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Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas (original 1987; edition 1987)

by Iain M. Banks

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5,473156793 (3.75)1 / 311
Title:Consider Phlebas
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:London : Orbit, 2005, c1987.
Collections:Your library
Tags:science fiction, The Culture

Work details

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)

Recently added byKCV, dalloyd, GregoryRPettit, private library, jrathkey, DericPoulin, dannotdan, marilyn_pierce
  1. 60
    Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (voodoochilli)
    voodoochilli: As good as the Revelation space series, so if you want more check out Banks Culture novels.
  2. 40
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  3. 30
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  4. 20
    The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot (sturlington)
    sturlington: To understand the title allusion.
  5. 10
    Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two vast wars fought between vastly different opponents. A small event in that war, and a protagonist who loses much in his struggle. Nothing else about these novels is terribly similar, but the contrasts are so interesting.
  6. 00
    The Wizards and the Warriors by Hugh Cook (themulhern)
    themulhern: A grim quest where the outcome hinges on the precise timing and nature of events. Much complication and a deal of ambiguity.
  7. 00
    Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson (themulhern)
    themulhern: A war, questions why the war is being fought, and horrible messes resulting from poor or incomplete information.

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English (148)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Finnish (2)  Romanian (1)  Spanish (1)  All (156)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
When Banks died, I was in the process of starting one of my usual re-reads of the Culture novels. I decided it was not the time to start that re-read. I said to myself, “I’ll just wait another couple more years.” It’s now 2017, and I’m not sure I’ll re-read them now in one large gulp. I want to be able to savour the remaining books over time. One of my main attractions to Banks' novels lies in his version of AI. Stephen Hawking and colleagues worry about tooth and claw Darwinian features of AI, that threaten us all. Why not allow for the possibility that a truly superior intelligence would follow its own independent moral code? Banks' machine minds have values and follow courses of action that are far more admirable than what our species can manage.

No longer being able to look forward to a new Iain. M. Banks novel every twenty months or so is a source of great sadness. "Consider Phlebas" was such a dazzling, utterly astonishing tour-de-force, the grandest and saddest of all space operas, which nothing before or since has even come close to. And I can still remember the delight of coming across a 'hard' SF writer whose politics were, for a change, anti-authoritarian.

The concept of The Culture was brilliant, partly because of the wonderful plot opportunities it offered, but also as a wildly optimistic if improbable speculation about how human (and by extension, alien) intelligence might one day be weaned from self-destructive selfishness. Banks' descants on the Culture, its workings and philosophy; they're always intriguing and never preachy. The one question he tended to skirt around was the age-old one of humanity's inherent if occasional will to evil for its own sake: in a perfectly liberal society in which everybody can have almost anything they want, what do you do with somebody who just wants to hurt others? In one of the novels, the question is posed by a new arrival to a Culture planet or orbital, and the answer is something like "they don't get invited to parties very often", which is not good enough...

The Culture is a fascinating fictional presentation of a "post-scarcity" society, and it's to Banks's credit that he explored the implications of that idea intelligently and honestly enough to raise some questions.
If the only way for human beings to experience their full potential is to exploit the services of a technology so advanced that the technology itself is sentient, how is that different from human slavery? it's very noticeable that Banks's Culture characters sometimes tend to act and speak like spoiled aristocrats - and these are some of my favourite characters.

If the answer is that the AIs are so far advanced beyond us in power and intelligence that their apparent services are just trivial (to them) gestures to keep us happy, are we not then the slaves, the happy sheep, who could be discarded by the actual masters at any time?

Is slave/master the only relation possible between sentient beings?

Certainly, I never read the relation of minds and humans as anything other than symbiotic cooperation between equals (different but with the same rights and expectations). In the same way that humans cooperating can achieve great things, minds cooperating (with other minds or with humans) can also achieve more than they would alone.

Finally, and I think this is a point that Banks is making with minds too - if minds are sentient beings with infinitely more power than humans, would it be a bad thing if humans, having created minds, disappeared? I don't think so. I'd weep for the extinction of intelligence in our universe, but not for the extinction (or evolution) of a species to something greater. But then, one of my favourite Banks’ novels was/is ”Excession”, so what do I know.

Some of the other books are also cleverer but “Consider Phlebas” will always be my first and favourite Banks even when I gave it “only” 4 stars when I first read in 1994. It's a noirish take on space opera with enormous vistas, action scenes, dark humour and grim determination. It's like Star Wars for adults. Too much so for Hollywood, but perhaps not for HBO. “Consider Phlebas” knocked me out, slung me over its shoulder and carried me off; by the time I woke up I was hooked.

