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Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel by Iain M.…

Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (original 1987; edition 1988)

by Iain M. Banks (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,9341711,082 (3.74)1 / 339
Title:Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel
Authors:Iain M. Banks (Author)
Info:Orbit (1988), Edition: New Ed, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:want to read, sci fi, brian evenson recommendation

Work details

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)

Recently added byCaxur, Sorion, JeanIonic, naree, private library, scu83, Fantikvariatet, prometheusng, tonieee
  1. 70
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  3. 40
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  4. 20
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    sturlington: To understand the title allusion.
  5. 00
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English (162)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Finnish (2)  Romanian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (170)
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
Consider Phlebas is the first in Iain M. Banks' Culture series. I had read the second one first (The Player of Games) and loved it. You don't have to read them in order, however I did find this book explained a bit more about the Culture, a humanoid civilization.

While I liked it and I'm glad I read it, I didn't love it. It starts out very fast, with the protagonist Horza looking like he is going to die in a really disgusting way. He gets out of it, and then has several more adventures before he reaches the planet where his ultimate goal is located. And that's when things really slowed down - it took forever to move the plot along at this point. I stayed with it until the end, but I felt frustrated with how slowly it went - it was meant to be exciting with plot twists here and there, but it just dragged.

This was Banks first SF novel, and I did love the second one, and will definitely read more of The Culture. ( )
  LisaMorr | May 24, 2019 |
THE CULTURE: BOOK 1 | Consider Phlebas

The first published Culture novel, the sixth I've read. Here begins my read through the complete Culture cycle in publication order, at whatever pace feels comfortable. A special focus: evidence the Culture is for Banks neither utopia nor dystopia, but a desirable social arrangement tested for rigour and suitability. Banks subjects the Culture to thought experiments for teasing out conceptual weakness and moral liability, such as that of the democratic paradox: the notion democracies cannot successfully be founded and/or defended while adhering to democratic principles such as tolerance, universal inclusion, or constraints upon coercive power.

Phlebas is narrated in 3P omnisicient, employing multiple POV characters with the majority of text devoted to a character antagonistic to the Culture. (Other characters include a Culture agent, a Culture Mind, and a Culture savant; collectively these account for perhaps a tenth of the anti-Culture character's word count).

The title is a clue to this choice of protagonist, and an epigraph reminds the reader of Eliot's lines: "Gentile or Jew ... / Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you." Banks's decision to introduce the Culture through a character actively antagonistic to it was genre-defying and emblematic of his take on space opera.

I read from the first U.S. edition (clothbound), containing useful appendices on the Culture and its history --specifically that of the Culture-Idiran War-- which I chose to read first.


This first installment impresses for how developed is Banks's conception of the populated universe and its various civilizations. Already the reader learns that Culture's Special Circumstances is a specialised unit of Contact, already encounters an Orbital, is presented with a Planet of the Dead, with various classes of ships (notably GSVs and megaships). Evidently Banks did a good amount of world building separate from this novel, the extent of which is hinted at in his 1994 essays, "A Few Notes On The Culture" and "A Few Notes On Marain".

The character of Fal Shilde 'Ngeestra, a Culture Referrer, reveals Banks imagines Minds as hyperfast pattern recognition consciousness; the savant is the same, essentially a "biological AI".


SYNOPSIS | An Idiran mercenary attempts to infiltrate a Dead World in pursuit of a Culture Mind, setting the stage for a small but potentially significant battle in the ongoing Culture-Idiran War. Horza has a history with the Culture's Special Circumstances branch; with administrators of the Dead World; and with Idiran military leaders --not to mention nursing objectives of his own. Predictably, these threads intersect and a lot of people suffer. Uncertain is whether events will influence the larger War or go unnoticed apart from those directly involved.

● Horza's perspective is that Idirans and Culture are primarily different not so much in faith vs non-faith, but in being predicated in organic life vs AI "machines". Interesting then, his blatant hypocrisy committing manslaughter about midway through the book, and again later. Horza's victims on the Vavatch Orbital and End of Invention are not even Culture-bound, were that even offered as rationalization.

● An iconic fear of AI (think Skynet) is voiced here by Horza: eventually Minds will see how irrational and wasteful are humans (or perhaps, how threatening), and "do away with them". Banks effectively treats that view as a bogeyman: notably, neither Culture pan-humans nor Minds mention this concern themselves. An issue that is raised by Culture citizens is that in a post-scarcity society, the key concern is "making meaning from life". This is as true for Minds as it is for pan-humans.

