Author Topic: Iain M Banks' Culture novels  (Read 1195 times)

Mister Six

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Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« on: October 05, 2020, 01:18:32 AM »
    During a bout of insomnia, I came up with a bunch of names for Culture ships. Are they worth a thread of their own? No, which is why this one can double up as a general chat about Banks' ten fantastic (well, eight fantastic, one okay and one duffer) sci-fi novels.

    • Let's Make Up And Be Friendly
    • Milk Spiller
    • Appetite For Distraction
    • Excessive Force
    • Intended Consequences
    • Look, We've All Had A Lot To Drink
    • Forewarned and Forearmed
    • Miskates Were Made
    • I Don't Want To Alarm You,  But...
    • An Irretrievable Breakdown In Communications
    • Statistically Speaking, I'm Not Here
    • Why I Oughtta...!
    • Just Another Point Of Light In The Firmament
    • You Had Your Chance
    • All Dressed Up With Everywhere To Go
    • Moving Swiftly On...
    • Don't Mind Me, I'm Just Passing Through
    • The Most Obvious Explanation Is That I'm A Ball Of Lightning Bouncing Off A Strut
    • Well No One Asked My Identity
    • Back Seat Driver
    • Guru Meditation Era
    • Rictus Grin
    • Alternative Facts
    • Justifiable Genocide
    • Enough About You, What About Me?
    • Blessed With A Certain Moral And Ethical Flexibility
    • Someone Should Have A Word
    • Read My Lips
    • My, What Big Teeth I Have
    • Well, It Was Awful Knowing You
    • A Small But Unnerving Footnote In The Annals Of History
    • I'd Tell You To Ask Around, But They're All Dead
    • So It's Come To This
    • Charm Offensive
    • You're Welcome
    • Thoughts And Prayers
    • Surprisingly Down To Earth And Very Funny
    • Not A Significant Source Of Gravitas

Sin Agog

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2020, 01:23:54 AM »
What's the duffer?

I once axxed him what was with all the Wasteland quotes in his titles during a Q&A and he basically buttered me up by saying he'd give a proper answer but only me and him would understand/be interested.

And maybe that Donald Rumsfeld line, The Unknown Known, for a ship name.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2020, 01:32:07 AM »
What's the duffer?

Matter. Lots of good bits but it doesn't really cohere into a satisfying narrative for me, and the climax is horribly brief given the immense run-up. Banks was in the habit of subverting and inverting dramatic conventions from time to time, but sometimes there's a reason those conventions exist - and the results are consequently disappointing.

I'll actually downgrade that list again to say Consider Phlebas and Inversions are both "okay", with Inversions also being a bit dull to me, TBH.

But the rest are glorious. In ascending order of aceness: The State of the Art, The Hydrogen Sonata, The Player of Games, Look to Windward, Use of Weapons, Excession, Surface Detail. Although everything between TSOTA and SD can change depending on my mood.

Quote
I once axxed him what was with all the Wasteland quotes in his titles during a Q&A and he basically buttered me up by saying he'd give a proper answer but only me and him would understand/be interested.

What was his proper answer?

The Unknown Known is a great ship name.

Norton Canes

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2020, 11:27:56 AM »
I keep forgetting he's dead.

Inspector Norse

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #4 on: October 09, 2020, 06:58:48 AM »
I keep forgetting he's dead.

Yes, that would also be a good ship name

kittens

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #5 on: October 09, 2020, 08:56:48 AM »
if i am to read these books which one i read first

Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #6 on: October 09, 2020, 09:48:42 AM »
I'd say Player of Games. My favourite is Excession but I feel it would be less accessible without having a grasp on what the minds are, and their role in the Culture.

Inspector Norse

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2020, 11:41:18 AM »
I remember Excession as being the best but yeah you need to have read a few of the others first to build up to it.

Player of Games, Use of Weapons, Look to Windward I also remember as being very good. The later ones were very baggy, lots and lots of worldbuilding and windowpainting at the expense of interesting plot or characters.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #8 on: October 09, 2020, 01:44:18 PM »
Counterpoint: Surface Detail is the penultimate Culture book and an absolutely storming action-thriller that works as an intro to the universe and the Culture itself, and has some of the series' best characters. You'll miss a little Easter egg if you didn't read Use of Weapons first, but like most Culture books, it stands alone (Look to Windward is best read after Consider Phelbas for context).

