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Iain (M) Banks
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I'm not sure there's any need to be aggressive. But, since you're so terribly sure of yourself, I might suggest two things.

Firstly, Banks has mentioned (in Consider Phlebas, I'm pretty sure) that the Culture has to engage in its moral crusade solely out of guilt. It does "good works" so that it can feel all happy and snuggly about lazing around an awful lot of the time doing fun things, and fun things only.

Secondly, the civilisation of the Culture is not expanding. Surely this is a pretty fundamental point. It's not a question of territory - they have more than they could ever use - or power - they don't, ostensibly, seek it - but of morality. There's no point in comparing this sort of "soft" hegemonisation, however liberal its essential values, with the "harder" societies that you mention from the books. These societies exist within the books to give the author an Earth-like frame of reference that the reader can feel grounded in.

Finally, I'm delighted to hear that you spent 5 years at university and, in your infinite wisdom, have irrefutably decided a) what the author thinks, b) that your reading of it is the only one worth hearing, and c) that your interpretation of the novels is correct, and that's just that. I might, were I an unpleasant person, suggest that university is supposed to open a student's mind rather than corral it so effectively. But, because I'm generally a polite soul, I won't waste either my or your time saying it.

We are getting awfully het up about a series of (admittedly quite good) contemporary science fiction novels. If we're really going to get nasty, can't we kick off on the Tolstoy or Dickens? Wink
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sorry to barge in - just wanted to say that Murph didn't just talk about *his* opinion/reading. He also talked about what Banks himself said, quite clearly, so I think he's got a very valid point there. Or don't you think so?


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Posts: 10887 | Location: Switzerland | Registered: September 05, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
is imperfectly illuminated
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Aggressive? I think not.
In your post you argued that to state an opinion on which side the author is on is obviously fundamentally flawed because we don't know what he thinks.

In what sense is it aggressive to say this is incorrect, since the author has stated his opinion?
Also, as an analytical reader i think it's perfectly ok to argue what a writer's biases are. I spent my entire degree divining intentions and leanings...

I'm very happy to have a debate about opinions.
I love hearing other people's perspectives on things.

I'm sorry you regard making decisions based on evidence and analysis as being close minded.


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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OK. Hang on a sec.

Banks "pretty much saying something" at a book signing is not Banks making his ideological opinions clear to you. No offence, but your interpretation of what the man said is something a critic might call "an unreliable source".

Secondly, and as Zone has pointed out pretty clearly, human beings are "pets" in the Culture. I'm wondering how that would dovetail with a depiction of it as the perfect socialist society. Surely any socialist worth his salt would utterly reject the idea of delegating moral responsibility to a machine, however sophisticated.

Thirdly, I don't think it's a great leap to suggest that an author may write one thing and believe another. Writing is (usually) an intellectual exercise, to a certain extent. So I may show you one thing, and think another. It's not a political manifesto. It's science fiction.

So, fair enough. You heard him "pretty much saying something", and that's good enough for you. Seems we're not going to meet in the middle on this one. I'd suggest that, if the man does have political leanings - and he probably does - they're better expressed by the Cameron Colley character of Complicity: resentment at capitalist profligacy, and a determination for people to take responsibiltiy for the way they're governed. And anyone can see that the Culture is a fairly long way away from that. The citizens don't make decisions. The citizens don't influence policy. The citizens take drugs and play games. Fun, certainly. I'd love to live there. Socialist utopia? Nonsense.

Is this genuinely not making sense? How can you square the abnegation of one's political responsibility with the ideal of social society?
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Fair enough, Thirith. I just didn't read it that way. Murph's interpretation of something someone said is not an opinion I'd trust, because I don't know a) what was said, or b) Murph.

Murphy, the last thing I want to do is start any nastiness. If I've offended, apologies. When I see someone having to list their academic achievements to give weight to their points, my alarm bells start ringing. I'm sure I've misjudged you, I'm sure you know what you heard and you believe it. So you surely can't be offended by my response. After all, you know the truth of the matter. Right?
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I would agree that Banks intended the Culture to be an ideal. But I disagree with some of the (implied) conclusions, and some of the starting conditions.

Besides their ultimate long-term fate, the one other intriguing aspect of the Culture is their origins. Banks said that the Culture's current easygoing attitude belies the vicissitudes of the early days, which were not without conflict. The beginings are just sketched out a bit in A Few Notes, a loose federation of ships and habitats pulls together to protect themselves from those that would rule them.

To survive that, the proto-Culture would have to be more pragmatic, disciplined. I imagine something like Heinlein's Free Traders: disdainful of outsiders, proud of their freedom, but bound by a code of conduct that seems just as strict as tyranny.
 
