I recently finished Surface Detail, a Culture novel from Iain M. Banks – entertaining but not up to his usual high standards.
The overall plot concept had great potential, but I think it suffered poor implementation and editing – in particular it has a couple of seemingly important characters who weren’t really explored in any detail and were mostly irrelevant to the story. Banks also did a bit of a Gemmell – wrapping everything up in the last 5 pages. The anti-hero felt bland and a bit stereotypical of the villains in Culture novels (e.g. Matter, The Player of Games).
The positive was the Culture, we got a quick but interesting look at the 3 specialist branches equivalent to Special Circumstances, and the ships were great – especially the Picket Ship Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints just awesome.