out from other thinking

    - A lot of the more dream-like sequences in the ward I’d attribute to Oh transitioning his consciousness into patients that really aren’t quite “whole” or mentally damaged in some way. To further that point, perhaps there may be something in the “the hospital is a dream” theory in that Oh might be experiencing other people’s hallucinations. Hell, the guy who gets violated may be any one of the patients that Oh has flitted into.

  • Eleutheria // Feb 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    P.S. Mulverton. The theory that she’s some sort of cat alien is intriguing but there’s hardly enough to provide a good foundation. It could be a red herring but as you pointed out, there are enough references to pupils and veils that it should mean *something*.

    Connection between that and Ortolan’s cat fixation. My thinking while reading the book was that Mulverton is the cat (predator) while Ortolan is the bird (caged prey), although what proportions of metaphor and literal I cannot say.

    Temudjin I thought referred to Temujin, which is the real name of Genghis Khan. Conqueror?

    Lastly,
    I do agree that solipsism and selfish people mean that there are not infinite worlds, only infinite predictable worlds. The Concern’s sin is not that they are barring humanity from seeing aliens, or harboring some dark intent or objective.

    The Concern’s sin is that humanity will become ever more selfish; the worlds people can flit to become ever more predictable. Infinity shrinks, the quantum function collapses and at the very end the selfish flitters are reduced to just one universe and that must surely end as well.

    This process is accelerated by power hungry selfish people like Ortolan. People like M Esteros are needed to break the Concern’s spiral of death (without getting blood on his hands) – and then there are the people who need to do the dirty work. Oh.

  • Eleutheria // Feb 10, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    PPS
    One last thought, sorry, occurred to me after I updated my initially very negative review on Goodreads.

    Ortolan is a songbird. Songbirds are caged. If Ortolan (the character) succeeds in bending all of flit-dom to her will, all of humanity will be caged. Doomed to cliche.

    So the cat trying to break open the cage is the heroine, not the villain…

  • Dumb Trevor // Feb 27, 2010 at 7:10 am

    If Mulverhill is an alien, she would be acting in a way that’s very similar to the way Contact agents act on developing worlds in Banks’ Culture novels. Encouraging the natives into developing their society more rapidly, without openly revealing herself as an outsider. How many Culture novels involved a Contact agent knocking off a despot to prod some primitive society forward again? All of them?

    As far Patient 8262 and his violation, did anyone else notice that during his first violation the time jumped from afternoon when the violation started to evening when he shouted for help? And that when he was explaining the attack he didn’t recognize any of the nurses or doctors? And that the doctor handed him a female doll? It sure looked to me like 8262 flitted during or immediately after that attack. And that while he had flitted, his original body went unresponsive and was wheeled into the room with the husks, until he flitted back following the weirdness in the doctor’s office.

  • IFoster // Mar 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    What a great post and series of comments. I’ve been thinking about this book quite a lot since I finished it about a week ago and eventually found the link to this page.

    Here’s my theory: all the possible explanations mentioned on this page are right, despite the fact that many are partially, if not wholly, inconsistent with one another. And I don’t mean that Banks just wanted to leave us guessing and discussing the book’s mysteries because it’s fun. I think they can all be right when you consider the whole foundation of the storyline … i.e., many worlds.

    A theme we all seem to agree upon is the important role that human imagination (outward-thinking imagination) plays in expanding possible universes to which people can flit and even expending the possibilities of alien intelligences. Well, why can’t that be true of us readers as well as the characters? The more possible explanations we imagine, the more universes to which we can travel and the more of our explanations are true … each one true in its own universe. If the potential number of universes is infinite, why can’t Mrs. Mulverhill be a cat-alien in one, and an older Mdm. d’O in another, and a Mongol-bred resident of Calbefraques in still another?

  • Graeme Jones // Mar 8, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Iain Banks always comes up with great names in his books. Any thoughts on how he came up with Mrs. Mulverhill’s name? The components of her name are “mul”, “ver” and “hill”. I’ll take a peek at each in turn below.

    “Mul” is probably derived from the word “mule”, which means a sterile cross between two species (human and cat?). This seems to fit.

    Interestingly, “Muls” are a cunning humanoid warrior-slave race from Dungeons & Dragons. As human/dwarf offspring, muls are smart, agile and very strong. Born into slavery, they typically develop excellent combat skills. Escaped muls are usually on the run from bounty hunters.

