Consider Phlebas (The Culture #1) ★★★★☆

considerphlebas (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Consider Phlebas
Series: The Culture #1
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 545
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

There is War between the Idirans, a culture of 3 legged beings with religious mono-mania and The Culture, a decadent collection of self-serving beings who live for pleasure and are ruled by AI and their machines.

We follow the story of Horza, a humanoid with the ability to change his face and body, a Changer, who is allied with the Idirans, as he attempts to capture a Culture Mind that has done the impossible and * insert super science term * jumped onto a planet, against all known rules of everything.

The Iridians want to capture the Mind to learn it’s tricks or at least to prevent The Culture from learning how it did what it did and The Culture wants it to learn how it did what it did. Unfortunately, it chose to jump onto a Dead World, a world that is supervised by a vast, intellectual non-corporeal being. One that brooks no interference or even cares about the differences that the Iridians and The Culture have.

Horza goes from one bad situation to another right up unto the end where he is betrayed by the Iridians, who view the Changers as no more than vermin even while using them. In the process he loses his lover and newly conceived baby and most of his Changer compatriots.

The book ends with everyone involved dying in one way or another and a history of the war and it’s conclusion. Bleak stuff.

 

My Thoughts:

Whereas the Player of Games really struck me as a dishonest take on the idea of Utopia, this book felt more honest and how humans would actually react. This was a novel about The Culture from it’s enemies perspective. That allowed us the reader to see things that we couldn’t in Player of Games. I would definitely recommend reading this one first just so Banks can’t sell you on the idea that The Culture is a true Utopia.

I ended up feeling bad for Horza for most of the book. He’s rescued from a death sentence only to be tossed out of an Iridian spaceship that’s about to go into battle. He’s then captured by pirates and has to kill a crew member to join. He then participates in several failed piratical ventures and in the final one is stranded on a Orbital that is going to be destroyed by The Culture in 3 days. He does escape and make it back to the pirate ship and takes it over as it’s captain. But a Culture agent is on board. The same agent who got him the death sentence at the beginning of the book. He then makes his way to the Dead World and gets permission by the Overmind to land. Only to have Iridian Covert Ops teams try to take him out even though he’s on their side. And while all the Iridians die, they also manage to kill everyone except Horza and The Culture agent. And it gets better. Horza dies just as he’s taken to a ship with the medical facilities to heal him. The Culture Agent can’t handle the guilt and so she goes to sleep for 300 years only to commit suicide when she wakes.

Now normally that much bad stuff would depress me. But this time around? It simply re-affirmed my faith in human nature, ie, that we’re a bunch of no good sinners who can’t pull ourselves up by our bookstraps. I love it when Utopia minded people get a good dose of fallen nature. Wake up and smell the coffee you idiots.

So far, all threats to The Culture have been external. I’m wondering when Banks will write about some local, internal threat that wants power. While the AI’s might be in charge, it’s definitely not as pronounced as it is in Neal Asher’s Polity series. I’m also still not convinced of The Culture as something real or viable. No central authority, no defining characteristics. It just doesn’t jive with my understanding of humanity.

What makes this a 4star book is the fact that the author is aware of everything that I’ve mentioned and takes it into account. I might think he’s wrong, but he’s not oblivious and it takes some good writing to promote something even while mainly showing its flaws.

★★★★☆

bookstooge

 

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46 thoughts on “Consider Phlebas (The Culture #1) ★★★★☆

  1. cagedunn says:

    Might have to read this one. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. HCNewton says:

    You may have persuaded me to get this one. But to read #2 first? Good gravy, man. Are you mad?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Nice review. I always felt that this one was the most action packed in the series and it is good fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bookstooge says:

      And that’s what concerns me, that this is the most action packed. An AI Meritocracy should be jam packed of happening things, like bloody wars and super tech and scary alien boojums trying to eat everyone. What I’ve gotten the most so far is that everyone has a big dick in the culture and can have babies with just about any other lifeform. Makes me wonder just what Banks was worried about in his own life…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My favourite Culture novels are Use of Weapons, Excession and Surface Detail.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bormgans says:

    Excession tops them all indeed. I’m not sure if The Culture has no defining characteristics: a post-scarcity cooperative anarchy with no restrictice sexual morality and maxed out Kantian personal freedom. Something like that?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bookstooge says:

      Sure, that sounds good. And it sounds like complete chaos to me. And that’s the thing that bugs me, that type of thing should implode and it hasn’t.
      Banks hasn’t convinced me that humans have changed enough, he just states that they have.

