Consider Phlebas

Discussion in 'Iain M. Banks' started by Boreas, May 13, 2015.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Rereading it now. What did you like/dislike about it?

    I'm on the first of the larger set pieces, when the CAT has just arrived at Vavatch Orbital and Kraiklyn's Free Company (what's left of it after that fiasco at the Temple of Light) has taken a shuttle down to one of the Megaships that forever circumnavigate the ocean of the immense Orbital (taking 40 years to complete a single circumnavigation).

    I'd completely forgotten about the part when Lenipobra, the young medic,
    enthusiastically jumps from the railing with a "ya-hoo!" on the Megaship thinking his anti-gravity is going allow him to gently descend and instead lands with a scream and a splat. That was pretty funny.
    Moral: It always pays not to be late for mission briefs. Or, at least, know the difference between a proper gravity well and your rotating frame of reference.
  2. ofer

    ofer Regular Member

    I said it all before, but I pretty much liked everything about it. The writing, the action, the characters, the worldbuilding. I thought the ending was great:
    Both the claustrophobic feeling that the chase and fights below ground made me feel, and also the fact that even the winners didn't escape unscathed.

    I think one of the best things that I liked about the book is the characters. I sort of empathized with most of them, regardless of which side of the fence they were on, and it's not an easy thing to achieve your readers rooting for both sides at the same time. You could understand the motivation for all of them.
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Just a little bit more to go before I'm finished with the novel.

    I have to say that the Island scene was brutal. Some of the best imagery in the book, albeit so grotesque that it almost hinges on the comical...almost, but not quite. One favourite (short) moment of mine was Horza's swim to get to the island.

    The interlude with the Mind was fantastic:
    the mind-boggling description of its memory capacity amongst other attributes, its contemplation of its current, crippled predicament where it's "humiliatingly" reduced to thinking only at light speed, etc.

    Also Fal'Ngeestra's third interlude on top of the mountain where she's in a contemplative trance,
    where her thoughts veer into various aspects of the Culture, the Idirans, the differences between them and this particularly excellent short paragraph on the contempt everyone holds for everyone else.

    It's so easy to like Horza, and I also feel this deep sadness and regret whenever I think of him.
    His anger springs ultimately from self-hate, which, if he doesn't realise the fact, he hides from very well - being a Changer certainly facilitates the self-deceit and, to some extent, the confusion brought about by the constant incorporation of new identities. He's lost, always has been, and all his vaunted ideals spring from certain unacknowledged truths about himself. And the death that follows him everywhere. The scene when he reminisces his previous time on Schar's World with his Changer lover, when he picks up the insect from the snow that dies from the heat of his hand - that's like a metaphor for his whole life, not just the death, but the almost unthinking and casual manner in which he causes it without meaning to.

    It's only after they're done with the ex-Culture GSV The Ends of Invention that the central plot starts to move forwards directly (which is at the half-way mark). What a crazy scene that was, flying through the immense GSV.

    I also love all the little details about the Culture that shows the society at an early stage (well, not really early, but early in that their war footing brought them into a new stage of being - they'd always been specifically anti-war and pacifist before). Compared to their technological capabilities in the later novels, the Culture here seems almost adolescent.
    ROU's only attaining maximums of 10 lights per hour? Pfff.

    It's a very good novel and I'd forgotten a lot of the details. It's still not my favourite, though.
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  4. Sir Arthur

    Sir Arthur Full Member

    Sorry it took me awhile to post here, I've been really busy since finishing Consider Phlebas. This was a great read. So much to love. The mix of great characterization with the huge scale of the universe. The massive ships blow me away, and don't get me started on the orbitals!

    I agree. I like the concept of such a primitive and barbaric society forming amidst all that advanced technology. If you didn't already like Horza, you would have to after that series of events. He's one tough and resourceful SoB!

    This was a great intro to the series for me. It left me hungry to read more about the Culture. The story itself I feel was a tragedy. Not something I'll forget anytime soon.

    I would dive right into the next book, but I made a few purchase suggestions at my local library, and they got three of them for me. So, I need to read those first.
    Boreas likes this.
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    So, I finished "Consider Phlebas". What a ride. The end is just so damn explosive. There is a mostly spoiler-free write-up on the blog.

    Personally, I absolutely love the cinematic aspect of the novel. It is positively wide-screen. The brilliant thing about the novel (which is what actually makes the vicissitudes of the plot so appropriate) is that the very absence of the Culture actually contrives to take the reader through a comprehensive tour of this society by contrasting it to the impressions we get from a rotating cast of characters: be they theocratic crusaders; stupidly inefficient mercenaries; absurd, religious cults; rich, gambling magnates, etc.