Posts: 2627 | Location: Manila | Registered: October 15, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
is imperfectly illuminated
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quote:
Originally posted by guernican:
Banks "pretty much saying something" at a book signing is not Banks making his ideological opinions clear to you. No offence, but your interpretation of what the man said is something a critic might call "an unreliable source".
No, but I said he's on record...
Don't take my word for it... I lie, cheat at cards, and steal from my parents (ask anyone Smile). But ten minutes on google should give you articles, essays and interviews where Banks talks about the Culture as the ˜perfect' society, and how ˜it's smug, but smugness is the price of perfection', etc...
quote:
Thirdly, I don't think it's a great leap to suggest that an author may write one thing and believe another. Writing is (usually) an intellectual exercise, to a certain extent. So I may show you one thing, and think another. It's not a political manifesto. It's science fiction.
No, which is why I was talking only about the text until you made the patently untrue comment that we don't know what the author thinks. Of course you can say one thing and write something that gives away another. It just happens that my interpretation and reading of the text dovetails with the authors stated position in this case.
quote:
I'd suggest that, if the man does have political leanings - and he probably does - they're better expressed by the Cameron Colley character of Complicity.
Make up your mind. If it's ˜obviously fundamentally flawed to talk about which side an author is on, because we don't know' then why are you making this point at all?
quote:
Murphy, the last thing I want to do is start any nastiness. If I've offended, apologies.
No offence taken, so no apology needed. But thank you anyway.
quote:
When I see someone having to list their academic achievements to give weight to their points, my alarm bells start ringing. I'm sure I've misjudged you, I'm sure you know what you heard and you believe it. So you surely can't be offended by my response. After all, you know the truth of the matter. Right?
Of course my point of view isn't necessarily right, or better than yours. But since you were arguing that taking any position on what the author thinks is flawed, the fact that universities have entire departments which teach just the skills which would allow one to divine intentions and leanings and biases becomes directly relevant. You do realise that you just summarily dismissed an entire academic discipline? I was amused at the idea that 5 years of my life were wasted at Manchester... ok, so I won't give up the day job and become a comedian, but still...


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Again, you misunderstand. The dismissal isn't of the discipline. It's of people who don't have the intellectual confidence to debate their point of view without referring to their time in academia.
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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First of all, what are these Culture books? How many of them are there? You guys got me interested...

Secondly, Guernican, maybe you should take a step back, breathe deeply, and re-read the entire thread. Murphy didn't say 'I am right because I have a degree'. He said, that it is possible indeed to get to know an author's POV and opinions through his work, as one does when they attend literature classes. We've all done that -you read a book, and you study the language used, the syntax, the vocabulary choices, the structure choices, etc, and you can guess the author's sympathies, political views, etc. I agree with you that you cannot know for sure 100%, but you can get a very accurate estimate. Especially if you read more than one work, and interviews with the author, which Murphy then quoted.
And this is how you can know about Kesey's view of the society of his time, or Orwell's political views, or Gaiman's stance on homosexuality, for example.


 
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I don't think Banks is unequivocal in his love of the culture, he's too interesting a writer to just create his ideal universe and have it do cool stuff. He raises interesting points about 'better' societies and their choices in interacting with others, but I feel he is firmly pro-culture. He's saying, yes it can be morally unpleasant to have a perfect society, in fact no such thing exists as we can imagine it, but isn't it better than the alternative. The heroes of his books sometimes choose to live away from the cultures stultifying reaches, but they usually work to protect it.

And since when have good socialists had any problem with state control? The AIs in Banks works are not just machines, they are intelligences, actual beings albeit different to the humanoids. They have superior lifespan, emotional control, access to information, reaction times etc. It's only logical that they govern since they can perform the task so much better. They are the people that the story of the culture is about (as opposed to the books, which focus on the humans, generally speaking)

and this is the opinion of someone who has no literary education beyond 16. I did go to art college which technically made me more stupid. I do however have complete confidence in my point of view.
 
Posts: 2732 | Location: The London | Registered: January 22, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs?

Clover, the Culture books are a series of sci-fi books by Iain M Banks... But though they are all set in the same mileau, they aren't a trilogy, and barely feature common characters (barring the occasional casual reference)

They appear to be done with now. I think they were written in the same chronological order as they were published.

The Culture is a rough grouping of a humanoids who live in their countless large ships and orbitals... they have virtual limitless use of conventional resources that the citizens live a life of almost no limits... gene-fixed, able to live forever should they choose to, to gland drugs in their own system etc etc. They aren't homogenous by any means, and newly discovered cultures are often invited to join. They operate in parallel with 'minds' which are essentially colossal AIs (though that term is entirely inadequate to the scope of the minds)/ There is no central authority, decisions are made based on individual decisions and commitees.

