Consider Phlebas

A book review.

Consider Phlebas

by Iain M. Banks

published: 2005.03.18

ISBN: 1857231384

genre: Sci-Fi


👍🏼 recommended


This complex work, amazingly, was Banks' first work of science fiction. It introduces his futuristic, galaxy-spanning human society called the 'Culture' that features in a number of his other, later works (such as Inversions, which was the first of his books that I read, and which I now see in a new light). It also follows the adventures of a human soldier-of-fortune during an inter-species war, when an alien race has invaded the Culture's sphere of hegemony.

The soldier is capable of 'mimicking' other humans, thanks to the extensive genetic modification of his people (a human sub-species). As with a number of his people, he is working for the aliens out of spite for the Culture.

It's an entertaining read, but more for the universe it introduces than the story it tells. It's almost like Lord of the Rings in the grandeur of its setting in that regard (though with fewer new languages).

The main character is susceptible to a long-running heroic theme in sci-fi that I thought had been killed off by the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Mick Farren, and William Gibson and several others. Here, the hero is ultra-capable, achieving far more than is believable. Perhaps worse, the main character's motivation is left somewhat unexplained. Why does he work for the race that opposes humanity. Did I under-estimated the character's rage at being of a sub-species that seemed to have been engineered by the Culture? Is that on me?

I was blown away by Against a Dark Background, I'm not sure what happened here.

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