So yeah, The Player of Games is usually the one that's recommended, but I'd go with Surface Detail.

Deffo save Use of Weapons (which has a tricky structure) and Excession for when you're bedded into the universe.

This is the publication order of the books. I'd say only Matter and Inversions are weak - the former being overlong with a damp squib ending, the latter being a bit dry - but others disagree, so maybe you'll love them all. Oh, and Consider Phelbas is quite episodic and lightweight compared to the others, but that's by design.

1- Consider Phelbas
2- The Player of Games
3- Use of Weapons
4- The State of the Art
5- Excession
6- Inversions
7- Look to Windward
8- Matter
9- Surface Detail
10- The Hydrogen Sonata

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2020, 02:41:04 PM »
Consider Phlebas was the first one I read, in Egypt I seem to recall, and it's a good, fast-paced space opera that acts like an S club Jr version of, I think, his most fun book, Excession.

Shaky

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #10 on: October 13, 2020, 01:16:42 AM »
I love a bit of sci-fi and Banks' other novels but I'm finding Player of Games quite heavy going. I like the characters and the worldbuilding but the minutiae of Azad playing has left me a little bored.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #11 on: October 13, 2020, 01:20:29 AM »
Is he still on the spaceship? The last third is quite action-packed.

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #12 on: October 13, 2020, 02:37:40 AM »
Matter. Lots of good bits but it doesn't really cohere into a satisfying narrative for me, and the climax is horribly brief given the immense run-up. Banks was in the habit of subverting and inverting dramatic conventions from time to time, but sometimes there's a reason those conventions exist - and the results are consequently disappointing.

I'll actually downgrade that list again to say Consider Phlebas and Inversions are both "okay", with Inversions also being a bit dull to me, TBH.

But the rest are glorious. In ascending order of aceness: The State of the Art, The Hydrogen Sonata, The Player of Games, Look to Windward, Use of Weapons, Excession, Surface Detail. Although everything between TSOTA and SD can change depending on my mood.

What was his proper answer?

The Unknown Known is a great ship name.

Just realised I never answered this.  And neither did he.  Or at least not with much more than he's a Wasteland fan and it was the kind of portentous thing a young writer would do.  The moderator was being a sniffy git all night about M Banks and frowned whenever anyone asked him a sci-fi question.  The mod was ecstatic when, to placate him, I followed up with, 'Did you make Wasp Factory so extreme and provocative so you could make an instant name for yourself?'

Saw Mr. M Banks walking around Brighton the next day and he looked pleasantly curious about the local tribespeople.  Seemed like a really sweet guy.  Got a signed Player of Games around here that I should prolly get rid of as it's picked up some black mould from my damp old boat.

touchingcloth

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #13 on: October 13, 2020, 03:16:25 AM »
I've got a copy of The Algebraist which I've never finished because it wasn't my bag.

I'd always thought that Ian M. Banks and The Culture were synonymous, but I've realised that isn't the case.

People seem to be agreed that Excession is a cracker rather than a duffer. It's fifth in the series after Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, and The State of the Art, so would people recommend reading them in that order (Player of Games has been mentioned as a good one), or are there some in the first four which are to be avoided?

Shaky

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #14 on: October 13, 2020, 04:34:16 AM »
Is he still on the spaceship? The last third is quite action-packed.

Oh yeah, I'm into that section. I'm reading the book in odd bits when I have the time, though, so maybe it isn't getting the attention it deserves.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #15 on: October 13, 2020, 06:43:08 AM »
Just realised I never answered this.  And neither did he.  Or at least not with much more than he's a Wasteland fan and it was the kind of portentous thing a young writer would do.  The moderator was being a sniffy git all night about M Banks and frowned whenever anyone asked him a sci-fi question.  The mod was ecstatic when, to placate him, I followed up with, 'Did you make Wasp Factory so extreme and provocative so you could make an instant name for yourself?'