    The second component of Mrs. Mulverhill’s name is “ver”, which means “to see” in Spanish, in the literal sense, as in to witness a person, place or thing. According to Wikipedia, anticipating an outcome is one common interpretation of “ver”. Anticipating their moves, Mrs. Mulverhill seems always to be one step ahead of the bounty hunters?

    What about “hill”? It may refer to the unknown… as in the future. Combined with “ver” it could refer to an ability to see the future, which fits with one of the theories above that Mrs. Mulverhill is an older version of Madame d’Ortolan.

    So perhaps Mrs. Mulverhill’s name refers to a humanoid warrior on the run from bounty hunters and who is capable of seeing the future? Thoughts?

  • Remillard // Mar 19, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    RE: Mike Esteros. My interpretation is that Banks is trying to say something about the role of the artist in breaking free of the naval-gazing that humanity is preoccupied with. SF novelists traditionally have attempted to envision the (currently) impossible and relate it to readers.

    Of course, with Mr. Banks saying such things about artists and SF authors in general, that’s a fairly solipsistic thing to do to begin with, so there’s some irony in that interpretation.

  • amindforevervoyaging // May 11, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Great page to come across and some good discussion. Just what the doctor ordered!

    RE: Mike Esteros

    An eclipse is an ordering of gigantic proportions and scale. It is viewable only from particular locations. If a mind, any mind – human or alien – has its attention drawn to interesting events, this should qualify in the scheme of things. And a mind requires events to observe in order to exist as a consciousness, according to the book’s perspective.

    The uniqueness is slightly similar to the plot of the 1989 film ‘Millenium’. Time travellers abduct people in isolated locations who are about to die (passengers on a plane about to crash), replacing them with identical corpses. Unique events.

    Mike is a mind looking to engage other minds. He is an ambassador. He is aiming to make eye contact with a mind outside of the boundaries of the Concern’s worlds and say, “hello, I know you are outside, how are you?” Alien is just something further extended from the sphere of the conceptual edge of the Concern.

    RE: Patient 8262

    Having read the comments here, I have to admit I have a strong thesis for this now but that it is a little embarrassing.

    Aliens? Anal probe. That is the classic violation by an outside conscious entity in all the classic abduction stories.

    Here is what I believe the hospital is, metaphorically, literally and figuratively:

    The hospital is a space outside of the Concern’s sphere of understanding. The patient is confused and dislocated because they are a mind only partially aware of themself. The contact with other patients and the medical staff acts as an allegory to describe the potential dislocation of actually meeting other (alien) minds. Communication is difficult as when any culture clash occurs. And that there is a hierarchy of minds, which brings some sort of order to all minds.

    Imagine Oh is a mind at a stopping station. There are other cultures (races, ie. human) which are just as misbehaved as humans are portrayed in the novel. The administrative mind is an apologist for ‘lesser’ or naughty minds.

    Not unlike how the Culture intervenes with other races, and particularly similar to the hierarchy of species in Banks’ recent novel, ‘Matter’.

    The hospital is the aggragation of minds, brought into meaning by the limited understanding of Oh from his human perspective.

  • Srch // May 27, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Considering close contact was a prerequisite to flit, the “probing” of 8262 might be a concern agent trying to get Oh flitted against his will to somewhere he can be kept, Ie Calbefraque.
    I think it’s likely he got there himself after events in Venice.
    On the mulverhill D’Ortolan side, I’m more keen on Mulverhill being somehow Aline, and being her that has flitted into the assassin that kills Mulverhill on the train. There is one part where “she” is used to desrcibe the assassins point of view.
    I found D’Ortolan’s ending peculiar, after the flitting by the Randomizer you’d espect she’d have ended up in peculiar place, but maybe it’s more about the fact that she’d had her powers taken. Good Read anyhow…

  • David // Jul 22, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    I like the idea that D’Ortolan was sent to see the eclipse by Bisquitine as a sort of irony. Esteros describes the eclipse as being such a powerful, changing force, who knows?

    The only problem I had was flitting in a way- do they inhabit new people when they flit? How would they possibly be able to get to the resort on Mt. Everest then? Also what happens when the transitioner leaves? Kleist makes a reference to husks as well as the bit in the hospital, so who knows.

    Other then that little bit, thought it was wonderful!

