After suffering through Peter F. Hamilton’s interstellar choo-choo train nonsense, I was ready for some decent science fiction again. I was turned on to the Iain M. Banks culture novels by a friend, and the series and world sounded compelling enough to be worth a shot.
As far as I understand, there’s no canonical order in which to read the books, so for the moment I’m approaching them in order of publishing, until I get suggestions otherwise. The books are loosely connected by the world in which they are set, but lack a consistent plot that flows between each one; I enjoy this sort of “series.” I don’t know if there’s a term for that sort of thing.
In any event, the first novel, in publishing order, of the Culture novels is
Consider Phlebas. In Consider Phlebas, the protagonist is working for an alien race at war with The Culture, against his will (this part is never explained particularly well, despite little flashbacks and random side conversations). He is tasked with retrieving one of the Culture’s sentient machines that crashed into a planet after a space battle. He fails and everybody except for the hostage Culture agent dies along the way at different points in the book.
The characters are hollow, the plot is linear, and the actions of the characters are uninspired and inexplicable. The foreshadowing is heavy-handed, the love stories amateurish, and female characters are two dimensional caricatures.
It’s not an awful read, but if it was a standalone novel with nothing following it up, I wouldn’t be particularly interested in reading Banks again. What the novel does provide, however, is an introduction to The Culture and the world in which it operates; it starts with the protagonist fighting against them, showing the Culture as the bad guys/aggressors, and demonstrates that while hugely destructive and violent, The Culture is here to stay and a force to be reckoned with.
Despite its flaws, I still found this an entertaining read, but I wouldn’t invest in it unless you’re interested in reading more Culture novels. 6/10.