I like all the novels and love the idea of the Ships who get to name themselves. I always got the sense that the Culture was more like a 'phase' than an 'empire' - bits of it sublime or break away at the edges but there's always new species deciding they quite fancy living that way for a while, so there will always be a Culture or something like it as part of the galactic ecosystem.

God, I miss Banks. I have “The Quarry” but can't bring myself to read it because then there'd be no new ones to look forward to.

After having lost touch with SF for 10 years or more, it was Iain Banks's books that drew me back into it. As I said, I had given up on SF for more than a decade when someone persuaded me to try it, and I was enthralled. It may not be great literature, but it is great fun and better written than most "serious" novels I must plough through. The only SF author I still read at a time when I mainly eschew intentional fiction altogether. Consistently brilliant. His books could sometimes do with pruning these days but I still love The Culture and his ability to tell a tale.

One of the brightest and most original minds in SF; he is sorely missed.

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
1 vote antao | Jul 3, 2017 |
This book gives a glimpse into a world that seems as real as our own. Iain M. Banks makes the Culture and the Shifters and all the other inhabitants of this universe feel rich and diverse. ( )
  simonpratt | Jun 1, 2017 |
UPDATE (9/15) I changed my mind and finished the book today. I'm not changing my rating...without spoilers, I'll just say those last 150 or so pages were annoying and the ending a trifle predictable and unsatisfying. It would have been worse if I had liked the book until then.


I have to set this aside and move on to something else (okay, I already have). I'm almost 300 pages into it and for the last two hundred, it's been a forced read. I stubbornly try to finish books I do not enjoy because I don't like to quit on books, and they might surprise me at the end. For this one, it make take a while for me to find out if it gets any better.

If I had to describe it, I'd probably go with Robert E. Howard meets Michael Bay to go over the script with Larry David - and while I read a few Conans when I was in my late teens/early twenties, I grew out of them a long time ago, plus I never started liking Seinfeld until after it went off the air - and then only in doses. As science fiction, it would get three or four stars for some originality; as a story in general, one or two get taken away - I haven't decided if there's a story with no plot, or a plot with no story.

Maybe I'm unfair, but I've read a lot (and a considerable amount of science fiction) and rarely run into something that I couldn't at least finish, even with an effort. I don't see myself ever reading any of Banks's other books, so I don't see myself missing out by abandoning this one. Perhaps I chose a poor introduction to Banks's work, but I like to start a series at the beginning (I read Dune Messiah at age 11 before I read Dune - obviously, the book confused me until I read it again in the right order). Now back to another series I'm wading through to get to the familiar - Forward the Foundation. Even Asimov taxes my changed tastes, and more's the pity. ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
Well, all the best ingredients of science fiction are here: immense buildings and vehicles, empty planets (or about to be), stranded survivors, weird "natives", pirates, chases, spies, exploration, crazy games...

On the negative side, the rhythm is very irregular, with some moments I couldn't stop reading, while others I was skimming pages without missing much. Still, it is only the first on the series, so I definitely want to give it a shot to the following entry! ( )
  ivan.frade | May 15, 2017 |
CONSIDER PHLEBAS follows Bora Horza Gobuchul, a spy and assassin for the Idirans, who are at war with the Culture. He is sent on a mission to retrieve a lost Mind, an Culture AI, who has landed on one of the forbidden Planets of the Dead. Along the way, he has incredible adventures and narrowly avoids capture by the Culture. Despite all the action-adventure, I would not call this a fun book, but it was a very, very good book.

Unlike most of the books I read, I had a fair amount of preconceptions going into this one, since I’d heard about the Culture for so long (Wikipedia calls it “a post-scarcity semi-anarchist utopia consisting of various humanoid races and managed by very advanced artificial intelligences”). I was expecting a dense hard SF novel with unfathomably alien characters and plot primarily driven by worldbuilding ideas. I was not expecting the poignant character development or the incisive look at the sidelines of war, and those are what made this book great.

Two minor criticisms – one of the chapters has a fair amount of visceral body-horror, which I did not enjoy at all; I wish that Banks had chosen to display the craziness of his universe some other way. I also wish that there was more insight into the Culture, and how it works from the inside, but there are plenty more books in the universe for me to get that. ( )
1 vote kgodey | Apr 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 148 (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 (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hopkinson, RichardCover artistsecondary 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
First words
The ship didn't even have a name. (Prologue)
The level was at his top lip now.
Gimishin Foug, breathless, late as usual, sizeably pregnant, and who just happened to be a great-great-great-great-great-great-grandniece of Perosteck Balveda (as well as a budding poet), arrived on board the General Systems Vehicle an hour after the rest of her family. (Epilogue)
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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)

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