Consider Phlebas


Iain M. Banks' Culture cycle has garnered what could be described as a cult following. Especially on the other side of the Atlantic, where Banks is considered by many to be one of the very best and most influential science fiction authors of his era. In an attempt to get more American SFF fans to give the Culture sequence a shot, Orbit has reissued a number of older titles when they published Matter last year.

As members of the Commonwealth, we Canucks have been fortunate enough to have access to every Iain M. Banks title to date. Be that as it may, for some reason I had yet to give this prolific writer a chance. Hence, as the first Culture novel ever published, Consider Phlebas seemed like the perfect starting point.

The Culture and the Idiran Empire are fighting a galaxy-spanning war; the Idirans fighting for their Faith, while the Culture fights for their right to exist. Horza, a mercenary Changer with the ability to alter his appearance, is assigned the mission to retrieve a fugitive Culture Mind by his Idiran superiors. Fleeing from Idiran warships, the powerful AI has taken refuge on Schar's World, one of the Planets of the Dead. With the help of a motley crew of mercenaries, Horza must locate the Mind before the Culture's Special Circumstances agents do.

The worldbuilding is rather impressive, and I reckon it gets all the more so in the subsequent Culture novels. Though there is a lot of information concerning the Idirans' fanatical imperial expansion, I would have liked to learn more about the Culture. Banks' evocative prose creates an imagery that is seldom seen in the genre. The Vavatch Orbital, the Megaships, the General Systems Vehicles, the Command System on Schar's World -- everything comes alive and leaps off the page.

The characterization leaves a bit to be desired, however. While Horza is a fully realized character, I felt that we discovered very little about Perosteck Balveda. And considering the important role she plays during the course of this novel, I feel that we learn next to nothing about the Culture agent. The same could be said of Kraiklyn's band of mercenaries. Other than Yalson, the others were basically extras just filling some space.

The pace is, for the most part, crisp. And yet, the rhythm becomes extremely sluggish in some portions of the books, chief among them The Eaters and A Game of Damage. Though these chapters kill the momentum of the story, the rest of Consider Phlebas is a page-turning space opera.

Regardless of its shortcomings, Iain M. Banks' Consider Phlebas is a novel vast scope and rare imagination. I will definitely read the other Culture titles.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

10 commentaires:

Michael said...

You can safely read Use of Weapons, the best in my opinion, with a brilliant choice of structure. Player of Games and Excession are good too, but avoid Matter, which is a miss in my opinion...

Dave Doyle said...

I enjoyed Consider Phlebas but I felt I really didn't discover much of the Culture.

Use of Weapons actually left me cold.

Player of Games was, to me, the best. Loved how it played out. I devoured it.

Excession was a good read but I found the "email" format of the ship communications a bit off putting.

Adam Whitehead said...

I wouldn't say Banks was a 'cult' author at all. He's a consistent Sunday Times bestseller and has been since the late 1980s, for both his SF and 'mainstream' fiction. He was also Britain's biggest-selling SF author until Peter F. Hamilton overtook him in 2004.

I like CONSIDER PHLEBAS a great deal, but most of the other CULTURE books are better. You're in for a great ride :-)

GP said...

The Game of Damage was my favorite part of the book... However, I do think that Banks focused a bit too much on it in the context of the entire plot.

Cutsnake said...

I have to second the recommendations for Use of Weapons and Player of Games.

My two favourites for the series.

Jamie said...

Er...

"I had yet to give this prolific writer a chance. Hence, as the first Culture novel ever published, Consider Phlebas seemed like the perfect starting point."

"The worldbuilding is rather impressive, and I reckon it gets all the more so in the subsequent Culture novels. "

I don't understand how you know this, if CP is your first Culture book?

Anonymous said...

I give it a try: It's just most likely, as it's the case in most seriese. It appears also to be a natural development that the world-building becomes more complex, since a writer can hardly depend on the same details over several books. And it's often mentioned in random remarks and reviews about later books. So, no mystery.

Anonymous said...

Consider Phlebas did not made me a Bank's fan, Player of Games did.

Use of Weapons is a lot better than Consider Phlebas tho, but not better than POG.

Michael said...

"While Horza is a fully realized character, I felt that we discovered very little about Perosteck Balveda..."

You'll find in the other culture novels that this is done mostly on purpose. CP, if recall, is told mostly from horzas POV, and Horza knows very little about Balveda or the Culture. many/most of the culture novels are like that. Excession is almost entirely told through communication between Minds (ship and habitat AI), and i think feersum endjinn is told by a dyslexic boy, making it quite hard to read.
i think its a great and creative way to tell a story.


And i agree, Player of Games is fantastic. Excession is great. they're all great...

Anup said...

Player of Games was my first and it blew my mind! Use of Weapons was good and so was Algebraist....

Banks is not always consistent but still good...one of the best sci-fi writers out of UK i would say...