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Consider Phlebas: A Culture Novel (The Culture) Paperback – 14 Apr 1988
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Banks is a phenomenon: the wildly successful, fearlessly creative author of brilliant and disturbing non-genre novels, he's equally at home writing pure science fiction of a perculiarly gnarly energy and elegance (William Gibson)
There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward with greater keenness (THE TIMES)
Poetic, humourous, baffling, terrifying, sexy - the books of Iain M. Banks are all these things and more (NME)
From the Publisher
Praise for Iain M. Banks
Banks is a phenomenon: the wildly successful, fearlessly creative author of brilliant and disturbing non-genre novels, hes equally at home writing pure science fiction of a peculiarly gnarly energy and elegance WILLIAM GIBSON
There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward to with greater keenness THE TIMES
Few of us have been exposed to a talent so manifest and of such extraordinary breadth THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF SCIENCE FICTION
Also by Iain M. Banks
The Player of Games
Use of Weapons
The State of the Art
Against a Dark Background
Look to Windward
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So, I asked a friend to recommend one sci-fi and one contemporary work, and this is the former nomination (thank you Dazey!).
For me, starting a sci-fi book is a perilous time. I need to be convinced within the first few pages, else I will be turned off. And in sci-fi, getting convinced can take some doing.
But Banks pulls it off with consummate ease. He is a truly natural story teller, and his writing has great fluidity and reality whether the location is Glasgow or Schars World.
And so to the specifics of this novel.
We follow the adventures of Horza from the first page of the book, where he faces certain death, to the last, where... he faces certain death!
Along the way... yep, you guessed it, he faces certain death.
Horza lurches from one disaster to the next, but all along he is following a path which seems to be destiny. A return to Schars World, where his past, and his love, were left behind.
These are not normal times in the galaxy. The backdrop to Horza's odyssey is a war raging across 100,000 light years, fought between the Culture and the Idirans. The scale of this war is breathtaking, with billions dying and battle ships that are kilometers long.
In such times, the journey of Horza and his rag-taggle company could pass unnoticed, except that Horza has been working for the Idirans, and Schars World holds something that both sides of the conflict are desperate to capture.
Thus Horza becomes a mortal in a war between Gods. That sounds like a greek reference, and indeed there is more than a hint of greek mythology in the epic tale.
Where this book really *works* for me is in the meshing together of this personal odyssey and the galactic war. Horza as a tiny piece of flotsam on a stormy ocean.
Along the way he constructs a very credible universe, a convincing hero and manages to find time for humour, pathos and tragedy.
Consider Phlebas is space opera of the highest, most defining, variety.
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.
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