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Consider Phlebas (Culture) by Iain M. Banks
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Consider Phlebas (Culture) (original 1987; edition 2008)

by Iain M. Banks

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,624None1,028 (3.78)1 / 257
Member:DidIReallyReadThat
Title:Consider Phlebas (Culture)
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (2008), Paperback, 544 pages
Collections:Read in 2012
Rating:*
Tags:Science Fiction

Work details

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (1987)

1987 (12) 20th century (18) aliens (17) artificial intelligence (24) British (21) culture (130) culture series (14) ebook (44) fantasy (12) far future (14) fiction (388) goodreads (12) Iain M. Banks (21) Kindle (18) novel (67) own (15) owned (12) read (80) science fiction (1,018) Scottish (17) series (29) sf (245) sff (43) space (16) space opera (174) speculative fiction (20) The Culture (158) to-read (96) unread (35) war (32)
  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
    The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (EatSleepChuck)
  3. 30
    Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds (nik.o)
  4. 20
    The Waste Land and Other Poems by T. S. Eliot (sturlington)
    sturlington: To understand the title allusion.
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English (122)  Italian (2)  Romanian (1)  French (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (127)
Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
I saw this on the shelves of my local Oxfam shop and thinking how wonderful I had found so many of Banks's 'conventional' (i.e. not science fiction) books, and also remembering my own fondness for classic sci-fi as a youth, I snatched this up with great glee.

Sadly the glee evaporated very quickly. This was not the book for me. I found it totally impenetrable, and I am utterly bemused that the author of a novel simultaneously as enchanting, amusing, sensitive and mysterious as 'The Crow Road' could also have written this.

I have decided to re-read an old favourite by P G Wodehouse next to cleanse my palette. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Apr 7, 2014 |
I read this book first on release, and I was shocked, on picking it up again, to see that it is now 25 years old. But I wanted to re-read the Culture novels in light of Ian Banks' appallingly early death. I'm pleased I have started down this road.

This was Banks' first sf novel, and indeed is based around a novel he wrote quite some time earlier. And yet there is so much of the Culture already worked out but unstated in the book. The very first line made my jaw drop open when I re-read it: "The ship didn't even have a name." It meant little to me when I read this as a new book from a fairly new writer: but now, knowing what we do about Culture ships, the powerful machine intelligences that run them, and the utterly gonzo names ships choose for themselves, that sentence becomes a chilling statement showing that the situation is desperate.

We are rapidly thrust into an interstellar war, and again we are somewhat confounded, because the story is told from the point of view of a character working as a spy for the side we would not assume Banks would be rooting for. The Culture is painted for big segments of this book as the villains; only as we get closer to the end (and the appendices) do we realise that Banks is taking the big view here.

The Idirans, the religious race opposing the Culture, are painted a bit as central casting warriors - all big, Brian Blessed voices and 'today is a good day to die'. Yet the Idiran characters are also drawn with reasonable sympathy. And whilst the main character, Horza, has a series of adventures that could be out of any "space pirate/mercenary" story, the characters in the rag-tag band he allies with, are equally well-drawn. It's true to say that the cast of characters contracts rather towards the end of the book, and as the cast list gets smaller, the remaining characters get better described. And that includes the mechanicals. Banks has intelligent machines in his Culture universe, and they are characterised as well as the biologicals. The drone in this story, Unaha-Closp, comers over a slightly peevish and irritable, but essentially a solid character who delivers when the chips are down.

The protagonist's nemesis, the Culture agent Balveda Perosteck, seems to be playing the femme fatale at the beginning of the book; later, when she is taken prisoner, she begins to display Munchhausen-like symptoms as the situation changes around the band of protagonists.

This book came out in the general renaissance of space opera that took place in British sf during the 1980s and 1990s, and it has its share of what Brian Aldiss called "wide-screen baroque" set-pieces. These are carried off with cinematic relish. There is also some of the Banksian grand guignol that he was renowned for from his first novel, 'The Wasp Factory'. Those of a squeamish disposition and vivid imagination might be advised to look elsewhere. And the humour is specifically Ian Banks' own, as well. It's a particularly Scots wit, and none the worse for all that.

