Iain M. Banks Inversions

ISBN 13: 9781857237634

Inversions

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9781857237634: Inversions

IIn the winter palace, the King's new physician has more enemies than she at first realises. But then she also has more remedies to hand than those who wish her ill can know about.In another palace across the mountains, in the service of the regicidal Protector General, the chief bodyguard, too, has his enemies. But his enemies strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more traditional.Spiralling round a central core of secrecy, deceit, love and betrayal, INVERSIONS is a spectacular work of science fiction, brilliantly told and wildly imaginative, from an author who has set genre fiction alight.

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About the Author:

Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. He has since gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: The Doctor

Master, it was in the evening of the third day of the southern planting season that the questioner's assistant came for the Doctor to take her to the hidden chamber, where the chief torturer awaited.

I was sitting in the living room of the Doctor's apartments using a pestle and mortar to grind some ingredients for one of the Doctor's potions. Concentrating on this, it took me a moment or two fully to collect my wits when I heard the loud and aggressive knocking at the door, and I upset a small censer on my way to the door. This was the cause both of the delay in opening the door and any curses which Unoure, the questioner's assistant, may have heard. These swear-words were not directed at him, neither was I asleep or even remotely groggy, as I trust my good Master will believe, no matter what the fellow Unoure -- a shifty and unreliable person, by all accounts -- may say.

The Doctor was in her study, as was usual at that time in the evening. I entered the Doctor's workshop, where she keeps the two great cabinets containing the powders, creams, ointments, draughts and various instruments that are the stock of her trade as well as the pair of tables which support a variety of burners, stoves, retorts and flasks. Occasionally she treats patients in here too, when it becomes her surgery. While the unpleasant-smelling Unoure waited in the living room, wiping his nose on his already filthy sleeve and peering round with the look of one choosing what to steal, I went through the workshop and tapped at the door to the study which also serves as her bedroom.

"Oelph?" the Doctor asked.

"Yes, mistress."

"Come in."

I heard the quiet thud of a heavy book being closed, and smiled to myself.

The Doctor's study was dark and smelled of the sweet istra flower whose leaves she habitually burned in roof-hung censers. I felt my way through the gloom. Of course I know the arrangement of the Doctor's study intimately -- better than she might imagine, thanks to the inspired foresight and judicious cunning of my Master -- but the Doctor is prone to leaving chairs, stools and shelf-steps lying where one might walk, and accordingly I had to feel my way across the room to where a small candle flame indicated her presence, sitting at her desk in front of a heavily curtained window. She sat upright in her chair, stretching her back and rubbing her eyes. The hand-thick, fore-arm-square bulk of her journal lay on the desk in front of her. The great book was closed and locked, but even in that cave-darkness I noticed that the little chain on the hasp was swinging to and fro. A pen stood in the ink well, whose cap was open. The Doctor yawned and adjusted the fine chain round her neck which holds the key for the journal.

My Master knows from my many previous reports that I believe the Doctor may be writing an account of her experiences here in Haspide to the people of her homeland in Drezen.

The Doctor obviously wishes to keep her writings secret. However, sometimes she forgets that I am in the room, usually when she has set me the task of tracking down some reference in one of the books in her extravagantly endowed library and I have been silently doing so for some time. From the little that I have been able to glimpse of her writings on such occasions I have determined that when she writes in her journal she does not always use Haspidian or Imperial -- though there are passages in both -- but sometimes uses an alphabet I have never seen before.

I believe my Master has thought of taking steps to check with other natives of Drezen regarding whether, in such instances, the Doctor writes in Drezeni or not, and to this end I am attempting to commit to memory as much as I can of the Doctor's relevant journal writings whenever I can. On this occasion, however, I was unable to gain a view of the pages she had surely been working on.

It is still my wish to be able to serve my Master better in this regard and I would respectfully again submit that the temporary removal of her journal would allow a skilled locksmith to open the journal without damaging it and a better copy of her secret writings to be taken, so allowing the matter to be settled. This could easily be done when the Doctor is elsewhere in the palace or better still elsewhere in the city, or even when she is taking one of her frequent baths, which tend to be prolonged (it was during one of her baths that I procured for my Master one of the Doctor's scalpels from her medicine bag, which has now been delivered. I would add that I was careful to do this immediately after a visit to the Poor Hospital, so that someone there would be suspected). However, I do of course bow to my Master's superior judgment in this regard.

The Doctor frowned at me. "You're shaking," she said. And indeed I was, for the sudden appearance of the torturer's assistant had been undeniably unsettling. The Doctor glanced past me towards the door to the surgery, which I had left open so that Unoure might be able to hear our voices and so perhaps be dissuaded from any mischief he might be contemplating. "Who's that?" she asked.

