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Iain (M) Banks
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I have all of his sf books. They are amazing. His non-sf stuff doesn't interest me, but feel free to pitch in.

I do want to discuss the Culture and its implications. Here's A Few Notes on the Culture, spoiler-free.
 
Posts: 2627 | Location: Manila | Registered: October 15, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Have you tried the non sci-fi? I believe St Bill Gibson himself described them as "non-genre"... interesting handle.

I have read all his work. Of late, his non sci-fi has tailed off. Dead Air and The Business were particularly disappointing. But his earlier work - particularly the Crow Road, Complicity, Whit and Espedair Street - is very enjoyable indeed.

On the sci-fi side, I'm glad he has moved on from the Culture books. I think he'd explored plenty with that backdrop. For those that don't know, he uses the idealised society "The Culture" (where everyone has everything they could ever need) to highlight moral issues. The conflict is between the perfect Culture, where people live in blissful comfort and all their whims are indulged, and the more barbarous societies around them. Excession is probably my favourite because it echoes themes we can all relate to... what would you do, which lines would you cross and which moralities would you set aside, if the prize was absolute power? It can be a confusing read first time round, particularly because sentient spaceships are major characters and their dialogues can take some getting used to. Tremendous fun, though, and he never loses his sense of humour.

But I have to say that I think his most recent is his most accompished. The Algebraist is the gnarliest of the lot... intricate, evocative and quite scary in parts. Two thumbs up.
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Elah Adonijai
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Consider Phlebas is on my Christmas list. It might just magically appear with some Christmas stuff I buy for my wife and daughter, though.


____________________________________________________________________
"Patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer i beg to submit that it is the first." - Ambrose Bierce
----------------------
A Good Scoundrel isn't Hard to Find
 
Posts: 2179 | Location: Hiding in the secret compartments of Whittier, CA | Registered: July 08, 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Lexis Nexus
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Excession is on my bookshelf, waiting.


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Adept of the Burning Chrome
 
Posts: 16373 | Registered: December 22, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I kinda didn't like Consider Phlebas, Horza is such an amoral asshole. It's still pretty good, but the others are better.

My vote for "Which is the best Culture novel to start with?" goes to Use of Weapons, though Excession is popular too. I tend to agree that the Culture stories are played out, but the Culture is still the most thoroughly thought-out advanced civilization I've come across, so they're fun to think about.

So maybe it's time for more non-Culture sf, The Algebraist was tremendous, so was Against a Dark Background. Feersum Endjin was good, but the sections in l33t bugged me.

What would you do if you were in the Culture? That question's become a litmus test for me. If you had virtual immortality and any material thing you wanted, what would you do with that? An optimist would think that people would enrich themselves by travelling and experiencing different cultures. A pessimist would say that people would become couch potatoes, gorging themselves on junk food and reality tv, or their high-tech equivalents.
 
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I always really liked the little flights of fancy he put in. The one that springs to mind is a huge cable car network built on a planet that stretched across a remote desert and was built largely by a local eccentric. It served no purpose but after a planet wide referendum the AIs and drones helped him build this glorious white elephant that just ticked away taking no-on nowhere.

I'd like to do something like that.
 
Posts: 2732 | Location: The London | Registered: January 22, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Joe_3heads:
I always really liked the little flights of fancy he put in. The one that springs to mind is a huge cable car network built on a planet that stretched across a remote desert and was built largely by a local eccentric. It served no purpose but after a planet wide referendum the AIs and drones helped him build this glorious white elephant that just ticked away taking no-on nowhere.

I'd like to do something like that.


That was in Look to Windward, the last and most philosophical of the Culture books.

My favorite was the ship AI that made vast detailed dioramas of historical battles, out of the bodies of cryogenically frozen passengers. (Excession)

Banks doesn't seem to be sure himself whether the Culture is empowered and noble, or a meddlesome, decadent evolutionary dead end.

I'd like to do research myself, join Contact or the Zetetic Elench.
 
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is imperfectly illuminated
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I think Banks likes the culture. Doesn't necessarily think their drive to homogenise is necessarily a good thing, but when compared to the rest of the available options, it's a fine thing.

I'd love to know more about subliming... that's the only bit left of that world that i feel has wings.

Use of Weapons is my favourite book in the sci-fi, but Excession runs a close second, then player of games.

I enjoyed the Algebraist a lot.

In terms of things to do, i think the Grey Area's mission was probably the most interesting... [SPOILER] actually going IN to the Excession[/spoiler]

I love the terminology.... An OCP (Outside Context Problem) and a hegemonising swarm.
He's also brilliant at names.