  • Freddie // Aug 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Note on “septum/septus”
    not studied my latin for years, but according to wikipedia, septum is from the latin for “something that encloses”. If my memory serves, and it’s a masculine, then that’s the accusative tense, or the noun is the object of a verb.
    On the other hand, sept-us is in the nominative, or the noun is the subject of the verb – the wall is doing something, rather than having something done to it. This is interesting, non?

  • Gedalia // Aug 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Great comments, loved the book but and as a few people have mentioned, I too want to voice my questions regarding plot holes that seem to big to ignore:

    How can the concern say pre D’Ortland claim to be a moral enterprise when as others have stated, when they go to other worlds they effectively kidnap peoples bodies. People with lives, wifes, children etc who either get killed during the transitioners jobs or have their lives effectively ended after being taken over for so long as it appears that some Concern effectively live permanently in other worlds. And when a Concern operative is killed, effectively two people die!

    How can they flit to worlds where there are no humans eg everyone is dead, and how can they possibly take objects with? Clothes or guns. Clothes appearing to be taken nearly each time.

    It seems that many of the Concern were originally from other worlds brought to the Concern world such as Oh and the Philosopher. That would imply they are inhabiting people from the Open World’s bodies…?

    I dont think the “what happens to your original body when you flit” was developed very well. E.g. what happens to it if your “mind” is killed on another Earth or if you are not in your original body and then you flit somewhere else (such as Mulverhill when she took Adrian), wouldnt her body have reverted to the conciousness that belongs to it?

    I think Banks started off with an idea but then didnt develop it fully and ignored his own rules he started with.

    Don’t get me wrong, loved the book, but just disappointed at the lack of cohesion.

  • Boerenkool en Radijs » Blog Archive » iAIN Banks - Transition // Sep 8, 2010 at 12:12 pm

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  • Palmyrah // Sep 16, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Mrs. Mulverhill is Schrödinger’s original cat.

  • Franks // Oct 6, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Mrs Mulverhill is Schrödinger’s cat, trying to see out of the box.

  • EdNotTed // Oct 25, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    A lot of discussion of names etc but no discussion of Aspherje …. and the various ‘inward-looking’ symptoms of someone with mild OCD … and the state Oh leaves his body in when he is on a mission – shuffling uncommunicative. Is he saying that Aspergers Syndrome a form of Autism is the outward sign of a someone who is really operating between worlds?

  • Nick // Nov 21, 2010 at 9:56 am

    One proposition strikes me here: patient 8262 (was that the right number?!) was put in the silent ward while he had flitted. The probing was an attempt to flit him out against his will?

  • Cloned Dodo // Dec 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I was recently at an Iain Banks book talk/signing and got an answer to one of the questions from the man himself. The biggy for me was whether or not Mrs Mulverhill was an alien. “Yes” was the answer. He went on to explain that he wanted to keep it ambiguous, both in the mind of the reader and for himself, as to the specifics, but it was definite in his mind as he was writing it that she was an alien.
    When I then asked about her motives, given that I thought Mme d’Ortolan had a pretty good point comparing aliens discovering Earth to empires discovering new countries and the ensuing genocide that historically entails, he said that the aliens were a force for good, and that the main reason for Mme d’Ortolan holding that opinion so strongly was that she herself was a “fucking evil nutbag”. Tee hee :)

  • pete // Mar 25, 2011 at 12:37 am

    RE: patient 8262

    I had it in my mind throughout that patient 8262 was Oh and that the hospital was his own mind, and that everyone character within the hospital was a version of him (a bit like being John Malkovich). All the husks in the silent room are former versions of himself that he flitted into and that the violation was some kind of guilt we’ve already mentioned how when he flitted into other people it was almost like he raped their minds – i see the violation act as a form of himself raping himself almost as a means of self punishment as he slowly goes crazy. As for a word outside of this, well who knows, the book is centred around solipsism – he is locked within his own mind – does anything else exsist?

  • Prentice Mc // Apr 16, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Banks has a lot of references to Christianity as a force for evil.

    Perhaps Mme d’Ortolan is meant to represent religion (including the religion of money), something that Banks thinks is holding humanity back by keeping its mind closed, convinced that humans are the centre of the universe and unwilling to embrace new horizons.