Stop stringing me along like this! What did he say?

Sin Agog

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #16 on: October 13, 2020, 10:53:49 AM »
Faxxake.  I theenk he said something about pent-up energy from working a shit office job and trying, and failing, to get published ever since he was a wean.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #17 on: October 13, 2020, 02:35:00 PM »
Cheers!

I've got a copy of The Algebraist which I've never finished because it wasn't my bag.

You're not missing much. It's one of those books where Banks oh-so-cleverly subverts literary conventions, only to end up with an ultimately unsatisfying tome because - as it turns out - literary conventions exist for a reason. Still has a ton of great ideas and characters because, y'know, it's Banks. But it doesn't hang together, I think.

Quote
People seem to be agreed that Excession is a cracker rather than a duffer. It's fifth in the series after Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, and The State of the Art, so would people recommend reading them in that order (Player of Games has been mentioned as a good one), or are there some in the first four which are to be avoided?

None to be avoided, but Excession is best approached once you've got a good grasp of the world and tech, as large chunks of it take place inside the minds of the, uh, Minds - the superintelligent, often eccentric AIs that run the Culture, it's ships and space stations. Easier to grasp once you're already up to speed.

Use of Weapons is also tricky but more in terms of its structure (the chapters alternate between ones that move forward in time and ones that move backwards in time). Still, already being bedded into the Culture universe helps a lot.

So yeah, that order works fine. Phelbas is an episodic yarn in the style of old seafaring adventure stories, and told from the POV of an enemy of the Culture, so it's pretty atypical. Player of Games hangs together better as a novel and is set within the Culture, which is why people usually suggest that first. But publication order is fine.

State of the Art is a novella starring one of the main characters from Use of Weapons (one of only two times when a character from one Culture book appears in another, I think), along with a bunch of short stories including two Culture ones (A Gift From The Culture and Descendant). You could read it before Use of Weapons just fine, I think, and it might even be better that way.

So, er, yeah. Read them in that order, or with PoG first, and maybe SotA before UoW. It's all good.

Sin Agog

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #18 on: October 13, 2020, 03:00:42 PM »
The one thing I took away from State of the Art is, once every few weeks, I'll point an imaginary gun that can eradicate anything it's trained upon at something, then freak out in case I missed and accidentally wiped out an entire quadrant of galaxies. Then I'll remember it was just my index and middle fingers.

Norton Canes

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #19 on: October 13, 2020, 06:12:43 PM »
I read Consider Fleabag ages ago, in fact I think it was the first novel I read for enjoyment after my English degree. Remember the action-based set pieces mostly, especially the two characters fighting as an enormous hovercraft drives over them. Cool. Excession is the only other one I read, on one of our Med hols if I recall correctly. Good stuff - the giant ships conversing with each other is very Douglas Adams.

Actually, I should say that Excession is the only other one I completed. Spurred on by this thread I was browsing the M. Banks novels in Waterstones the other day and flick through a few pages of The Hydrogen Sonata. Seemed quite good but I couldn't get over a nagging feeling of familiarity. Then I realised I'd bought a copy a couple of years ago and given up after a few chapters. Thing was, I couldn't quite remember what put me off. Like I say, the bits I was reading in the shop seemed fine. Was tempted to buy it just to see what went wrong, but didn't want to end up spending £20 on the same paperback.

Norton Canes

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #20 on: October 13, 2020, 06:43:32 PM »
(I mean not the actual same one, that went to a charity shop)

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #21 on: October 13, 2020, 07:20:42 PM »
The Hydrogen Sonata is a minor Culture book, but a lot of fun while it lasts. If he'd not died of cancer and had continued pumping them out, I think it would have been largely forgotten.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #22 on: October 13, 2020, 07:21:53 PM »
.

Alberon

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #23 on: October 13, 2020, 08:07:10 PM »
There’s a book by Iain (no M) Banks called Transition. It felt like he was trying to write a book that crossed over his science fiction and contemporary literature sides. I’m not sure it’s totally successful but it’s an interesting book.

