1. Now Available on Amazon:                            

    > Click here for more Amazon stores


    Dismiss Notice

Best Iain M Banks Culture novels to start with?

Discussion in 'Iain M Banks' started by Brian G Turner, Feb 2, 2013.

  1.  
    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Messages:
    18,460
    Location:
    Highlands
    I've not read any of Iain M Bank's culture novels yet and figure it's time to.

    There's a boxed set on Amazon that's caught my eye: Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games and Use of Weapons.

    And then I'd like to get onto Inversions, which I really want to read.

    In which case, does the box set sound like a good introduction to Banks?

    Also, to get the most out of Inversions, are there any other novels I should read first?
     
  2.  
    Grunkins

    Grunkins Couch Commander

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2012
    Messages:
    620
    I read them in publication order and that worked for me. There are those who are not as fond of Consider Phlebas as they are the rest of the series. I'll say that book has a different feel from the rest, but was lots of fun nonetheless. That box set is the publication 1 2 3 (in the respective order you listed them). My favorite culture novel was Excession. The books are largely stand-alone so it's not that necessary to read them in order, though I would read Consider Phlebas before reading Look To Windward (an excellent book), and Use of Weapons before Surface Detail as there are story elements that carry over from one book to the other and, particularly with the second pair, the impact of the later book will be diminished without having read the earlier book.

    Regarding Inversions, I read your thread asking for medieval setting with SF technology, and this book might not be what you are looking for. There are really no overt references to the tech, and it only shows up a couple times in the book. As someone in that other thread noted, were you unaware of the book's setting in the Culture universe you wouldn't notice the tech at all. It was still a very good read, and for my money the 1st person POV sections (about half the book) had some of Banks' best writing and most beautiful prose.
     
  3.  
    williamjm

    williamjm Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 28, 2006
    Messages:
    486
    I think that seems like a good order. I think Consider Phlebas is one of the weaker Culture novels but it does work well as an introduction to the setting since it introduces the Culture slowly since we're largely seeing it from the perspective of someone fighting against it. Player of Games and Use of Weapons are both excellent.

    I think the only thing you need to appreciate Inversions is to have some experience of The Culture, it doesn't have any specific plot connections to the other novels.
     
  4.  
    TheTomG

    TheTomG Thomas M. Grimes

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2011
    Messages:
    614
    Player of Games and Use of Weapons remain two of my favorite Culture novels. Consider Phlebas is good, but somehow a little less over-the-top than later books - and I mean over-the-top is a good thing, because the tech of The Culture is over-the-top, so their books need to be too :)

    So I'd still start with Consider Phlebas, and then build to the other two, rather than dive right in to those more enjoyable books. Those three definitely make a good starting place! Let us know what you think.
     
  5.  
    J-Sun

    J-Sun

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2008
    Messages:
    4,457
    I've only read Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games and can only say I'm very glad I started with Consider. Use of Weapons is next for me. (IOW, I'm going in publication order which is usually the best way to go.)
     
  6.  
    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2012
    Messages:
    2,250
    Location:
    Follow the blog on twitter: @nerds_feather Like u
    For me it's Use of Weapons, hands down. One of my all-time favorite SF books.
     
  7.  
    Nerds_feather

    Nerds_feather Purveyor of Nerdliness

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2012
    Messages:
    2,250
    Location:
    Follow the blog on twitter: @nerds_feather Like u
    Quick question. I haven't read Matter or Hydrogen Sonata yet. Is it important to read Matter first?
     
  8.  
    Vertigo

    Vertigo Mad Mountain Man

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2010
    Messages:
    6,314
    Location:
    Scottish Highlands
    I read the Culture novels in a pretty random order but, as I recall, I read Player of Games first and Consider Phlebas last! However it didn't really matter; the novels are all pretty much stand alone. One thing I would say is that I think Inversions has a very different character to all the others. I didn't much like it when I read it, but I think I might like it more now. Having now read and enjoyed a couple of his 'mainstream' books I suspect there are style similarities between them and Inversions (a bit like Transition).

    Bottom line I don't think order really matters that much for these books.

    I've not yet read Hydrogen Sonata so I'm afraid I can't help with your question NF.
     
  9.  
    Grunkins

    Grunkins Couch Commander

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2012
    Messages:
    620
    Nope. No continuity between them.
     
  10.  
    psikeyhackr

    psikeyhackr Physics is Phutile Fiziks is Fundamental

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2013
    Messages:
    872
    I recently finished Look to Windward and have a simple question.