The Culture itself is fairly indulgent and keeps to itself, but there is a section called Contact, which you should think of as the foreign office and foreign development agency, and in times of war is the main body of the Cultures armed forces. They tend to explore, and to a limited extent intervene to encourage some cultures to develop... but this is clearly a tricky moral business. Contact is a mix between army and social work. But within Contact, there is a much more morally ambivalent group, 'Special Circumstances'. they are the people and minds who really do the Cultures dirty work, and this is where most of the books are set, understandably, because they most thoroughly throw light on the interface.

There is often hundreds if not thousands of years between books.

The first book is Consider Phlebas, a sort of road movie taking you through incidents in the Idiran War. It's a good primer, but for my money the weakest of the books.

Next comes The Player of Games, which i enjoy, but it's not that deep a story. It's a helluva lot of fun, though, and by the end the way the Culture approaches things is pretty clearly laid out.

Somewhere in here comes State of the Art which is his short story collection, which has a few Culture stories, including one where a Contact ship encounters and investigates earth (which is in the late 1970s or early 80s(?)).

Then Use of Weapons, which is probably his best book. It's about a mercenary who fights wars for the Culture. There's a lot of philosophical debate here between the Culture people about the ethics of intervention and so on. I spent about 2 years trying to persuade a friend who loathes sci-fi to read this one, and after i finally did, she has said it's probably one of the best 5 books she's ever read.

Then comes Excession. By this point the Culture is late stage mature. What could pose a threat to such a diffuse, powerful civilisation? A lot of folk think this is his strongest piece, and largest and most ambitious in it's scope. And they are probably right, but i'm less engaged by this cast than i am by Cheradanine Zakalwe and Diziet Sma in Use of Weapons... but it's still a remarkable read.

after this, for my money the books start to dry up a bit. Inversions is technically about people from the Culture, but only just. i thought it was ok, but pretty shallow compared to the heights of Use of Weapons and Excession.

Then comes Look to Windward which definitely seems to be an elegy/coda to the series. It's a meditation on one of the Culture's blunders.

It's worth noting that The titles of the first and last books in the series, Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward are both quotes from the same passage of TS Eliot's The Wasteland
"Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you."
It's partly why i think he's done with the series.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Murphy,


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by guernican:
Thirdly, I don't think it's a great leap to suggest that an author may write one thing and believe another. Writing is (usually) an intellectual exercise, to a certain extent. So I may show you one thing, and think another. It's not a political manifesto. It's science fiction.

Agreed. You would be a simpleton to take the what they write at face value. But when writers create a world that is opposed to their own opinions and world view the protagonists are usually rebels, or become dissillusioned with that world, or are enemies of it.

The only places where Banks writes like that about the Culture are in Consider Phlebas and to a lesser extent in Look to Windward. But in that book, we see the Culture redeeming some of it's earlier mistakes when the composer plots revenge... And in Consider Phlebas Horza is a tragic hero, the Phlebas of the title, who dies tragically unfulfilled, knowing his enemies weren't who he thought they were. We are invited to view him with pity, knowing that his pride and his inflexibility doom him.

And in his arguments, his opinions against the Culture are little better than bigotry. He fights for a rigidly theocratic empire who regard him with contempt.

and the plot of Look to Windward shows the Culture has regrets and tries to atone, and in the end is redeemed by not repeating the same mistakes. It's older and wiser. It's possible to view the Culture entire as the protagonist of the stories, and as such, the grand sweep is of growth, refinement and change.

quote:
I'd suggest that, if the man does have political leanings - and he probably does - they're better expressed by the Cameron Colley character of Complicity: resentment at capitalist profligacy, and a determination for people to take responsibiltiy for the way they're governed.


On what basis do you think that the political of one character in one more social realist novel trumps that of an entire series of sci-fi novels?

After all, isn't it reasonable to suggest that in a situation where the guy creates an entire universe - and comes back to it for 10-12 years in a whole series of novels exploring the philosophy behind it - might reveal just as much, or even perhaps a little more about the man's opinions than one novel set in a near contemporary world?
Besides which, at least one of the two traits you ascribe to him, the disgust at the profligacy of capitalism is present in spades in the novels of the Culture.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Murphy,


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Civilizations in Banks's universe come in 3 types:

1. The Elder races: Not necessarily the same as the Sublimed, but these still tend to be ancient, powerful, inscrutable, and non-interventionist, retired from normal affairs.

2. The Involved: Those who are "in play," the spacefaring races who take an active interest in the physical universe, they explore and expand their influence.

3. The primitives: The planet-bound races.

Is the Culture the top dog amongst the Involved? In Consider Phlebas, the ancient Homomdans considered the Culture a younger, inferior civilization, though an emerging threat. The Affront and the Azadian Empire are Involved, but seem like newbies on the galactic stage.

