63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2013
In the light of the news of the author's terminal cancer, I wanted to say something that could maybe express my condolences to him and thank him for creating a collection of stories that have, quite simply, outshone anything else I have read in my 46 years.
The Culture series have formed the bedrock of my reading for the last 24 years, since I first picked up Consider Phlebas. Subsequent novels have expanded and complicated the Culture universe, but for me this first book is the best. The final section set in the underground tunnels is so evocatively written it gives me goosebumps to this day just thinking about it. Beautifully paced and pitched, devastatingly emotional in the juxtaposition of the close-up personal tragedies it describes and the ultimately futile, almost unnoticed effect of the episode on the war itself. I have re-read Consider Phlebas many times and I am in awe of the man who could dream up such fantasy and tease out so many emotions in the reader by the manner in which he writes. Thankyou Iain for the legacy of your talents. I am (selfishly) bereft that there will be no more Culture novels, but that pales next to the news you gave us two days ago. You are the writer that gave me the gift of reading, and for that I will be ever grateful.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2008
This is my first Iain Banks Novel and proved to be an absorbing and thrilling read. (Thks Mark). The plot (set in the backdrop of a Galatic war between the Idirans and the Culture) moves along at a nice pace and develops characters to a degree that you quickly sympathise with them even when they're diametrically opposed.
Bank's imagination is un-surpassed as you experience orbitals, GSV's, quirky robots,a life threatening game of poker called damage and much more..
The ending is a little disappointing but serves to emphasise that you have just read about the experiences of a small band of mercenaries, caught up in huge conflict played out over unimaginable distances spanning many years. (Also liked the small appendices at the back of the book detailing the reasons for the war)
On the whole this is a good introduction to Ian Banks and I would not hesitate in recommending this book to anyone.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 7 September 2011
I don't usually read science fiction but I picked this up just to try something different. The title, the list of contents and the small font all gave me the feeling that this was not going to be an easy read. I was wrong! One's interest is captured early on and empathy with the main character stays with you through to the end. That does not mean that Horza is a nice character or a good character - it is just that you sympathise with his plight.
The characters develop well as the story unfolds and the outcome is always in doubt. Much is left unresolved at the end but the end is not an unsatisfying one. For all the adventures and achievements of one person in a war, ultimately they count for little in the scale of things.
Whether an author's fantasy is founded in fact or is just pure imagination, science fiction allows the author to get away with the most ridiculous nonsense which is why I tend to dislike the genre. Banks clearly lets his imagination run riot and has some fun with it but the reason this book works is that this imagination is not the core of the book. Rather it is a vessel in which to play out a morality tale of someone caught between two sides in a conflict and his attitudes to and relationships with those on either side or none.
Banks never lets the absurdity of the imagined worlds and behaviours over-power the moral dilemmas and relationships at the heart of the story and as a result one keeps turning the pages. Despite the fears this was a genuinely enjoyable read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I read Consider Phlebas slightly out of order, having read the second book in the Culture series first. As such, I'm not entirely well placed to comment on how it works as a first taste of the series. It's, as you might expect from Banks, a very well written book with lots of beautifully evocative writing. As an introduction to a sci-fi universe it's also very ambitious bringing with it a depth and breadth that promises considerably more than it can be reasonably expected to deliver. In that respect, it lives up to expectations.
For me, the key failing of the book is that it left me frustrated. It would drop a hint of something here, a passing mention of another thing there, offer a brief glimpse into a fascinating concept elsewhere, and then it would just dance on without developing it further. On one hand, this offers plenty of scope for the Culture series to evolve. On the other, I still felt lit-teased and so it doesn't help very much in terms of enjoying this one specific book. I suppose it does keep the plot moving at a fair old clip in a way that extended world building wouldn't, but for me the plot wasn't really as interesting as it could have been without that world building. It's hard to get an appropriate feel for the stakes when you can't properly judge the extent to which the things happening actually *matter*.
