Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Iain M Banks' Second Culture Novel

I did not expect the Empire to be overthrown by the end of the novel but it was certainly ripe for revolution. The Emperor asserts that the most stable societies are those ruled by the strong and the ruthless but events prove that brutal dictatorship and enforced poverty generate so much general discontent and internal conflict that, after what may be a long period of apparent impregnability, they can be toppled quite quickly. A civilization in which every citizen genuinely has an equal stake in the status quo is another matter.

In the Empire, males impregnate apices who impregnate females. Apices are dominant. How does this work? We are familiar with the idea of an Emperor controlling both an army and a harem. If we imagine the Emperor not as a male with many wives or concubines and soldiers but as an apex with many husbands, wives and soldiers, then we will have translated familiar relationships into this fictitious scenario.

The Emperor addresses a Culture citizen disparagingly as a male but, since the Culture has only two sexes, its citizens have no choice but to be either male or female - although they can change. The Emperor's attitude is typical of his blinkered society. Another high-ranking apex remarks that, unfortunately, most of the unemployed are loafers. So that is the cause of social and economic problems, is it?

Apparently, at least one of Banks' sf novels is not set in the Culture history. "Other Books by the Same Author" pages should be divided into:

by Iain Banks;
the Culture sf series by Iain M Banks;
other sf by Iain M Banks.

From what I have seen so far, each Culture novel features different characters and a different aspect of society in a different period. This alone makes it unlike any other long futuristic sf series, to my knowledge.

Iain M Banks' First Culture Novel

The point of Consider Phlebas seems to be the pointlessness of war:

an alien race is religiously imperialistic;
the usually peaceful Culture wages war against the imperialists;
the war is extremely destructive of lives and of technological wealth - a massive, artificial, orbiting habitat is evacuated and destroyed;
the viewpoint character is on what should clearly be seen as the wrong side;
characters who are supposed to be on the same side fight because of misunderstanding and rigid thought processes;
the war is unresolved by the end of the novel;
the second novel opens several centuries after the war and focuses on an entirely different aspect of the Culture.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Iain M Banks' First Two Culture Novels

A game plays a major role in the first novel and the second is all about gaming. Is it valid to make games so important in the stories without telling the reader any of the rules of these games? Despite not doing this, Banks does convey what it feels like to engage in gaming.

The Culture is a sustained presentation of a wealthy, high tech, easy-going, interstellar civilization whereas the Empire in the second novel is systematically more callous than any human society.

There is a fascinating ecology on the planet Echronedal:

oceans at the poles;
land around the equator;
a fire that moves permanently around the land;
organisms that have adapted to survive and thrive in these conditions;
an Empire that considers it appropriate to game in fire-proof castles on the surface.

I cannot help thinking that "hard sf" staples like hyperspace are really not sf but fantasy, especially when human beings from the Milky Way galaxy encounter in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud beautiful women with whom they can have sex.