      Like

      • bormgans says:

        Ah okay, I misunderstood you. The post-scarcity context changes humans in that respect that whatever need for property crimes disappear. Same goes for the glands: all drug related crime disappears. The sexual morals will also have a positive effect on sex crimes. Also: brian surgery will tackle the remaining glitches. As for tribalism, racism, etc., and related problems, there’s probably the effect of the diversity of all those aliens that makes most humans see the inherent pettiness of such a mindset. The Minds take care of the practicle stuff. Why would it implode?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. bormgans says:

    Btw, the Culture aren’t humans!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. After reading some other Culture novel I was almost ready to tackle again Phlebas, since our first “meeting” did not work well. Now that I’ve read your review, I’m beyond ‘almost ready’ and fast approaching ‘eager’ 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bookstooge says:

      Glad my review came across as positive 🙂
      I also hope it is a positive experience for you. what other Culture books have you read? I’ve only got this and Player of Games under my belt, so I feel rather light when it comes to be strongly opinionated about it
      😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read Player of Games, Use of Weapons, Excession, Inversions and Look to Windward – and I have Matter lined up on my reader, so that one might be next. And there is nothing wrong with being strongly opinionated: in my experience, diverging opinions can lead to fascinating discussions…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Ahoy there matey! Loved readin’ yer review for this one. Reminds me that I have to get into book 3 (according to publication order) soon! I adored Horza and was sad by his fate.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bookstooge says:

      Hey Cap’n! Thanks for dropping by.
      I thought Horza was going to make it right up to where he didn’t. I figured Banks wanted to torture him with his dead lover and baby. But I guess that was to much for even him 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also thought Horza was going to make it. I was so engaged by his character. I thought it was odd that this book portrayed actively fighting against the Culture. I mean as a first book in a series (publishing wise) it seemed crazy to show the losing side. Fascinating though.
        x The Captain

        Liked by 1 person

        • Bookstooge says:

          It is so different in outlook than anything I’m used to. Even while I disagreed with a lot of writers like Asimov and Clarke, etc, I still had a lot in common with their outlook. Banks, I’m just not seeing it. I feel like I’ve stepped 90degrees and am reading his stories partway sideways, if that makes sense 🙂

          Like

  9. Totally skipped your review on this one, because a friend recommended it to me, and I don’t want to see any spoilers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. […] are, of course, perfectly legitimate. Bookstooge recently reviewed both The Player of Games and Consider Phlebas from his perspective, and he does not feel at home in Culture. His posts have been very interesting […]

    Like

  11. Manuel Antao says:

    Deep down I know you just frigging love Banks’ books … Just a feeling I have…You you want to know where the Culture comes from, I’d say the best way to go about it is search for a copy of his book on whisky – Raw Spirit and hear the musings of the man. I have just started it and it reconfirmed for me – what we are missing. At least the Culture lives on if the man does not. Mind you it’s only partially about whisky. The rest is a mixture of autobiography, political growling, and hugely evocative accounts of driving around Scotland in a selection of fast cars, including a terrific description of losing the famously lose-able back end of an old-school 911 and rolling it, in the depths of the Highlands… and the comment to a critical diesel Audi driving friend that if you’re getting 22mpg out of an M5, you’re not driving it hard enough. My own Highland drive is still in the musing stage, including reflection on the fact that my old car, a Renault-Alpine GTA, is not that dissimilar to an old school 911….

    NB: I’ve said this elsewhere (I won’t bother myself looking up the link). Agree too that “Excession” is brilliant – I think when I vote with my heart and not my head, it’s my favourite. If had taken “Excession” on my honeymoon, I’d be like: ‘Not now, darling, I’m reading…..’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bookstooge says:

      I was under the impression that the Culture was an Earth Human construct. Now that I’ve been told otherwise, I can accept it a lot easier, because of “aliens”.

      The little bit I’ve heard about Banks make definitely NOT want to read an auto/biogragphy of him. I don’t think I would have liked him as a person.

      And glad to see you’re back from vaca…

      Like

  12. Well, this definitely got me intrigued. Adding it to my list of books to check out some day.
    All this talk about the order in which to read them is fascinating though. I do prefer reading in the order they are published though. It really does drive me nuts to go in any other order. 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

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