PoG is excellent imo, first Culture book I read and probably stil my favourite (and where I got my avatar from) and the books aren't linked in any way so you're not gonna lose any of the story.Thanks for the comments - I have a boxed set which also includes Player of Games and Use of Weapons, so if I continue to struggle with Consider Phlebas I'll move straight onto PoG.
He references the poem again of course for Look to Windward but I can't tell you much about that book, as I haven't read it!
Banks didn't always reveal the underlying nature of his more arcane references. Title included. In this case, it might have to do with the Massaq' ringworld inhabitants looking forward to witnessing a "light years in coming" celestial explosion. Just my guess. But don't let the title put you off. The story is typical Banks, with lots of intrigue if not a great deal of space opera type action.He references the poem again of course for Look to Windward but I can't tell you much about that book, as I haven't read it!
Those two scenes were my problem with the book as well. Overall, Banks is a solid writer, and Consider Phlebas has a lot of cool ideas. But the climactic action scenes were way over-written, to the point where they were the most boring parts of the book for me. From what I understand this is an early Banks novel, so maybe he got a better handle on pacing as he became more experienced.I read this quite awhile ago now (a few months, anyway) but somehow missed this thread. I thought two scenes were stretched out unconscionably long: the 'flying through the Death Star' scene (giant ship or whatever) and the climactic train scene. But they were still pretty good; especially the latter. (The 'irresistible ship meets immovable mountain' (or whatever) scene was also a bit drawn out, but less so, and was really good.) IOW, most of his large action set-pieces are inefficient.