I don't think I'd recommend this as someone's first encounter with the Culture. Player of Games, which is an extraordinarily good novel, is both better than Consider Phlebas as a first *and* second book. However, I would recommend swinging back to Consider Phlebas relatively early. It's by no means a bad book, as the four star rating will show. It's just that I think you need a better grounding in the mythos of the universe before the events described within really demonstrate their full significance. In that sense, as a stand-alone book it suffers considerably from over-reach. However, in general I much prefer a book that over-reaches rather than under-reaches.
 A six star book in a five star system.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you only read one sentence of this review my recommendation is to skip this book and read the second in the series (The Player of Games) or read the first 75% and then skip to the appendices.
For more explanation: There are several superlative things about this novel, one good, one bad and two according to taste
Good: It has three or four outstanding episodes. Banks at his best finds interesting science fiction themes and exploits them with brilliant imagination and wit. I won't spoil it by saying anything specific about them.
Taste: Most of the book comprises people killing each other, trying to kill each other, or some kind of threat or suspense leading to further killing. The number of times laser, plasma or other superpowered weapons are fired is remarkable. Given how these advanced beings scorn something as puny as an AK47, it is also remarkable how often their hi-tech weapons fail to kill.
Taste: There is very little characterisation. The culture agent is smooth and intelligent. The guy who pilots the rocket gets excited about the prospect of driving a train. The alien warrior considers it honourable to die fighting and doesn't think very hard about whose side his opponent is on. It doesn't get much deeper than that.
Bad: The last quarter of the book lost interest for me. I found it predictable, unconvincing and pointless. I will give a couple of small examples that won't be spoilers. A robot was damaged and started talking gibberish. The first time it was funny, the second unnecessary. By the time its chatter had interrupted the main narrative more than a dozen times, I was positively wincing.
There is a train travelling at 190 kph. It is not clear how long it is travelling but it feels like at least 30-60 minutes or more, given the interminable number of times the narrative switches to the driver so that we can hear what he is thinking (which varies between nothing and the same thing that he was thinking last time). Why spin it out so far? It doesn't make sense, especially when we realize that some other people have just walked that entire journey.
If I had stopped half way through I would have given it 4-5 stars but overall I can't give it more than 3 for "ok".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Below is the very briefest of outlines, or a snap shot if you will, of this very excellent Science Fiction novel by Ian Banks.
The book begins with a Culture factory spaceship trying to a fashion a rudimentary space craft to carry an AI (as in Artificial Intelligence) to safety, with what materials it has at its disposal. The narrative next moves onto a humanoid by the name of Horza (an assassin/gun for hire) who has some unique biological make up that makes him a “changeling” of sorts, as his narrative begins we find he has been caught and is scheduled for execution by drowning in the worsted way imaginable. However, Horza is rescued from drowning - at the 11th hour he is rescued - by his compatriots the Idirans; he is tasked by his rescuer with the retrieval of the AI core of a Culture vessel, the very same AI that the Culture factory ship was trying to save. This vessel made a daring escape from an Idiran attack and hid itself on Schar's World, a neutral and heavily protected planet. On trying to fulfil his mission is dumped into space in the middle of a space battle, captured by pirates, ambushed while trying to steal from a temple, captured by cannibals, caught in the crush to escape a soon-to-be-destroyed giant orbital platform, and forced to punch his way through a gigantic spaceship in order to escape the Culture's clutches; in the form of a female humanoid agent and her knife missile companion (is it other way round? - is it the knife missile and its' humanoid companion, as Horza states it's hard to know who's the junior companion) lastly he finds the time begin a romantic attachment.
In short this is a thrilling space opera with a fantastic backdrops and thrilling characters. When I read Ian Banks' Culture books it's for tapestry of flavour, colour textures, or side occurrences or conversational snippets and turns of phrase - for that extra detail, which in turn gives that extra punch in reading entertainment. For example the Culture Spaceship and their peculiar naming are good 20 percent of my reading enjoyment - on occasion I have burst out laughing on my daily commute, while reading a culture novel, which in turn earns me rather grim stares, nonetheless these are the risks you take when reading some of Ian Banks books in public. For a good overview of who and what the Culture Universe is there is great Wikipedia piece on them on the internet.
