Consider Phlebas

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Consider Phlebas [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Iain M Banks, book 1 in The Culture series.

Banks Consider Phlebas

I had been intending for many years to read Iain M. Banks science fiction series The Culture, of which Consider Phlebas is the first volume. Because of this persistent aspiration, I collected several of the books before even beginning to read.

Considering how lauded The Culture is, I was surprised at the extent to which the book is pretty conventional space opera, but I certainly enjoyed it. The increasingly intelligent handling of interstellar travel in recent decades of sf seems to have left me with an allergy to FTL “jump drives,” although Banks does a little better than pure handwavium for the technology. The plotting and structure are not ordinary, and those who want straightforward adventure with triumphant endings might find this book unpalatable. The worldbuilding is ambitious, and it’s easy to see from just this one (of what I am assured is an extremely varied series) that there will be many interesting environments and large-scale events in these books.

Consider Phlebas is focused on a “short” half-century war between two interstellar powers, the Culture and the Idirans. The chief viewpoint character works as a spy for the Idirans, but there are “State of Play” chapters that offer the Culture perspective on events as well. A documentary conceit to provide greater narrative unity to the text is supplied in an epilogue. . . . . (Hover over to reveal spoiler) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The use of “A.D.” dating in the “historical” appendices is a curious choice. It does demonstrate that the Culture is older than modern terrestrial civilization, and that the events of the book are actually within our historical period although elsewhere in the galaxy. It does not establish what relationship, if any, the “humans” of the Culture have with Earth.

I expect to continue with The Player of Games fairly promptly.