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Wanda's Book Reviews

I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles.  (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).

Currently reading

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Ann J. Lane
Wizard and Glass
Stephen King, Dave McKean
River of Blue Fire
Tad Williams
Richard Ford
Progress: 36/420 pages

Consider Phlebas / Iain M. Banks (Culture series #1)

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks

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.


I don’t know about you, but I remember reading exercises done when I was in Grade 5 that suggested that by now, we would be living in “the Culture”—work would be handled by machines of all kinds and humans would be living in a leisure-based society, post-money, able to do pretty much whatever we could dream up for ourselves. I seem to recall that this utopian ideal was to be in place by about the year 2000….I feel somewhat ripped off, now, that I’m still heading to work every day and saving my shekels for retirement.

I started out intrigued by the title, apparently a line in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I’ve already requested Eliot’s work from my library—to do with the Holy Grail and the Fisher King, I think it will be interesting and right up my alley. Wikipedia tells me that its first section is The Burial of the Dead which “introduces the diverse themes of disillusionment and despair.” Which is basically what Consider Phlebas does for the Culture series.

I found myself fascinated with the main character Horza and his devotion to the Idrian side of the war—not the side that I would have chosen! I am a Culture woman—give me that opportunity to do my own thing for a much-lengthened life in excellent health. Yes, there are intelligent machines (in fact many are much more intelligent than humans), but they don’t seem to hold any grudges against humanity, in fact they seem to have a protective role for vast numbers of races, preventing the religiously-driven Idrians from taking over their planets and forcibly converting them. Plus, human intuition can still sometimes surprise the machine minds—leading to them having certain intuitive humans “on call” to make predictions.

Maybe the biggest take-away message from CP is the pointlessness of this war. There is bravery and treachery on both sides of the Idrian/Culture conflict. Many years are spent in the struggle, but at book’s end the casualties are tallied, and really not much has been accomplished, little has changed.

One of my favourite parts was the “card” game called Damage. What a mild name for a game of high strategy and violence! I’ve done {an admittedly cursory) search for a video game that would try to recreate Damage, but I haven’t found one. I’d generally rather read than play games, whether video or card games, but even I could see the appeal of this one.

This is my first Iain Banks novel, but it will not be the last. The man could write. I sincerely regret that he lost his life to cancer (so recently!) and will not be penning any more adventures of any kind. I have book two, The Player of Games, waiting on my bookshelf for me to be ready.

Book 209 of my science fiction & fantasy reading project.