    Mulverhil represents a great scientific awakening of humankind, where we throw off the shackles of the old ways and embrace a wider understanding of life, the universe and everything…

    Mulverhil appears to wear a veil because we cannot yet comprehend how this looks but notice that she is not wearing a veil in the last scene when she kills d’Ortolan (although she is wearing an oxygen mask).

    I like the idea that Oh is flitting around the hospital – perhaps he’s struggling to control his consciousness in the mind of an insane person. This would make sense as the doctor seemed very confused that he wanted to use a male doll.

    Notice that he was assaulted after taking his drugs, perhaps this was causing him to flit into a female body. I also think there is credence in the idea that all the strange events in the hospital are to do with Oh learning to control his new abilities.

  • Speculator // Oct 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I reckon the incident with Patient 8262 is someone popping a septus suppository up there.

  • Troy // Jan 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I was under the impression that 8262 was infact a Husk dealing with life after being first transitioned into – going from a normal life in construction, to being used as a host, and then upon Oh doing what he need to, waiting, hospitalised and trying to deal with residual memories left behind.

    I vaguely remember a mention of not being able to use the same body twice, but once Oh became superman he could sidestep that? Confused.

    Also, am I the only one who didn’t read Adrian as a villain? I was saddened and surprised by his death, and almost read him as a hero. Does that make me a bad person?

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  • Maddy // Apr 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    I think that the most mysterious happenings were all to do with Patient 8262, but that maybe we were meant to not really ever understand what had happened. Many of the theories here, however, have helped me to read a little further into everything… The idea that he was flitting into different people’s minds is a good one – the part with the doctor and the female doll was particularly confusing, and this seems to tie in. Also, the gibberish – what the Patient comes out with is not recognizable language, and yet the other patients seem to understand him. The strange violation incident is never really explained – but afterwards, he seems to mostly forget about being Temudjin Oh. It only seems strange to me that he seemed in an alright frame of mind in Venice, but then seems to slowly become mad while in the mysterious hospital. This, of course, could be explained away by the mental state of the host he flitted into.

    As for Adrian – I never really saw if as a villain, if not a particularly good person. He was selfish and arrogant, but I certainly never hated him. I found his monologues on drugs very significant in their relation to septus (the name of which I related to the ’septum’ – the wall between the left and right sides of the heart – I wonder at significance of this?)

    I did find the bit about aliens a little underdeveloped, as the book never really explored this, and we never really saw much outcome of this? I thought that the book stopped at a very good place, despite this.

    Other things I thought signicant – a lot of teh juxtapostion between sections and narratives and points of view. Tem’s last part and Adrian’s (very fitting) end were too close together not to relate them. I originally was confused, and thought that Tem had killed Adrian, but then realised that it more probably meant Patient 8262’s assaulter.
    Also, the OCD – I’m not entirely sure how, but this is significant.

    One of the things I particularly liked about the writing of the book was the repeating of earlier pieces of text near the end. It all tied in, yet left so much to the imagination. The change from 1st to 3rd person and the occasional changes yet again and again, I (as did someone else further up the page) found symbolic of the moving on from total selfishness and solipsism, and also perhaps representative of flitting.

    Mrs M? I don’t think that she’s Madame d’O. Sure, she could be an alien – if Banks says so. I don’t think that it’s really significant. If anything, I would think that her unusual features, as described by Adrian, were simply to do with the Calbefraques Mongol-influenced heritage. Tem doesn’t seem to make a huge deal of it, so maybe perhaps quite common where they come from? I’m more interested in what happened to her and Bisquetine, to be honest. Whether she ever sees Tem again.

    I always felt quite bad for The Philosopher/Mr Kleist, in a slightly disgustedly fascinating sort of way. Before it went into more detail about the policeman who felt he needed to be punished (one of the most harrowing parts of the books, actually) I first thought that he might be the man about to torture Tem before he septus-free flits away. I really liked the bit about GF and the sugar cherries, although I always wondered why she had blood on her pencil-sharpener-blades, and why Kleist ever thought it would be a good idea to take one. The bit about his mother and father was also very good.