    What was the strength of the gravitational field in the Airsphere?

    psik
     
  11.  
    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2007
    Messages:
    18,542
    Location:
    England
    I've never managed to finish Use of Weapons (and not only because I lost my first copy somewhere in Brussels). And I wasn't very impressed in Look to Windward, which seemed to have too many scenes whose relationship to the plot were tenuous (in my opinion, that is). I agree that Consider Phlebas is a good introduction to the Culture, as is Player of Games. And I like Excession.

    As has been said earlier in this thread, Inversions hides the non-local technology well, so it comes over as a Fantasy with the odd twist; but I enjoyed the book (and didn't realise that it was a Culture novel when I was reading it).
     
  12.  
    Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Writing and reading Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 23, 2002
    Messages:
    18,460
    Location:
    Highlands
    I've started Inversions thinking it's supposed to be mediaeval - but the use of language sounds like early 20th century emulating late 19th century. It makes me think more of Lovecraft, which is killing any sense of period for me at the moment. Certainly doesn't have a sense of mediaeval in either the language or what is being described IMO. I may need to make more effort reading this!
     
  13.  
    Gramm838

    Gramm838 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2012
    Messages:
    592
    I'm just re-reading The Hydrogen Sonata, but I read all of IMB's books numerous times...and although it's not a Culture novel, Against a Dark Background is probably my favourite of his SF novels.

    And of course, Surface Detail has the most surprising final sentence in any of his books (well I didn't see it coming anyway!)
     
  14.  
    Rodders

    Rodders |-O-| (-O-) |-O-|

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2008
    Messages:
    3,341
    I have heard that The Player Of Games (my personal favourite) is the most accessible. I started with Use of Weapons, so i figure that's a good way to start.
     
  15.  
    Moonbat

    Moonbat Chuckle Churner

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2007
    Messages:
    2,189
    Location:
    Devon
    I think they can be read in any order, but if you're going to make your way through his 'M' books then you might as well read them in the release order, you'll then get a feel for how he wrote them and his own development.

    Or you could just read them in alphabetical order, or a random order, like which ever one has the highest ISBN first. :)
     
  16.  
    Allegra

    Allegra Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 30, 2006
    Messages:
    2,306
    I agree. I basically read them in order except the last two which I was very much looking forward to their release but once I had them on the shelf I started reading something else. :rolleyes: Must read them after my epic reading of GRRM!


    Inversion is the only Culture books I didn't care much. It just didn't feel right for me, something isn't quite fitting. I think it is probably what you pointed out, Brian.
     
  17.  
    Leo de Hauteville

    Leo de Hauteville Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2013
    Messages:
    10
    Consider Phlebas was my first culture novel, but I followed it up with Use of Weapons which was hard to get into. Great book, but read Player of Games first.
     
  18.  
    Boreas

    Boreas Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2013
    Messages:
    36
    Location:
    Infinite Fun Space
    I usually read books in order of publication and I did so with Iain M. Banks' Culture novels.

    Having said that, I think "The Player of Games" is probably a better and easier introduction than "Consider Phlebas".

    "The Player of Games" is a short novel that succinctly portrays the psychology and values of the Culture against a civilisation more akin to ours. This is done quite well by virtue of the game that the protagonist is made to play.

    "Consider Phlebas" depicts the Culture from an outside perspective; that of an enemy. The Culture is at an earlier stage of it's development where some of the technological advances that are taken for granted in later novels are perfected during wartime against a civilisation on an equal footing (at least initially). The novel has more of a "Heart of Darkness" or "Apocalypse Now" sort of feel, where the enemy protagonist travels to various locations to ultimately reach his goal and carry out a mission.

    I think it's up to you to choose whether you'd want to read the 1st or 2nd book first. Then it's best to continue in order of publication.
     
  19.  
    Boreas

    Boreas Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2013
    Messages:
    36
    Location:
    Infinite Fun Space
    I also think that you should give yourself short breaks by reading other novels after you're done with 2 or 3 of the Culture books. There won't be any more such novels forthcoming and you've got to savour the ones that are there.

    I've enjoyed all his Culture books (the least being "Matter") and have had different favourites over time, though "Use of Weapons", "Excession" and "Surface Detail" have probably remained my favourites. "Excession", especially, is great fun to re-read and the most humourous of his Culture books. I still haven't read "The Hydrogen Sonata" as I know there will be no more Culture stories after that. I'll get around to it eventually.
     
  20.  
    Pwaa

    Pwaa Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2013
    Messages:
    65
    I've only read 3 (Player of Games, Hydrogen Sonata and Use of Weapons) but i must admit I've read them in a completely random order. I bought PoG because it was on special offer in Waterstones for £3, then HS because it was the latest one and UoW because it sounded fun.

    From what I've seen story-wise it matters little which ones you read first as there are almost no cross-overs and they weren't written in chronological order. Except for the examples Grunkins mentioned, although I didn't know about that until he mentioned it.
     
Loading...

Share This Page