As a filthy capitalist I look for ways that the system could shift back to profit motive and self-interest. Seems to me that the real story would be the Culture's interactions with their equals or near-equals. That way they again have to deal with reality and trade value for value.

And do all the Involved have deus ex machia AIs and limitless production? The Homomdan ambassador is fascinated by the rather wankerish Culture citizens in Look to Windward, but hasn't his own race dealt with the issues of ennui and purpose that come with post-scarcity?
 
Posts: 2627 | Location: Manila | Registered: October 15, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
After all, isn't it reasonable to suggest that in a situation where the guy creates an entire universe - and comes back to it for 10-12 years in a whole series of novels exploring the philosophy behind it - might reveal just as much, or even perhaps a little more about the man's opinions than one novel set in a near contemporary world?
Besides which, at least one of the two traits you ascribe to him, the disgust at the profligacy of capitalism is present in spades in the novels of the Culture.


Or perhaps it just pays better.
 
Posts: 29 | Location: London | Registered: October 30, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Re the differences between the Culture and the other "Involveds", I'd hesitate to suggest that my own opinion is the only one that counts, but part of that can at least be explained by the essential nature of humanity. When the writer refers to civilisations like the Homomda, they're described as "of greater galactic maturity" than many of their peers. They're also, like the Idirans, essentially immortal, which implies a very different outlook to the comparatively short-lived humans.
 
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is imperfectly illuminated
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quote:
Originally posted by guernican:
Or perhaps it just pays better.

which would be a valid point if the Iain M Banks books didn't sell consistently fewer copies than the Iain Banks books.


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Dominar ZoneSeek XLII:
Is the Culture the top dog amongst the Involved? In Consider Phlebas, the ancient Homomdans considered the Culture a younger, inferior civilization, though an emerging threat. The Affront and the Azadian Empire are Involved, but seem like newbies on the galactic stage.

Trouble is we are looking at the Culture over the course of thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. In CP, the Idirans and the Culture are more or less at equality, but after then it appears that the Culture has a pretty near unthreatened position. Thus the need for Excession to introduce an outside context problem and see how the Culture reacts to something that poses a genuine threat to it for the first time for an age. and from which they come out smelling of something other than roses.

quote:
As a filthy capitalist I look for ways that the system could shift back to profit motive and self-interest. Seems to me that the real story would be the Culture's interactions with their equals or near-equals. That way they again have to deal with reality and trade value for value.

i think the problem is that they have sufficient knowledge and technology that any emerging culture would be inferior in terms of power, and mostly those who might have posed a threat as equals have been dealt with one way or another.
I suspect this is why, as Joe says, the books are largely about the people rather than the minds... where is the interest in near omnipotent beings? (it's why i never cared much for Superman Smile)


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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And that's my thing, The Culture as unchallenged top dog for millenia upon millenia, that's impossible. Contact's been running all that time too, teaching younger species to be competetive in the game, so there has to be a few who are on par with the Culture.

Suppose they Contact a young race, call them the Ethos. The Ethos say "You Culture lot are a bunch of soft nancies. When we develop AIs and cornucopia fabrication, we won't have to declare war on you, we'll just outcompete you, run you into the ground."

Excession states that AIs take on the "flavor" of their parent civilization, so we know there are non-Culture AIs at pre-Sublimation level. That could be a good story too, Culture Minds interacting, debating, negotiating, dueling, or "mating," with AIs from Homomda or Azad.
 
Posts: 2627 | Location: Manila | Registered: October 15, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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i don't think 'competition' as a concept applies to the Culture or the galaxy as Banks describes it, though, Zone. Competition is for scarce resources, and given the size of the Culture, i'm far from sure there's any need for an economic arms race, here. Given the Culture and the other space faring races have access to star-tapping and the like, out-competing in a resource sense doesn't seem likely.

And also, I think in terms of competition, surely the idea of competition isn't for competitions sake, it's more for the outcome of efficiency. efficiency at our level is possible to get through the rather crude device of money, but this to some extent provides bad information. The Culture is just about as brutally competitive as anyone else in it's own way.

But you are right that the Culture can't be top dog forever, and at the end of Look to Windward, [SPOILER]Banks drops the very heavy hint that the Culture has been superseeded, or has left the Glaxy, or has sublimed... at any rate, after one galactic cycle they are referred to as 'historical'.[/SPOILER]


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Posts: 8147 | Location: London, England | Registered: July 25, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Got Matter last week, finally we get some sense of the real game, the way the Culture interacts with other high-level Involved races. It's a great book, but very expository, almost all of the action happens near the end. The Algebraist was more satisfying.
 
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