Iain M. Banks’ Culture Novel Primer

Skipping through science fiction blog io9 the other day, I ran across a guide to the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks:

Not only do we have a rundown of every single Culture novel, but we’ve also got some important excerpts from an obscure essay Banks wrote in 1994 about the ideas behind the Culture universe. Get ready to enter a world where ships are sentient, humans live for half a millennium, and living on a planet is probably the most backward thing you can do.

I must confess that I had never heard of the Culture series of novels, nor of Iain M. Banks. But I’m easily smitten by world-building writers who create detailed civilizations and set interconnected novel in said universes, David Brin’s Uplift universe being possibly my favorite such creation.

I’ve begun reading the first novel in the Culture series, Consider Phlebas, whose title is drawn from the “Death by Water” section of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”:

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Banks quotes this portion of the poem in the epigraph to the novel, setting us up for a tale of self-sacrifice in the cause of something greater. Just referencing Eliot doesn’t guarantee a literate novel, but what I’ve read so far suggests I’m in for a well-written journey.

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