Friday, August 04, 2006

Review: Consider Phlebas, by Iain M. Banks

A couple of years ago, I borrowed one of Scuffy's Iain M. Banks books, The Player of Games, but I didn't manage to get into it, though in fairness I didn't try very hard. Since then I read Banks' latest book, The Algebraist, and enjoyed it, so decided to give his earlier books another chance.

Fortunately Mr Paul had a spare copy of Consider Phlebas that he was happy to lend me. This is Banks' first book set in the universe of the Culture, a society where sentient machines have gradually taken over the hum-drum of everyday life, leaving the organic species within the Culture free to enjoy themselves and live a life of carefree happiness - at the expense of essentially being ruled by artificially intelligent beings. Undoubtedly, it is a fascinating premise and, being a bit of a closet sci-fi/fantasy geek, it is a wonder why I have not got round to reading this book, and it's successors, much sooner. Especially given that they were written over 10 years ago. Ah well, better late than never.

The background story of the book is based around war - with the Culture defending itself against the expansion of an evolutionarily advanced, organic species called the Idirans. The Idirans are a highly religious, warlike people, who are offended by the very concept that the Culture should exist. Banks balances both sides in the war perfectly, painstakingly developing the good and bad aspects of both societies, so that even at the end of the book the reader isn't sure which side they should been supporting. It is a clever ploy as it allows you to be swept up in the central story of the characters - wanting them to succeed in their quest, but never being sure if, in the grand scheme of the war, their success would actually be a good thing!

Overall I enjoyed it very much, the action moved on at a fair old lick but it still took a step back every now and again to let the characters and situation to be fleshed out. I shall definately get hold of another Culture book - does anybody have any recommendations for which is best to read next?


Rich said...

It's a brilliant book, I think it's the best that Iain M Banks has written - which sadly means that the rest of his books aren't as good. I just find that the others lack the pace and action of 'Consider Phlebas'.

Among his others, 'Use of Weapons' I quite enjoyed (It's basically a set of short stories based around a character which knit together to create an overall plot), as well as 'Look to Windward' and the non-culture novel 'Against a Dark Background'.

Feersum Endjinn is next on my list.

Alun said...

Both 'Use of Weapons' and 'Look to Windward' get good average reviews on amazon, along with 'Excession' - have you read that?

What I find interesting, reading the reviews on amazon, is the difference in people's opinion. Some people who really like 'Consider Phlebas', for example, thought 'Excession' to be pretty rubbish. Some who liked the latter have bad words for a different one in the Culture series, and so on.

Anyway, the main conclusion is that they're all pretty good - I should buy them all for a penny each on fleabay, and make my own mind up!

Rich said...

No, I've not read Excession yet - from glancing at the review I'm quite keen to though!

'State of the Art' is one I wouldn't recommend, it's just a few short stories, one or two of them are good - the rest I didn't really enjoy.