"Who's what, mistress?" I asked, watching her close the cap of the ink well.

"I heard somebody cough."

"Oh, that is Unoure, the questioner's assistant, mistress. He's come to fetch you."

"To go where?"

"To the hidden chamber. Master Nolieti has sent for you."

She looked at me without speaking for a moment. "The chief torturer," she said evenly, and nodded. "Am I in trouble, Oelph?" she asked, laying one arm across the thick hide cover of her journal, as if looking to provide, or gain, protection.

"Oh no," I told her. "You're to bring your bag. And medicines." I glanced round at the door to the surgery, edged with light from the living room. A cough came from that direction, a cough that sounded like the sort of cough one makes when one wants to remind somebody that one is waiting impatiently. "I think it's urgent," I whispered.

"Hmm. Do you think chief torturer Nolieti has a cold?" the Doctor asked, rising from her chair and pulling on her long jacket, which had been hanging on the back of the seat.

I helped her on with her black jacket. "No, mistress, I think there is probably somebody being put to the question who is, umm, unwell."

"I see," she said, stamping her feet into her boots and then straightening. I was struck again by the Doctor's physical presence, as I often am. She is tall for a woman, though not exceptionally so, and while for a female she is broad at the shoulder I have seen fish-wives and net-women who look more powerful. No, what seems most singular about her, I think, is her carriage, the way she comports herself.

I have been afforded tantalising half-glimpses of her -- after one of her many baths -- in a thin shift with the light behind her, stepping in a coil of powdered, scented air from one room to another, her arms raised to secure a towel about her long, damp red hair, and I have watched her during grand court occasions when she has worn a formal gown and danced as lightly and delicately -- and with as demure an expression -- as any expensively tutored season-maiden, and I freely confess that I have found myself drawn to her in a physical sense just as any man (youthful or not) might be to a woman of such healthy and generous good looks. Yet at the same time there is something about her deportment which I -- and I suspect most other males -- find off-putting, and even slightly threatening. A certain immodest forthrightness in her bearing is the cause of this, perhaps, plus the suspicion that while she pays flawless lip service to the facts of life which dictate the accepted and patent preeminence of the male, she does so with a sort of unwarranted humour, producing in us males the unsettlingly contrary feeling that she is indulging us.

The Doctor leaned over the desk and opened the curtains and the shutters to the mid-eve Seigen glow. In the faint wash of light from the windows I noticed the small plate of biscuits and cheese at the edge of the Doctor's desk, on the far side of the journal. Her old, battered dagger lay also on the plate, its dull edges smeared with grease.

She picked up the knife, licked its blade and then, after smacking her lips as she gave it a final wipe on her kerchief, slipped the dagger into the top of her right boot. "Come on," she said, "mustn't keep the chief torturer waiting."


"Is this really necessary?" the Doctor asked, looking at the blindfold held in questioner's assistant Unoure's grubby hands. He wore a long butcher's apron of blood-stained hide over his filthy shirt and loose, greasy-looking trousers. The black blindfold had been produced from a long pocket in the leather apron.

Unoure grinned, displaying a miscellany of diseased, discoloured teeth and dark gaps where teeth ought to have been. The Doctor winced. Her own teeth are so even that the first time I saw them I naturally assumed they were a particularly fine false set.

"Rules," Unoure said, looking at the Doctor's chest. She drew her long jacket closed across her shirt. "You're a foreigner," he told her.

The Doctor sighed, glancing at me.

"A foreigner," I told Unoure forcibly, "who holds the King's life in her hands almost every day."

"Doesn't matter," the fellow said, shrugging. He sniffed and went to wipe his nose with the blindfold, then looked at the expression on the Doctor's face and changed his mind, using his sleeve again instead. "That's the orders. Got to hurry," he said, glancing at the doors.

We were at the entrance to the palace's lower levels. The corridor behind us led off from the little-used passageway beyond the west-wing kitchens and the wine cellars. It was quite dark. A narrow circular light-well overhead cast a dusty sheen of slatey light over us and the tall, rusted metal doors, while a couple of candles burned dimly further down the corridor.

"Very well," the Doctor said. She leaned over a little and made a show of inspecting the blindfold and Unoure's hands. "But I'm not wearing that, and you're not tying it." She turned to me and pulled a fresh kerchief from a pocket in her coat. "Here," she said.

"But -- " Unoure said, then jumped as a bell clanged somewhere beyond the flaking brown doors. He turned away, stuffing the blindfold into his apron, cursing.

