Monday, 3 March 2014


One familiar sf scenario is a decades-long interstellar voyage with passengers in suspended animation tended either by robots or by a rotating crew. In one of the chronologically confusing chapter-long flashbacks of Use of Weapons (London, 2013), Iain M Banks relocates his protagonist, Zakalwe, as a passenger and temporary crew member on such a voyage. This is another interesting change of scene but I am having trouble pulling the whole narrative together.

Another crew member tells Zakalwe a story. Because his people discussed the question of the soul so much, a philosopher king ordered a global debate after which he withdrew to think, then published two books, one endlessly repeating, "Souls do exist. Souls do not exist," the other endlessly repeating, "Souls do not exist. Souls do exist." (p. 356)

This might be considered either amusing or profound but I saw it as both wasteful and insulting to religious believers, philosophers and psychologists. Banks could better have spent those two pages summarizing the history of the subject, starting with people inferring a soul from the experience of apparently leaving the body while dreaming. I commend the Buddhist anatta teaching but am interested to hear reasoned expressions of other theories or beliefs.

No comments:

Post a Comment