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Consider Phlebas (Culture) Paperback – March 26, 2008
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Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Like David Brin, Dan Simmons or Poul Anderson, this is high concept space opera. But unlike them, this book, and the subsequent books about The Culture, are morally ambiguous. Horza, the protagonist, despises the machine intelligences and moral laziness of The Culture. But his embrace of and alliance with The Culture's enemies in this galaxy-wide war reveals them to be intolerant, racist, religious zealots. He is much more comfortable with the agent of The Culture who infiltrates his band of pirates than with his erstwhile allies. Through plot twists, when he fights his allies with the help of his enemy, Banks makes many points on many levels.
The book is amazingly compelling. As Horza careens from debacle to disaster, fighting a battle in which he only partially believes, you come to care a about him. Which is surprising, because by any sane standard he an amoral criminal.
Banks is a good but not exceptional writer. But he produces very remarkable books. Even the coda to this book, in which Bank reports the war, of which this story is a tiny, tiny part, caused 850 billion casualties; even the coda underscores the ambiguity of the tale.
What makes a culture "good" or "bad"? In the course of telling a very good story, Banks makes you wonder if you are asking the right question.
The war is between the Idirans, who are driven by religion and natural aggression born from a harsh home-planet, and the Culture, a luxury-loving empire largely run by machines. Until attacked by the Idirans, the machines spent most of their time mixing drinks for the Culture's biological citizens, but are now having to apply their (artificial) intelligence to war.
The plot traces the story of Horza, an Idiran secret agent trying to capture a Culture Mind (Minds are big thinking machines that do most of the Culture's planning and strategy) which has gone to ground in neutral territory. Far from the Idiran front line, Horza is thrown very much on his own resources. He has to enlist help from the sad detritus of neutrals, each trying to get by and if possible profiteer at the margins of the war, to attempt to reach and capture the Mind. Naturally the Culture is also trying to recover this machine, and sends an agent who inevitably clashes with Horza. The trouble is that, across a gulf of fanaticism and violence, the two agents quite like each other.
Banks' execution of this plot is totally absorbing. Huge concepts spring beautifully to the minds' eye, and the characters evoke interest and sympathy. The book starts with a prologue of the Mind's near-capture by Idiran ships and taking refuge on a neutral world. How do you describe the twists and turns of a super-intelligent machine trying to escape a host of hostile pursuers? Try beating that prologue.
One of the best SF books ever written.
The story follows the adventures of Horza, one of the last Changers, people who can alter their physical appearance to resemble others, possess intricate control over physiological processes, and have several built-in weapons, such as retractable poisoned fangs and the ability to produce poison and acid through their saliva or sweat glands.
Horza is an agent for the Idirans, a race of large, three-legged aliens who are at war with the Culture -- the most advanced segment of human civilization. Horza despises the Culture for their amoralistic over-reliance on machines and technology.
The Idirans dispatch Horza to retrieve a Mind -- essentially an extremely advanced AI created by the Culture to help them win the war -- that has crash-landed on an icy planet controlled by a fearsome, god-like alien power.
Horza's main adversary is an agent of the Culture's "Special Circumstances" unit, who is also charged with recovering the Mind. Although mortal adversaries, the two nonetheless develop grudging respect and even affection for each other.
This backstory and tension between the two main characters are the most compelling parts of the book, but they never really get the attention they deserve. Instead, Horza lurches from crisis to crisis, finding himself variously fighting for life aboard a mercenary vessel, locked in a chaotic laser battle in a temple, nearly devoured alive by a horrifying fat man grown to Jabba-the-Hutt-like proportions, and observing a deadly futuristic card game. These random incidents are entertaining and even gripping when considered alone. But as part of the same storyline they seem too disconnected from one another and I kept wondering how they were going to all tie together.Read more ›
The setting for this novel is the galaxy-wide war between the technology-driven Culture and the religious Idirans. The Culture is a loose group of human planets, living in wealth and freedom through their powerful technology. The true masters of the Culture are the Minds, incredibly powerful artificial intelligences, often fitted in big ships like GCU (General Contact Units) or GSV (General System Vehicles).
One of these Minds is lost at the beginning of the story. The Idirans want to capture it, because studying it will provide them with useful techonological knowledge in the war. The Culture wants to prevent them from finding it, for obvious reasons.
Horza, a human shape-changer employed on the Idiran side, is sent out to find the lost Mind. In his search, he teams up with a group of mercenaries and, after many adventures, travels to the planet where the Mind is hiding out.
"Consider Phlebas" is a very exciting novel, filled with aliens, immense space-ships, Orbitals, ... Everything you need for a good, old-fashioned, sensawunda-filled space opera. If that's what you enjoy reading, look no further. I'm definitely looking forward to the rest of the Culture series.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was the first Banks novel I read. I've kept coming back for more.Published 12 days ago by Dog_Confetti
Opposing forces Culture and Idirans give somewhat allegorical image of present world order on Earth. Read morePublished 14 days ago by Antti Kivelä
This is the first of the Culture series I've read; from all I've heard an reviews of the other books I know this is one of the weakest in the series, so I don't fault the series as... Read morePublished 27 days ago by TThor
Seriously if you have ever experienced something you weren't able to put into words, read this, or other books by this author, and you will probably find what you yourself couldn't... Read morePublished 1 month ago by KBMcLaren
I started with Player of Games first, I think you could read either one first. Good book, a few parts a little drawn out, overall interesting read that gets you into the world... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Kyle
Great premise, but the author needs some work... too much "tell, then show, then tell again" instead of letting readers adventure and learn on their own. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Turisan
Some may have found this predictable, I didn't. The twists were something fresh that I needed. Nice prophesy of one possible future of the electronic decadence facing the upper... Read morePublished 1 month ago by James T Callison