Just as Iain Banks' first novel "The Wasp Factory" was a calling-card for his somewhat twisted world-view, so "Consider Phlebas", his first SF novel as Iain M, gives you a pretty clear idea of what to expect in his subsequent SF. Extraordinary as it may seem to anyone who has read much of his other work, this book takes first prize for scope of ideas and - most particularly - inventive emotional brutality. This is emphatically not an easy read. Yes, it's space opera. Yes, it's a gung-ho adventure story. No, it's not like any of the other 5 million books in this genre. For its sheer skill at leaving horrible images in your mind as a result of really quite limited violent episodes the only comparison which springs to mind is Julian May's "Intervention".
The story sees a man - well, not exactly a man - caught on the wrong side (defined as the one which is going to lose) in a galaxy-wide conflict. His efforts to assist his alien allies lead him into a spiral of death and destruction where even his identity is gradually stripped away. The pointlessness of his desperate struggle is finally confirmed in the appendix, where in a couple of lines Banks creates the final, overwhelming message of the book as a whole. Of course, he gave it away in the title.