Zhobohobaum Za
and
the Zetetic Elench

plus the ship names, o'course


---------------
*is currently impressed*
 
Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sometimes I'm reminded of Cordwainer Smith's Rediscovery of Man stories reading Banks. The idea that future mankind has become so inured to the forces that drove it before, hunger, fear, mortality etc, that these have to be re-introduced artificially to stimulate the populace. In look to windward there was the possibility that an element in the culture had conspired to start a war for that reason, to remind people of 'reality'. Cordwainer Smith also had some pretty grand inventions, Shayol the punishment planet and the giant sheep that produce an immortality drug called shroon.

As for the culture's meddlesomeness, it has interesting parallels for me in the way the west is spreading 'democracy'. Is it right to manipulate a technolgically inferior species/nation just because you judge yourself to be morally superior, and if so should it be done directly through invasion, or indirectly through sending a triksy gameplayer to upset their equilibrium.
 
Posts: 2732 | Location: The London | Registered: January 22, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Murphy:
I think Banks likes the culture. Doesn't necessarily think their drive to homogenise is necessarily a good thing, but when compared to the rest of the available options, it's a fine thing.


In The State of the Art, a Contact ship covertly studies the Earth in the 1970s. Contact decides to leave Earth as is, as a control, a benchmark from which to compare other civilizations they'll actually interfere with. They view us with a peculiarly inflected mixture of admiration and disgust.

In the Culture universe, only primitive cultures can produce real art. Culture artists do not enjoy any special status, and are seen as merely doggedly persistent, but with no real spark of genius (Excession). Contact agents and warriors are often recruited from outside the ranks (Player of Games), or outsourced from other worlds (Use of Weapons).

What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his own soul?

I think subliming is presented as a "black box" because Banks's considerable imaginative genius had taken him as far as he could go. What would be the proper concerns of a Type 2 civilization, a builder of Dyson spheres? Maybe we just can't imagine it, it would be like trying to explain the internet to Neanderthals.

In Sagan's Contact the aliens are building huge wormholes to suck up matter from the edges of the universe and siphon it back nearer to the center, to hold back the final heat death. Now that's a worthy endeavor for the mega-empowered.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Joe_3heads:
Is it right to manipulate a technolgically inferior species/nation just because you judge yourself to be morally superior, and if so should it be done directly through invasion, or indirectly through sending a triksy gameplayer to upset their equilibrium.


The Culture is big on the distinction that they are only technologically superior, and primitives can be just as "morally worthy" as they are. Probably even more so, as post-scarcity makes it hard to be evil: with some rare and clever exceptions, murder, theft, blackmail, etc, are impossible.

One of the great elements of the series is that the Culture doesn't cop out with a Prime Directive, they evaluate every new species on a case to case basis, they are acutely aware that they're playing God, and constantly question their choices and their worthiness. Diziet Sma and the GCU Arbitrary leave the Earth to its own devices, and they don't shy away from the anguish that goes with that decision.
 
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is imperfectly illuminated
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quote:
Originally posted by ZoneSeek:
In The State of the Art, a Contact ship covertly studies the Earth in the 1970s. Contact decides to leave Earth as is, as a control, a benchmark from which to compare other civilizations they'll actually interfere with. They view us with a peculiarly inflected mixture of admiration and disgust.

I didn't get the admiration. the only one who did was an fringe member of the culture.

quote:
In the Culture universe, only primitive cultures can produce real art. Culture artists do not enjoy any special status, and are seen as merely doggedly persistent, but with no real spark of genius (Excession)
Only if you define art through suffering, as in the instruments made from bone in player of games. I think this is a sociological decision rather than a judgement on the quality of the art the people produce. A sociological quiirk. let's not forget the cultures obsession with elegance rather than brute efficiency in the use of it's power (at every level of society)

quote:
What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his own soul?
huh? you're going to have to explain that one to me. Not sure what you are driving at.

quote:
I think subliming is presented as a "black box" because Banks's considerable imaginative genius had taken him as far as he could go.
yeah, agreed, which is why i want to know more!


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*is currently impressed*
 
Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by Murphy:
I didn't get the admiration. the only one who did was an fringe member of the culture.


Sma agreed that Earth had a certain something, a desirable x factor that the Culture didn't and couldn't have. And she said it wasn't worth all the appalling horribleness, but there you go.

quote:
quote:
What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and yet loses his own soul?
huh? you're going to have to explain that one to me. Not sure what you are driving at.


The implication is that Culture humanoids are eviscerated, emasculated. Culture Minds think of them as "pets, passengers, parasites." The misanthropic idea, which I alternately agree and disagree with, is that if you gave people everything they wanted, they would just find other ways to piss away their lives, and other reasons to feel miserable.

