I've read two Iain (M.) Banks novels - The Wasp Factory and Consider Phlebas (twice), I've loved both of them. What I find appealing about Consider Phlebas is the fantastic imagery of a soaring technological civilisation - Minds, hyper-space, battle ships nestling in a star's photosphere, ... Fabulous.
Before I continue with the rest of the Culture novels I thought I'd give this collection of short stories a go. Well, I have to say I'm not impressed and I'm so glad I didn't start here instead of with Consider Phlebas.
"Road of Skulls": Not bad, a traditional style short story with a thrown in twist.
"A Gift from the Culture": I couldn't see the point.
"Odd attachment": Just annoying. A ridiculous play on "She loves me, she loves me not..." with a juvenile ending.
"Descendant": Quite good but a rather obvious ending.
"Cleaning Up": Liked this one.
"Piece": Really liked this one.
"Scratch": Yes, scratch this. If I wasn't reading the Kindle version I'd consider this a waste of valuable paper and ink.
And finally the main feature of this collection "The State of the Art". This story charts the first contact of the Culture with Earth. So we have Minds and GCUs and fields, hyper-space and all the other great tech but ... well, just not near enough. A GCU stumbles (purposely) across Earth and sends down some people as a ground surveillance, to mop up the vibe so to speak. But that's it: basically the story is simply a vehicle for Mr Banks to expound his gripes, grievances and wishes for the future of Earth's civilisation. Granted this is an underlying theme of many novels SciFi or otherwise, but this is so blatant it comes across as a rather dry lecture on what's wrong with humanity. Very poor.
Read if you want but if this is going to be your first dip into the "Culture" I strongly suggest you start elsewhere or you might never pick up another one - and you would be missing out.