Amorphia wandered amongst the dead and dying of Hill 4. The battle had by this time moved on; the few defenders who'd survived and repelled the initial rush had been ordered to pull back just as the next wave of opposing troops had appeared out of the cannon smoke and fallen upon them; they had been slaughtered almost to a man and the victors had swept on to the next redoubt across the shallow valley beyond. Shattered palisades, lines of stakes and bunkers had been chewed up by the initial bombardment and later by the hooves of the cavalry. Bodies lay scattered like twisted, shredded leaves amongst the torn-up grassland and the rich brown-red soil. The blood of men and animals saturated the grass in places, making it thick and glossy, and collected in little hollows like pools of dark ink.I was disappointed with the last Banks noel I revisited, but I very much enjoyed the return journey here. Excession is one of the culture novels in which humans, bloodthirsty aliens, and super-evolved AIs become entangled in a quest to control an artifect which appears to have come from another, far more advanced universe. Somehow I felt that the various plot strands wove together in a very satisfactory way, with the story fundamentally based on sensawunda - the Culture is already massively further evolved than we are; yet it too quakes when confronted with something unimaginably further advanced. The plot appears to move rather slowly, but in fact it's mostly justifiable setup for the dramatic denouement, or else excusable extra colour for the Culture universe. It works rather well for me, and if you don't have it, you can get it here.
Excession won the BSFA Award for 1996, beating that year's Hugo winner, Blue Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson; also Holy Fire, by Bruce Sterling; Interface, by Stephen Bury; The Memory Palace, by Gill Alderman; and The Stone Canal, by Ken MacLeod. I think I have read all except the Alderman, and I think Excession is the most memorable. Apart from Blue Mars, there was no overlap with the Clarke or Tiptree shortlists; those awards were won by The Calcutta Chromosome and The Sparrow/"Mountain Ways" respectively. The Sparrow also won the Clarke and BSFA Awards for the following year, so next up in this series I'll be looking at the joint 1998 Tiptree winners, Black Wine by Candas Jane Dorsey and “Travels With the Snow Queen” by Kelly Link.