    I thought that the CTs was very thought-provoking – the point about the Christian religion being strangely prone to terrorism made quite a lot of sense – the crucifixions, the martyrdom, the history of witch-burning, the Original Sin (and hence comfortableness in ‘innocent’ children dying) etc. Only problem is the little commandment that says ‘thou shalt not kill’…

    The part of religion and Madame d’O’s obsession with racial purity was also very thought-provoking…

  • Andrew Robinson // Mar 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Replying to a few earlier comments…

    I don’t think it is a plot hole that Mulverhill and Oh can transition to an uninhabited world, we’re told earlier that transitioning from an airplane runs to a world where no airplane is close enough to provide a host body can leave you naked in mid air. I assume the mechanism is the same as taking an object from one world to another, the host body goes there, instead of just the host consciousness.

    Why does Mulverhill have such powers and know so much, yet only provides a few nudges to Oh and Cubbish, rather than simply killing d’Ortolan and putting things right herself? To me the obvious andswer is that like Dr Vosill in Inversions, she’s from Culture Special Circumstances.

    The big mystery for me is… who is trying to kill 8286? With d’Ortolan gone, the concern has no reason to want him dead, and only Bisquitine and Mulverhill know he was responsbile for the events in Venice, neither of whom have much reason to want him dead, or power to send an assassin.

    I think this plot hole and the seeming non-sequitur of the all powerful Oh becoming the nearly powerless mental patient 8286, have the same answer. I think we need look no further than Steven Grout in Walking On Glass to solve that mystery – Oh, the Concern, Mulverhill and any associated plotholes are all just products of 8286’s possibly deranged mind. 8286 imagines the whole lot… but perhaps like Isis in Whit, discovers at the very end of the book that he actually does posess powers. If so, the only real ‘flits’ in the book are when 8286 shifts to a world where there is an oxygen pipe, and then into the asassin’s mind to kill him.

    It’s interesting to compare the original text with the abridged audio book. As it was (presumably) approved by Banks, it might give clues as to which parts of the text are less important and could be disposed of. Mike Esteros isn’t in the audiobook at all, giving the listener no clue at all as to why the stranded d’Ortolan is going to disappointing eclipses. Cubbish is a more minor character, his other-world trip with Mulverhill and his death are both missed out (a pity, as having him kicked in the balls by Mulverhill’s husk was quite fun). 8286 isn’t molested, and doesn’t the other patients are barely mentioned.

  • Xela // Jul 9, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Some great comments above, they inspired me to re-read the book and I seem to have noticed a few extra things that have not been highlighted yet.

    CHARCTER PARALLELS

    Someone has already posted to note the parallel between Madam Ortolan and Adrian Cubbish. The main similarity being that they are both sociopathically selfish and justify this to themselves by assuming everyone else is too they just haven’t worked it out yet. This is most clearly shown in the rant by the girl at the bar to Cubbish about him reminding her of her dad and the explanation by Mrs Mulverhill to Oh, at the top of Everest, about how Madam Ortolan will play the end game, and hence that Oh must choose a side.

    Around the same place in the book I spotted another parallel – between Oh and Kleist. Neither enjoy the the terrible things they do, but both take pride in being good at them and both justify them as being OK because they are sanctioned by a higher authority for an alleged but not explained greater good. Both are also Madam M’s pets.

    Kleist repeatedly says that his first torture session was wrong because it did not have this sanctioning, but the rest are all fine, although he starts to have his doubts just before Madam Ortolan gets to him.

    Oh refers to it more subtly but the most direct reference is when he is having a flashback about chasing a man through a field of long grass (/rushes) with a cutlass, when he nearly gets killed he wishes he had used a gun instead of a cutlass, but apparently the cutlass was importantly symbolic, he had been told to use it and where would people like he be if they couldn’t claim that they were following orders. He also starts to have doubts and eventlually joins the rebels with Mrs M.

    We see Oh as a hero and Kleist as a villain, but the only real difference is that Oh has the benefit of Mrs M nudging him towards joining the good guys. Kleist was almost reaching his own epiphany when Madam O got to him – presumably she presented him with a new and improved benign higher authority to sanction his evil deeds and he was back to square one, doing whatever evil the Concern tells him is necessary.

    So Oh could well have turned out like Kleist.

    WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE PATIENT? – ACCIDENTAL FLITTING?
    As noted above, there is an inconsistency/plot hole/unclear explanation around what people can bring with them when they flit. E.g. can you bring your own body and clothes, can you flit to a place with no people.

    Madam O and Mrs M often flit into apparently identical bodies and outfits, but sometimes into completely different ones. Normally Mrs M flits into a body with weird eyes (e.g. on top of Everest, near Chernobyl), but not always.

