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Reader’s Den, Biblio File

December Reader's Den: Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas

It's that time of year when you'd rather curl up by the fireplace, space heater, heating baseboard, or whatever floats your boat than face another chilly winter day or sentence lacking Oxford commas. Consider Phlebas, Iain Banks's debut novel, is a terrific space opera to while away the cold hours with. It's the kind of meaty science fiction the mind will digest for days or weeks after reading.

The book takes its title from a line in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

"Oh you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you."

This month's will be a three-part Reader's Den:

Part I: Introduction and initial discussion questions
Part II: Character discussion
Part III: Wrap-up, final considerations and further reading.

This novel is the first in Banks' Culture series and not only introduces us to the eponymous Culture but also the fantical Idiran warriors at war with them. The book is set against the backdrop of this galaxy-spanning conflict, one which wipes out billions of people as the Idirans fight to expand their empire. The Culture, composed of genetically engineered humans who have given over the administration of their society to sentient supercomputers known as Minds, oppose the Idirans on principle. They are utopian hedonists, believing that techonology can free people from material needs and considerations, bringing peace to all. This pits them directly against the religious, expansionist fanaticism of the Idirans who seek control above all.

The war and the Culture itself are not the main thrust. Early on, one of the Culture's Minds narrowly escapes pursuit and hides on a dead world. Bora Horza Gobuchul, a humanoid shapeshifter and spy, is assigned by his Idiran handlers to retrieve the Mind. Horza is the cynical sort and opposes the Culture for reasons of his own. He states early in the book that he opposes the Culture because he is on the side of life. What do you think he means by this? How is the machine-driven Culture anti-life? Is it?

Keep the epigraph in mind, especially the Koran passage, as you peruse this grand space opera in the month to come. Next week we will delve further into Horza's character as well as the workings of the Culture.


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His debut novel as Iain M. Banks

but Banks wrote three excellent novels before Consider Phlebas: The Wasp Factory, Walking on Glass, and The Bridge.


Good catch. My mistake. His first SCI FI novel.

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