Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Werthead

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Iain Banks had already published three mainstream novels by the time Consider Phlebas was published in 1987. When his publishers suggested using a pseudonym to make it easier to distinguish between his SF and mainstream work, Banks decided to adopt the impenetrable alias 'Iain M. Banks' for his SF and leave his mainstream work under the name 'Iain Banks', a tradition he maintains to this day.

Consider Phlebas introduces the Culture. A vast, utopian society of trillions of humanoids populating planets, Dyson Spheres, Niven-esque Rings and Orbitals and vast sentient starships, the Culture is the ultimate civilised society where the people have given over the running of their civilisation wholly to machines - the Minds - so they can chill out and have a good time. Of course, this leads other species to view them as weak, indolent and decadent. Suspicious of the steadily expanding sphere of Culture influence in the Galaxy, the fanatically religious Idirans decide to take action and declare war against the Culture. Soon, the Culture is retreating on every front as the aggressive Idirans sweep towards the Culture homeworlds, and the Galaxy anticipates a quick end to the war with a negotiated settlement.

Four years into the war, the Culture is still holding out, to the bemusement of the Galaxy at large. Whilst warships fight across mind-boggling distances, Idiran and Culture agents are also battling for influence on various neutral worlds. During one such clandestine operation, the Changer operative Horza (leasing his services to the Idirans) runs afoul of a Culture Special Circumstances agent and is arrested. Managing to escape under the cover of an Idiran planetary assault, he finds himself shanghaied into the crew of a mercenary ship and then dragged halfway around the Galaxy before he can undertake his next Idiran mission, namely the recovery of a Culture Mind that jettisoned from its ship and crashed on a planet sealed off from the rest of the Galaxy by an ultra-powerful 'ascended' species.

Consider Phlebas wasn't Banks' first SF novel: he had written several others previously (including the ones later published, after much revision, as Player of Games and Use of Weapons). This experience shows in a book which is highly polished and thoroughly readable. The storyline is gripping and, thanks to Banks' black humour, highly enjoyable with some decidedly Douglas Adams-esque moments of humour (the increasingly exasperated Culture drones are particularly amusing). Horza makes for a fascinating protagonist, a sympathetic guy (despite doing some very bad things) whose problems and arguments with the Culture are understandable. By introducing the Culture in this way - by making it almost the 'bad' guy from Horza's point of view - Banks allows for much greater analysis of the society and the way it works (not to mention some excellently subtle worldbuilding) rather than having a Culture hero telling us how great it is.

The result is a book that is fast-paced, overflowing with ideas (the Orbital Vavatch, its Megaships, the Culture ships and the Command System are all genuinely impressive SF concepts) and is genuinely funny in places, although still with a thoughtful, wry ending. An excellent introduction to Iain Banks' work. The prose isn't quite as polished as his later works, but is still of impressive quality.

Consider Phlebas (****½) is available now from Orbit in the UK and USA.
 

The Procrastinator

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Good review, O Lemming of Discord. I have Considered Phlebas many times; it may well be my favourite Ian M. Banks book. It is certainly on the short list. This book is a real keeper, very rich in ideas and characters, and I have no doubt I will keep reconsidering it (with pleasure) for a long time to come.
 

Connavar

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Sound good to me! I might just have to read this one next!
Is this book listed as part of the SF Masterworks series too?

No its not that old, neither is it a masterwork exactly.

I recommend you examine Banks,Culture books style closely before getting his books.

I bought Consider Phlebas on recommendation,impulse and wasnt impressed and gave away the book on bookmooch.
 

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No its not that old, neither is it a masterwork exactly.

I recommend you examine Banks,Culture books style closely before getting his books.

I bought Consider Phlebas on recommendation,impulse and wasnt impressed and gave away the book on bookmooch.

Ah i already have it. Got it from bookmooch after being on my Wishlist for ages. I'll read it and if I like it will look for more
 

Werthead

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Sound good to me! I might just have to read this one next!
Is this book listed as part of the SF Masterworks series too?

Of the Culture series, I think Use of Weapons is considered the stand-out one and will more likely be the one to go into the Masterworks series when the time comes, although Consider Phlebas may be in with a shot as the first book in the series.

Banks' style varies from book to book, but Consider Phlebas is probably the most straightforward and traditionally-structured of his books (apart maybe from Excession), and possibly the most approachable.
 

Tillane

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Yeah, Consider Phlebas was the first of Banks' books that I read, and nearly twenty years on it's still one of my favourites (probably second behind Use Of Weapons). It's full of wonderful ideas, exceptional world-building, and - in Horza - an MC who's tough yet vulnerable, intelligent, resourceful and very easy to relate to. I'd recommend the book heartily to pretty much anyone.:)
 

Ursa major

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Excession is probably my favourite Culture book so far, followed by Consider Phlebas.

Inversions was okay (if you like SF that's quite like fantasy). I wasn't impressed by Look to Windward (too many ad hoc shiny things and too little point to it all - I won't say more to avoid giving spoilers). I didn't like Use of Weapons on the two times I've tried - and failed - to get beyond a third of the way through; it did, though, introduce some aspects of the Culture, which made me want to try other Culture novels.

I'm only a few pages into Matter, not enough to make any comment one way or another,
 

The Procrastinator

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Those mammoth books of Peter F Hamilton scare the bejesus out of me.

Not to worry Mr Antenna. The only scary thing about Mr Hamilton's books is his punctuation. They are real page-turners - kinda like a pulp thriller cross space/soap opera and some of them have some pretty cool ideas as well. I find them very readable but they are a bit like a packet of chips to Mr Banks' Sunday roast. OK a really really big packet of chips.

I have to say I enjoyed Phlebas more on the second read, and possibly more again on the third. Like a good wine, it matures well in the cellar. Another of my favourites of the Culture series is the Player of Games.
 

AE35Unit

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Not to worry Mr Antenna. The only scary thing about Mr Hamilton's books is his punctuation. They are real page-turners - kinda like a pulp thriller cross space/soap opera and some of them have some pretty cool ideas as well. I find them very readable but they are a bit like a packet of chips to Mr Banks' Sunday roast. OK a really really big packet of chips..

Its the size that scares me! You can prop big heavy doors open with the buggers!
 

AE35Unit

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After a few tech glitches, I have started the definitive "How do you rank Iain M's books?" thread at: http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/49493-time-to-rank-his-books.html#post1239954

Lets get this off our chest and maybe AE35 will be able to make an informed choice on which one to read (my suggestion: all of them).

Oh i know which one I'm gonna read-Consider Phlebas. Mainly because it was the only one of his I could bloody find;) Its sat on my shelf just waiting...
 

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