    Perhaps this explains some of the weirdness of Oh as the Patient in the hosptial. A few people have pointed out that when the broad doctor hands him the doll to explain his abuse she seems to think he is a woman. I will add to this that the first time he is abused the abuser seems to be expecting a woman in a night dress and takes a while to realise it is a man in trousers.

    Perhaps when being abused he has transitioned into the bed of a woman patient but taken his body with him, or just plain walked into her bed, and when he is playing dolls with the doctor he is actually in a womans body and doesn’t realise it.

    If, as has been noted above, he is flitting between the minds of a series of mentally deranged people, who are mostly heavily sedated, he could well have limited control or understanding of what he is doing.

    However this is not enough to explain all the weirdness.

    I can just about believe the voodoo doll-suicide bit is Oh inside other peoples heads making them do things, whilst similtaneously talking to the doctor and not realising he is doing it – but this feels like a stretch. The talking gibberish and being understood, and a ward full of husks that then become normal patients still have me baffled.

    IS A PART OF THE STORY MISSING?
    When the Patient is musing on solipsism, he seems to imply a period that is not covered in the book.

    He summarises his memories and mentions being a super asassin, then mentions briefly being “a mover and shaker” before becoming the Patient. This could refer to his escapades in Venice, but all he did here is temporarily confuse some agents so that he could escape – a mover and shaker is normally someone at the top of an organisation directing what it does.

    Could there have been a period when he was at the top of The Concern, before hiding in the hospital?

    Also I say hiding, he may have been sent there against his will, but not, as someone suggested above, by Bisquitine. Mulverhill says she senses Oh flit away before Bisquitine scatters all the agents.

    An obvious thing to say but very sad that we can no longer ask Banks to comment on all this himself.

  • James R // Oct 17, 2013 at 11:35 am

    The significance of the eclipses is the unusual coincidence of the moon being the right size and distance from the earth to almost exactly block the sun, producing the amazing visual displays we see.

    It has been postulated that this may be rare in the universe and would potentially attract alien tourists. Hence why eclipses may be the best places to see aliens.

  • David W // Sep 14, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Very many thanks for this post, and to previous commenters – having just finished the book I’m glad I’m not the only one to have had particular questions, and to have come up with speculations as to their answers!

    Once question which I am intrigued by is the identity of the woman-transitioned-into-a-man who assassinates Mme d’Ortolan at the end of the book. Mrs Mulverhill is an obvious candidate, but if so why did she not dispose of d’O in Venice? Then again, to contradict this, the “Traitor”/”Only to you” exchange suggests that the assassin is someone d’O knows and relied upon, which would fit with the assassin = Mrs M = a “future” version of d’O.

    I also have concerns (ha ha) about the consistency of flitting, with and without Oh’s special powers – flitting within the same world/to a different world, flitting to different people within the “unique” world of Calbefraques (as Oh and d’O do at the ball), Oh’s ability to flit to a Transitioner while blocked in the attack on the Palazzo but then inability to flit otherwise, variations in whether a flitter takes their own body with them or merely flits into other already-present bodies (and if so how they take physical artefacts with them), restrictions on how far geographically you can travel when flitting. Maybe I’m over-analysing this!

    Lastly, as a devotee of the sci-fi books, I was struck by the parallel between Oh’s “X-ray vision” of Venice and Banks’ description of the Culture starships’ perception of the entirely of our 3d universe from their 4d perspective, like we can see both the inside and the outside of a circle on a sheet of paper (a perfect 2d barrier).

    Once again, how sad it is that he cannot answer such questions himself!

  • Pablo // Sep 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I know this thread started six years ago (and a year since the last post) but I just read the book last week. One question I haven’t seen addressed is the ability to flit into another person’s body in the same world. The initial descriptions of flitting are world-to-world, but soon we hear about d’O. and other Concern leaders being allowed to flit into younger bodies. How does that work in the same world? Later we find Oh doing this by accident and it’s a big revelation. Why do the junior Concern characters not discuss this apparent discrepancy in Concern teachings?

    In a similar vein, how can Mrs. M. have her cat eyes in more than one reality? If she were a human who had surgery, they would only show up in her home reality. Even if they were contacts, how would she bring them? Her eyes had that appearance instantly after flitting.

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