● Banks does like to bodily torture his characters, a theme found in both his SF and his literary fiction. It occurs here throughout, Horza especially but other characters are made to endure (and at times, fail to endure) a wide variety of extreme duress. ( )
5 vote elenchus | Apr 3, 2019 |
Its an Iain M Banks novel rather than an Iain Banks novel and so it is one of his science fiction novels. In fact it was his first published science fiction novel dating from 1987 and the first in his Culture series. It is in the sub genre of Space Opera in that the whole galaxy is background to the story of Bora Horza Gobuchul. Far in the future the humanoids of the Culture are at war with the Idirans described as three-strides-tall-monsters. The Culture have developed machinery/robotics that allows their humanoids to enjoy a more hedonistic lifestyle while the Idirans with their god fearing culture are intent on dominating the galaxy. Bora is an agent of the Idirans because he prefers the God folk monsters rather than the machine dominated lifeless Culture. The novel opens with Bora a prisoner of the Gerontics who are part of the Cultures sphere of influence. Bora is a changer in that over a period of time he can adapt to resemble a humanoid which makes him an excellent assassin. He escapes from the Gerontics and embarks on a series of adventures around the galaxy as an agent of the Indirans.

The novel is loosely held together with Bora’s quest to locate a Mind; an advanced piece of robotic machinery developed by the Culture which has escaped from a battle with the Idirans and is hiding in a tunnel network on one of the dead planets Schar’s world. Bora manages to infiltrate a gang of mercenaries and the second half of the novel takes place in the claustrophobic tunnels of Schar’s world where the team and a captured Culture agent do battle with an elite vanguard of Idirans. The tunnel network with decommissioned trains and impossible odds provides an atmospheric backdrop to the climax of the book.

Banks is at his best in this novel when he creates a scenario where he can unleash some fast paced thriller writing against an imaginative background. The gruesome goings on on the island of Fwi-song or the ingenious drug enhanced game of Damage on Vavatch Orbital on the eve of its destruction and finally in the tunnels of Schar’s world, in each of these stories Bora battles his way through the limits of his physical capabilities in his single minded quest to win and survive. However it is Bank’s ability to carry the reader along with his visualisation of his fantasy environments and his portrayal of his characters that are deep enough for them to emerge from the two dimensional. It is adventure rather than hard science and episodic rather than continuous, but it does have that sense of wonder during its best passages that make it an enjoyable science fiction read which I rate at 3.5 stars. ( )
3 vote baswood | Jan 31, 2019 |
This book is an early example of space opera revival in the 1980s. as one critic correctly pointed that Ian Banks takes science fiction as a genre and emphasizes fiction part, not science as his ‘more serious’ colleagues do. The resulting universe has space pirates, planet destroying weapons, fights with lasers and personal hyperspace jump engines – the stuff non-SF reading public that watched Star Wars thinks the SF is about (it is not. Seriously)
The first volume of acclaimed Culture series follows adventures of a humanoid Changer, a specie constructed in some dark past of forgotten wars for infiltration and sabotage, now widely despised and sometimes hunted down (because who wants to be replaced by a doppelganger?) He works for tri-symmetric aliens called Idirians, who are in war with humanoid/AI socio-anarchists called Culture.
His adventures are fast-paced and to some extent remind me more not about other sci-fi but old YA adventure books about brave explorers. It has its share of laughs as well as some serious stuff. It is interesting that I increased my opinion about the book after I finished the main novels and read brief appendices, which actually make the text deeper and more serious.
Not exactly my kind of SF but I enjoyed it nevertheless and plan to try other volumes in the future
( )
  Oleksandr_Zholud | Jan 9, 2019 |
3.5 ( )
  alpha.trece | Dec 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
The choice of name was definitely not an attempt to gain literary credentials or he would have ditched the ‘camp aliens and laser blasters.’ He has acknowledged the similarities to the poem in that the main character in Consider Phlebas is drowning and later undergoes a ’sea-change’ – this being a motif running through The Waste Land – but that is far as it goes.
But there are a number of parallels between the two works, whether deliberate or not on Iain’s part. To prove my point I will take a brief look at Consider Phlebas and then at The Waste Land, followed by examples of how the latter informs the former.
added by elenchus | editJohn Black blog, John Black (Oct 4, 2012)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collon, HélèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hopkinson, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kenny, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salwowski, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Youll,PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Idolatry is worse than carnage."

The Koran, 2:190
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

T. S. Eliot,
'The Waste Land', IV
Persecution is worse than carnage.
The Koran, 2: 191
to the memory of Bill Hunt
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The ship didn't even have a name.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 031600538X, Paperback)

"Dazzlingly original." -- Daily Mail
"Gripping, touching and funny." -- TLS

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender. Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction. Consider Phlebas - a space opera of stunning power and awesome imagination.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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