On reflection, as I have read Banks' later Culture novels, I've come to think that the problem some people have with this book is rooted precisely in its place in Banks' writing career. 'Consider Phlebas' is a straight space opera: admittedly one with a fantastic imagination for detail churning away under the surface, and a great precursor to what was to come; but at root it is a science fiction adventure story, written with an eye to selling it to a publisher as a solid entry in an sf catalogue. With this introduction to the Culture out of the way, Banks' later explorations of this universe are very different in pace and plotting.

The novel ends with something of a whimper rather than a neat conclusion (and with a 'Rosebud' moment). But isn't that what life's like, the big difference between reality and novels? Real life doesn't often have neat endings with all the loose ends tied up, and neither does this novel. But above all, the book is an introduction to the Culture universe, a rich and fascinating playground that Banks never finished exploring. Later novels may well have been deeper and may well have had more literary complexity; but when I first read this book, I was blown away and wanted to read more. And in the years that followed, I was duly rewarded. What more can you ask? ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Mar 28, 2014 |
Culture Series is a Science Fiction series written by Iain M. Banks, famed author of The Wasp Factory, which he wrote under the name Iain Banks (less the initial of his middle name "M", which he adopts only while writing Science Fiction). Consider Phlebas, the first book of the Culture Series, however became my unlikely first encounter with Banks, now that I am reading it for the year long Culture read. Among other things peculiar about this book, to which I shall return shortly, I would never have guessed, even after reading the book, the significance of the seeming random title of the book, until I actually googled for it!

In a typical first book of a 10 book series, one would expect a lot of world building, introduction to few of the key characters, and a few skirmishes. Not so in Consider Phlebas. This one is being like thrown into the deep end of a pool to figure out All of the Above, while gasping for breath. There is a protagonist, Horza, a changer, a humanoid species, about which not much is known, other than bits and pieces here and there over the course of the book. Then there are the two warring factions about whose idealogical differences we are equally clueless about, other than some vague philosophising by the protagonist when he tries to explain why he chose one side over the other. I, for one, randomly chose the side of the protagonist for most part of the book and kind of switched sides near the end. It is only while reading the epilogue that things become somewhat more clear.

Surprisingly, for a book concerned with a super-war between two super-species, we meet not more than 3 characters each from each of those two factions, the rest of the cast being or should have been miscellaneous characters. Then there is a whole lot of action, not all pleasant, not all palatable. There are also passages where the book becomes an absolute drag, readers would be able to identify "the eaters" being one such passage. Also, there is a whole lot of idiocy and stupidity among characters, (mostly on "the planet") which can sometimes be very grating on the nerves.

For all that (and not all the characteristics in the above paragraphs are negatives, they are mostly peculiar), the book is very fast paced, reads like a standalone book, and I am not sure if this book will have any connection to the rest of the series, time will tell. I will continue with the series. ( )
  PiyushC | Feb 16, 2014 |
With a title referencing TS Eliot and an epigraph from the Koran I was expecting some unusually literary sci-fi. Disappointingly it felt more like the script for a video game. Some big ideas and exciting set pieces but aimless plot, forgettable characters and heavy handed political allusions. Final section is drawn out way too long and the standard of writing deteriorates noticeably.
1 vote stylite | Feb 6, 2014 |
I'm not sure why I understand this to be considered a classic. I've held off on reading Banks for a number of years, and I don't really see myself going back after reading this novel. I found it dragging, wandering, and an overall meaningless conclusion with characters that didn't matter to the story. ( )
1 vote lgwapnitsky | Feb 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 122 (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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Epigraph
"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
Dedication
to the memory of Bill Hunt
First words
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

War ranged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. The Idirans fought for their faith, The Culture for its moral right to exist. There could be no surrender.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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