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TPG Reviews: Consider Phlebas, by Iain M Banks

March 10, 2014

A fantastic piece of SF; highly worth reading

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.

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My rating: 8/10

Alright, quick confession: I finished reading this almost a month ago, but never got around to reviewing back when it was still fresh in my head. By now, it is…decidedly less than fresh, so this review won’t be particularly detailed.

Even so, I have to say it: I liked this book. In fact, I liked it a lot.

On nearly every category, this book excels. The setting is utterly fascinating, with the deadly card game known as Damage providing a particular highlight. Horza, a shapeshifter with a single-minded hatred of the utopian Culture, makes for a fascinatingly flawed protagonist. Horza goes through several elaborate set pieces over the course of his mission, and the vast majority of these were hugely enjoyable to read. Banks’ prose made for powerful reading and really drew me into the story, a bit of awkward phrasing notwithstanding.

Other characters, admittedly, were a bit of a mixed bag. The other “main” characters were good, being both easy to picture and easy to believe. A few of the side characters were kinda one-note, however; consequently, I soon lost track of them. This didn’t hurt my enjoyment too much, though I’m guessing I was supposed to feel more for them than I actually did.

My only other criticism concerns a specific sequence which takes place fairly early on, in which Horza is trapped on an island by a cannibalistic cult. This particular section is spectacularly gross, goes on for ages and – to me at least – feels utterly unneccessary.  Luckily, this is followed almost immediately by the aforementioned game of Damage, so my bad feelings didn’t last for very long.

Consider Phlebas is the first Culture novel I have read. Already, I can say it won’t be the last. The writing is strong, the (main) characters interesting and the setting downright fascinating in its breadth and depth. What more could you ask for in a piece of SF?

Read this, or read anything else by this author. Feel free to share your thoughts below?

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4 Comments
  1. It’s a great book. In my opinion, Banks got better the more he wrote, tightening up on his sometimes confusing prose and developing some fascinating characters. His AI’s in particular, especially in his last books before his far too early death, are fantastic. Stick with the Culture books. It’s worth it.

    • That’s the plan :). Will be picking up The Player of Games at some point soon, hopefuly. I’ve heard really good things about that one, so I’m really looking forward to it.

  2. I totally agree with the above poster, the Culture books just get better and better, and The Player of Games is no exception. My favourite recent one was Surface Detail – loved the Culture Fast Picket ship in that!

    • Sounds like I have a lot to look forward to, then :). The Player of Games is now high on my to-read list; I’m thinking I’ll start reading it in the next month or so.

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