It’s one of several ‘no M’ books that could have been published as SF or fantasy. The Bridge even has a cameo from a Culture Drone IIRC.

touchingcloth

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #24 on: October 14, 2020, 12:57:54 AM »
Cheers!

You're not missing much. It's one of those books where Banks oh-so-cleverly subverts literary conventions, only to end up with an ultimately unsatisfying tome because - as it turns out - literary conventions exist for a reason. Still has a ton of great ideas and characters because, y'know, it's Banks. But it doesn't hang together, I think.

None to be avoided, but Excession is best approached once you've got a good grasp of the world and tech, as large chunks of it take place inside the minds of the, uh, Minds - the superintelligent, often eccentric AIs that run the Culture, it's ships and space stations. Easier to grasp once you're already up to speed.

Use of Weapons is also tricky but more in terms of its structure (the chapters alternate between ones that move forward in time and ones that move backwards in time). Still, already being bedded into the Culture universe helps a lot.

So yeah, that order works fine. Phelbas is an episodic yarn in the style of old seafaring adventure stories, and told from the POV of an enemy of the Culture, so it's pretty atypical. Player of Games hangs together better as a novel and is set within the Culture, which is why people usually suggest that first. But publication order is fine.

State of the Art is a novella starring one of the main characters from Use of Weapons (one of only two times when a character from one Culture book appears in another, I think), along with a bunch of short stories including two Culture ones (A Gift From The Culture and Descendant). You could read it before Use of Weapons just fine, I think, and it might even be better that way.

So, er, yeah. Read them in that order, or with PoG first, and maybe SotA before UoW. It's all good.

I’ll order Consider Phlebas and PoG to start with (I nearly used an abbreviation of Phlebas - that would have raised some eyebrows) and see how they strike me. I did enjoy the Algebraist up until the point I realised I wasn’t enjoying it, so good to know it’s a bit of an outlier.

Zetetic

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #25 on: October 14, 2020, 02:13:35 AM »
Consider Phlebas doesn't really feel at all like a Culture book to me, on the couple of times I've read it. It's enjoyable enough, but in the context of the others it's like something unpublished you'd turn up in his affairs as something he'd had a go at but ultimately was left behind by the Culture novels proper. Dunno if that's odd or makes sense given that apparently it was a reworking of a first-go?

Or maybe I just like Look to Windward too much by contrast.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #26 on: October 14, 2020, 04:10:40 AM »
There%u2019s a book by Iain (no M) Banks called Transition. It felt like he was trying to write a book that crossed over his science fiction and contemporary literature sides. I%u2019m not sure it%u2019s totally successful but it%u2019s an interesting book.

It%u2019s one of several %u2018no M%u2019 books that could have been published as SF or fantasy. The Bridge even has a cameo from a Culture Drone IIRC.

Transition was actually published as an M book in the US, funnily enough. I enjoyed it a lot, but it did feel like the elements introduced to wrap up the plot (the girl etc) came in when he suddenly realised he'd made the stakes and scale too big to handle.

Mister Six

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #27 on: October 14, 2020, 04:13:18 AM »
I’ll order Consider Phlebas and PoG to start with (I nearly used an abbreviation of Phlebas - that would have raised some eyebrows)

Ha! Grand, hope you enjoy 'em.

Consider Phlebas doesn't really feel at all like a Culture book to me, on the couple of times I've read it. It's enjoyable enough, but in the context of the others it's like something unpublished you'd turn up in his affairs as something he'd had a go at but ultimately was left behind by the Culture novels proper. Dunno if that's odd or makes sense given that apparently it was a reworking of a first-go?

Feels a bit like he's just splurging it all out there, like he just wants to set up the universe and play with some ideas that will allow him to build more concrete, structured stories down the line.

Norton Canes

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #28 on: October 14, 2020, 03:37:49 PM »
Right. Discovered a book voucher lurking in the recesses of my wallet. Re-bought The Hydrogen Sonata, gonna rag the fuck out the bastard.

Norton Canes

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Re: Iain M Banks' Culture novels
« Reply #29 on: October 14, 2020, 03:39:04 PM »
I'm kind of buoyed by the fact that since my last attempt I made it through Perdido Street Station, which was nowhere near as good as any Banks novel.

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