I tied the scented kerchief across the Doctor's eyes while Unoure unlocked the doors. I carried the Doctor's bag with one hand and with my other hand led her into the corridor beyond the doors and down the many twisting steps and further doors and passageways to the hidden chamber where Master Nolieti waited. Halfway there, the bell rang again from somewhere ahead of us, and I felt the Doctor jump, and her hand become damp. I confess my own nerves were not entirely settled.

We entered the hidden chamber from a low doorway we each had to stoop under (I placed my hand on the Doctor's head to lower her head. Her hair felt sleek and smooth). The place smelled of something sharp and noxious, and of burned flesh. My breathing seemed to be quite beyond my control, the odours forcing their way into my nostrils and down into my lungs.

The tall, wide space was lit by a motley collection of ancient oil lamps which threw a sickly blue-green glow over a variety of vats, tubs, tables and other instruments and containers -- some in human shape -- none of which I cared to inspect too closely, though all of them attracted my wide-open eyes like suns attract flowers. Additional light came from a tall brazier positioned underneath a hanging cylindrical chimney. The brazier stood by a chair made from hoops of iron which entirely enclosed a pale, thin and naked man, who appeared to be unconscious. The entire frame of this chair had been swivelled over on an outer cradle so that the man appeared caught in the act of performing a forward somersault, resting on his knees in mid-air, his back parallel with the grid of a broad light-well grille above.

The chief torturer Nolieti stood between this apparatus and a broad workbench covered with various metal bowls, jars and bottles and a collection of instruments that might have originated in the workplaces of a mason, a carpenter, a butcher and a surgeon. Nolieti was shaking his broad, scarred grey head. His rough and sinewy hands were on his hips and his glare was fastened on the withered form of the encaged man. Below the metal contraption enclosing the unfortunate fellow stood a broad square tray of stone with a drain hole at one corner. Dark fluid like blood had splattered there. Long white shapes in the darkness might have been teeth.

Nolieti turned round when he heard us approach. "About fucking time," he spat, fixing his stare on first me, then the Doctor and then Unoure (who, I noticed, as the Doctor stuffed her kerchief back into a pocket in her jacket, was making a show of folding the black blindfold he had been told to use on her).

"My fault," the Doctor said in a matter-of-fact manner, stepping past Nolieti. She bent down at the man's rear. She grimaced, nose wrinkling, then came to the side of the apparatus and with one hand on the iron hoops of the frame-chair brought it squeaking and complaining round until the man was in a more conventional sitting position. The fellow looked in a terrible state. His face was grey, his skin was burned in places, and his mouth and jaw had collapsed. Little rivulets of blood had dried under each of his ears. The Doctor put her hand through the iron hoops and tried to open one of the man's eyes. He made a terrible, low groaning sound. There was a sort of sucking, tearing noise and the man gave a plaintive moan like a kind of distant scream before settling into a ragged, rhythmic, bubbling noise that might have been breathing. The Doctor bent forward to peer into the man's face and I heard her give a small gasp.

Nolieti snorted. "Looking for these?" he asked the Doctor, and flourished a small bowl at her.

The Doctor barely glanced at the bowl, but smiled thinly at the torturer. She rotated the iron chair to its previous position and went back to look at the caged man's rear. She pulled away some blood-soaked rags and gave another grimace. I thanked the gods that he was pointing away from me and prayed that whatever the Doctor might have to do would not require my assistance.

"What seems to be the problem?" the Doctor asked Nolieti, who seemed momentarily nonplussed.

"Well," the chief torturer said after a pause. "He won't stop bleeding out his arse, will he?"

The Doctor nodded. "You must have let your pokers get too cold," she said casually, squatting and opening her bag and laying it by the side of the stone drain-tray.

Nolieti went to the Doctor's side and bent down over her. "How it happened isn't any of your fucking business, woman," he said into her ear. "Your business is to get this fucker well enough to be questioned so he can tell us what the King needs to know."

"Does the King know?" the Doctor asked, looking up, an expression of innocent interest on her face. "Did he order this? Does he even know of the existence of this unfo...

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Descripción Little, Brown Book Group, United Kingdom, 1999. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Repr.. Language: English . Brand New Book. IIn the winter palace, the King s new physician has more enemies than she at first realises. But then she also has more remedies to hand than those who wish her ill can know about.In another palace across the mountains, in the service of the regicidal Protector General, the chief bodyguard, too, has his enemies. But his enemies strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more traditional.Spiralling round a central core of secrecy, deceit, love and betrayal, INVERSIONS is a spectacular work of science fiction, brilliantly told and wildly imaginative, from an author who has set genre fiction alight. Nº de ref. de la librería AA29781857237634

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