Reader’s Den, Biblio File
December Reader's Den: Consider Phlebas Part 2
Last week we introduced Iain M. Banks's first sci-fi novel Consider Phlebas. It is the first novel in his Culture series and features the anti-hero Bora Horza Gobuchul as its protagonist. This week I'd like to delve into the character of Horza, why he is nearly fanatical in his pursuit of the missing Mind and what you think makes him tick.
Horza is, to say the least, somewhat self-interested. Like all good protagonists, he is multi-faceted and grows with the story. As a Changer, he can alter his appearance, given enough time, to mimic any humanoid. This is what he's done when we're introduced to him in a prison cell where he's been exposed by a Culture agent as a spy.
His antagonism for the Culture does not stem from this incident, however. It's a long-running part of his makeup. The question is, why? What we know of the Culture from reading is that they've given over the administration of their society to the ubiquitous Minds, preferring to pursue hedonistic lifestyles enabled by plentiful energy and resources shared among all. The humanoids of the Culture are also genetically engineered (termed "gengineering" in the novel) to the point of gender fluidity, centuries-long lifespans and birth control at will.
Is Horza jealous? What does he mean when he claims to be on the side of life? Especially since he works for the Idirans that launched a war of conquest. Do Horza's actions on Vavatch after theOlmedreca fit this view of himself? Is a life lived by the Empire's rational religion better than a life run by machines? Wouldn't the Culture be considered more amenable to life, especially since they evacuate Vavatch before destroying the place?
We turn again to the epigraph: "Gentile or Jew/O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,/Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you." Is Horza filling the role of Phlebas? His shape-changing nature would certainly lend itself to once being handsome and tall. However, it could also metaphorically mean he would always be able to look windward. What do you think?
Look also at the first part of the epigraph: "Idolatry is worse than carnage." The Koran, 2: 190. Does this apply to Horza's "worship" of life above all? Is this a form of idolatry on his part? Could it not equally apply to the Culture who seem to worship their prized freedom and principles? Chime in below and we'll see you next week in the third and final piece of this month's Reader's Den.