I think there might arise a specific class of Culture citizens, call them the Turned: those who were born into a primitive society and the biological baseline, then the Culture takes them in. They might be the most influential of the meat people, like Zakalwe and Mahrai Ziller.
 
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Originally posted by ZoneSeek of the Order of the Ticktockman:
Sma agreed that Earth had a certain something, a desirable x factor that the Culture didn't and couldn't have. And she said it wasn't worth all the appalling horribleness, but there you go.


Ok, wrong. Sma wrote us off as savages. The ship said we were interesting, though the Culture is still better overall.

There was a short, A Gift From the Culture, about another Contact agent gone native because s/he was fed up with the Culture's smug complacency.
 
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is imperfectly illuminated
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people interested, and the drama is bound to happen on the fringes of a culture like The Culture... that's where the fun stuff happens.

The ambassador to the Affront in Excession (i forget his name) is an extreme example, but the minds have great pride in utilising the freaks and wierdos to the maximum extent. Same witht he entire cast of Use of Weapons

And that's where the author is going to get a lot of his play from. However, i don't think for a moment that Banks is actually on the side of the Idirans or the Affront. Or even earth. when you look at the broad based pyramid of the Culture, as opposed to all the other cultures about, I'm for dead sure that Banks (as a good Scottish Socialist) is on the side of the Culture... sure, there are some costs, but the benefits to the average citizen are massive...


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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The issue about primitive cultures producing art is explored pretty well in the final chapters of Brave New World.
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Don't you think it's a little facile to suggest that Banks is "on the side of the Culture"? Yes yes, it's a socialist paradise where everyone has what they want. But the themes that recur always question that sort of unthinking luxury.

If all the Culture did was sit around and enjoy themselves, they would implode... that's the message behind several of the books and the reason why their missionary arm exists. So the socialism, equality, freedom and fun are all relevant but ultimately they're the motivating forces behind all the conflict.
 
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But the the Culture doesn't just sit round, like our current and past earthly empires there is a drive to expand. However, the Culture's mindset is fundamentally better than the forces it faces, and no, i don't think it's 'facile' to say that in the end, despite exploring the flaws of the Culture with forensic detail, Banks is on their side.


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sorry... perhaps you misunderstood me.

Obviously our conversation about which "side" the author's on is fundamentally flawed, because we don't know. But he reserves a lot of narrative contempt for the Culture society. Perhaps I'm missing something you've picked up on. But you say it yourself: there's a drive to expand. Doesn't that, by it's nature, sound imperialistic?

He also tries, once or twice (admittedly, not particularly successfully) to explore the morality behind taking an active interest in less advanced societies. The whole point of the conundrum, for me, is that the Culture Minds can have as many statistics to rationalise their involvement as they like: they're still "interfering". And that is a moral decision based on an assumption of superiority. Whether that's true or not is to miss the niceties of the dilemma. If you interfere, you're effectively invading, however well-minded the interference is.

In the very first book of the series, the Horza character is the devil's advocate against the Culture ethos. He questions them because he describes them as an evolutionary dead end. And you can see why. The people have handed over strategic control of their society to a group of (mainly) well-intentioned thinking machines. These in turn go out and encourage other societies to operate under the same set of values as they themselves hold. Whether you agree with their methods or not, they are conducting a textbook example of hegemony. And I doubt if Banks, as a "good Scottish socialist", would think well of that as an abstract concept.
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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'Obviously' nothing.
I disagree that the conversation is flawed, mainly because he writes the stories, and since it is possible to read texts and divine intents and biases i'm perfectly happy to argue that i know which side the author is on. otherwise my 5 years at university were wasted!
(also, I do know what he thinks... Banks is on record as saying the Culture is his perfect utopia, with it's only real flaw being its smugness. He said pretty much that at an author reading/Q&A i went to)

The urge to expand is a characteristic of empire, but isn't exclusive to empire. But they lack the other characteristics of the classic empire. We should be very aware that the Culture has no need of expansion for material sake (it's partially their lack of interest in materialism that wins them the war against the Idirans). So the urge to expand isn't about material goods for the good of the Culture, it's more intellectual curiosity.

And yes, they intervene, but compare their interventions compared to those of the Idiran and the Affront, or the empire of Azad. Are you really telling me there is no qualitative difference between these interventions? The Culture encourage other societies towards teh attitudes they hold, yes, which does establish hegemony. However, you are mistaken if you think that a socialist doesn't approve of hegemony. socialism and liberalism are two very different beasts.


---------------
*is currently impressed*
 
Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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