A very good debut Science Fiction novel (as of 1987) and very highly recommended - I might add there a number of Culture and non-Culture based SF books, which are all very good in my opinion. It is very sad that Ian Banks passed away in 2013 he had such an amazing imagination – all I can say is thank you for sharing them with us Ian.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2013
Consider Phlebas is Iain M Banks' first foray into hard-core scifi and is the opening shot in his long running Culture series. This classic space opera tells of shape shifting turncoat Bora Horza Gobuchul who has been tasked by his alien masters to retrieve a lost AI from a deserted world. The story takes him all over the galaxy, falling in with mercenaries, narrowly escaping the destruction of space stations and, in true Banksian style, getting partly eaten by cannibals. The denouement takes place deep under the ground in a network of tunnels on the deserted planet, chasing the AI drone and battling monstrous aliens.
Well, my summary leaves a lot to be desired, I'll admit. However, Banks had already penned four excellent (semi) conventional novels by the time Phlebas was released, so this very conventional space opera (for conventional is what this is) was written by a highly talented and experienced author*. In consequence, Consider Phlebas is a well crafted, cleverly plotted adventure story, set in space. There's bags of exciting action, plenty of varied and three dimensional characters, an intelligent storyline and oodles of techno. Plus point.
On the other hand, being his first stab at scifi, it does stray into somewhat clichéd Hollywood science fiction shoot-em-up territory and has a somewhat naïve air to it. Many of the characters do have rather stereotypical scifi names, and the thread that runs through the story, life aboard a Millennium Falcon-esque spaceship had been done to death before Banks (or Wheedon) came to it. Neg point.
Nevertheless, CP is a great intro to Banks' world. There is nothing tentative about it, being a joyful and whole-hearted piece of popular writing, nowhere near as gritty, nor as overtly political as his "mainstream" stuff. If he hits this relatively new ground running, the fellow can be forgiven for stumbling a little and he certainly regained his stride in later books in the series 9at least according to popular opinion). Reading other reviews, Phlebas is clearly disliked by some, perhaps for its rather simplistic, formulaic and linear format. Personally I enjoyed it enough to give it four stars: despite its various failings, it is still a pretty decent first go and if you're planning on a tour through The Culture, I can't imagine a better place to start than the beginning.
* Why then did he wheel out that "like a rag doll being shaken by an angry child" cliché? It's like authors feel they have to include it as a matter of course. Is it some sort of authorial in-joke?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2012
My first exposure to Iain M. Banks was through his standalone novel 'The Algebraist'. Interested by his scope and ideas for space opera, I found myself buying this and 'The Player of Games', the other introductory novel to the Culture series.
With this series, Banks creates a rather epic setting. The driving force in this book is the galactic war threatening the Culture and a species known as the Idirans. Almost uniquely in my experience, the main character in this novel is on the wrong side of this war. The Culture is shown to be almost as perfect as a civilization can be, whilst the Idirans are portrayed as rather crude by comparison.
Banks' sheer skill at creating worlds draws you into it. The characters are engaging and distinctly different from each other, with exotic technology and settings providing the backdrop. However, this can not be said to be a pleasant book. Depressing in parts and sickening in others, this is not a book for the faint hearted. Overall, however, this is a brilliant book and, in my own opinion, the best introduction to the Culture.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 2004
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2007
Consider Phlebas is an intricately woven novel, set against a sci-fi backdrop.
Although the sci- part sometimes gets a bit too intricate for its own good, the main characters are well-developed to have a depth of personality allowing the reader to like, dislike, be ambivalent about and empathise with them. This is as well as a depth of context which allows the reader to wallow in the fictional history of the characters and their various cultures.
The novel is set within an inter-galactic war of opposing ideologies, and charts the main character's mission. He travels through various adventures with the novel exploring the customs of the sci-fi civilisations created by Banks, which is where the combination of sci- and fi- really becomes potent.
The plot is fairly quick-moving and cohesive and although as with other Banks' novels I've read, is not particularly memorable, what is memorable and makes the book worth reading are the imaginary world and cultures created by Banks.