Out of the dozen or so books by Iain (M.) Banks that I have read, Matter is my least favorite, and it still received 4 out of 5 stars.
It took about 70 pages or so to get into the story, but once I did the book was hard to put down. All of the “Culture” books that I have read have an epic story with layers and layers of content and undercurrents of many subjects, some subtle and some not so subtle. Yet, they are still character driven stories with enough advanced and wondrous technology that will satisfy even the most ardent science fiction fan.
The beginning of the book goes into great detail about “shell worlds” an ancient technological device (some questions remain about the purpose for which they were created). Kind of a “species” made hollow planet with different layers (floors), each floor has been settled by a different life form. Some life forms are more advanced than others.
The description of the shell world was so detailed that for a moment I was convinced I could build one or at the least draw up a blueprint to have one built. So much detail made the story drag a bit, but it also gave me a great understanding to the world the characters lived in.
The flow of the writing style in Matter changes throughout the book. There are plenty of detailed descriptions of technologies, species, characters … etc., parts felt like a well written suspense/thriller, and there are a few speeches that felt reminiscent of Shakespeare. I feel that this changing flow will annoy some readers.
I still found this to be a great read, but if you have never read a “Culture” book, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point. The only drawback to “Matter” for me was that the ending didn’t meet my expectations for the usual Banks standard (but it was still excellent). So far, it is the only book by Banks that I figured out the ending before I got there.