    And then you have Horza himself, an empty vessel, somehow willfully misconstruing his own identity -
    that he's a mere product, that his entire species (what's remaining of it) is a constructed tool to be used to bring about death, that his purpose is fixed, and he hates it but doesn't wish to consciously acknowledge it
    - and raging against the Culture for their audacity to remake themselves as they see fit, to play with their own genetic codes and improve on nature. How dare they! Which is why he's so invested in the idea that one shouldn't mess about with the evolutionary process
    because he and all his lot are a result of such tinkering, that his own nature is fixed.
    So, the Culture's biological flexibility must rub him raw and he acts out. What a fucking git. But I still feel for him, and he's still a star for doing his utmost, despite his ultimately misplaced notions.

    My main complaint is Balveda. She is such a kick-ass character. Absolutely love her, but she needed more expression! I wish she'd been fleshed out more. And I was so
    sad when she self-euthanised.

    And I love the appendices. It doesn't matter if it's exposition. Fleshing out the reasons for the war from both sides just puts everything into perspective and makes everything Horza went through
    completely inconsequential. Even in the interlude with Fal'Ngeestra, it's discussed that letting the Idirans have the Mind would have had no undue effect on the result of the war. The Culture would still have won, just maybe some 3 months or so later than if they'd gotten their Mind back.

    Maybe the appendices are even more impressive than the novel for what they outline in those few, brief pages.

    Opinion, thoughts, responses?
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  6. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I've just finished listening to this (bar the Appendices, which I should finish off this evening). Firstly, the narration was great ... I'll probably carry on with the series in this format, and I'm pleased that Peter Kenny narrates all (bar one) of the remaining books .. he's one of the better voice actors I've come across during my limited foray into the world of audiobooks to date.

    Overall I really enjoyed this ... @Boreas you hit the nail on the head referring to this as 'wide-screen' .. the scale was epic and my imagination was running wild with some of the scenes, especially the space station (reminiscent of Ringworld) and the Ends of Invention, in which some of the best action scenes I've read were contained.

    I actually enjoyed the journey to Schar's World, more so than the scenes set on Schar's World. Obviously the contrast between these two 'parts' of the book were quite significant, one being a vast journey through space taking in various settings and cast, one having a claustrophobic feel set in the depths of a planet with a limited number of players. Schar's World could quite easily be a future Earth though ... not sure if this was the point.

    Horza was a great MC, and the fact that he was
    ultimately killed by the race he'd sided with was a huge sucker punch .. his relationship with Baveda throughout the book was also pretty emotional, from the cess pit to his death at her side

    Some elements of the book felt a bit pointless, until I read above that these were actually interludes! This wasn't clear in the audio version, and I was left wondering what the point of the chapters concerning Fal'Ngeestra was ... I was waiting for her story to intertwine with the main one.

    I felt the latter part of the book could have been a bit more succinct. The ending was great, but the journey into the depths of Schar's World did drag somewhat. This is the only part I wasn't overly fond of though, I'd rate it 8/10. I'll definitely be dipping my toes back into this series soon!
    Boreas likes this.
  7. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    ps. sorry for misspelling anything ... I guess this is one of the main issues when listening to books!
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    So, did you end up listening to the appendices? I think of them more as part of the main narrative even though they're labelled 'appendices', because they act more as a proper coda to the narrative and rather than as something extra or of side interest.

    Yeah, Banks' Orbitals are basically 'mini' Ringworlds from Niven's Known Space universe. A Ringworld seems a little too extravagant to me. If you've got the energy and matter surplus to build a Ringworld, hell, why not go full monty and construct a Dyson Sphere. These Orbitals, whilst still mega-structures, seem a more efficient allocation of matter-based resources to provide 'manageable' habitation zones.

    Yes! But I feel like this was a necessary outcome. If the resolution had been anything else, it would have felt contrived.
    Did you really feel that it was pointless? Even in the physical book, those 'State of Play' sections are not separated into their own chapters, but are included in chapters of the main narrative, so it's never explicitly indicated that they are interludes. For me, they were very important and actually fleshed out the context of the main narrative whilst also giving a closer, more direct look at some Culture tech and attitudes.
    I've felt the same about those Command Section chapters. They were drawn out too much. Maybe he did it to build up the tension between the Idiran fanatic soldier and the rest of the group? One thing that these chapters really exemplify is the second quoted text in the epigraph: "Idolatry is worse than carnage."

    What were some of your favourite scenes in the novel? I've always loved Horza's final transformation and subsequent swim to the island. Those are some very short passages, but so very evocative of Horza's state of mind, his nature as a Changer and his grit. It's one of those scenes when I admired Horza most. In the interludes, that description of a Mind's physical (and non-physical) substrate plus its capacity is dizzying. And the drone's what I guess could only be called a kind of 'secret crush' in human terms on Fal'Ngeestra is such a great touch. That whole
    recording her laughter and even snorts and 'dying of shame' if it were discovered was a little endearing.

    One of my least favourite sections during the first two or three times I read the book was that whole Temple of Light
    I've got to say that when I listened to the audiobook, it actually gave me a whole new appreciation for those scenes. I used to initially think that they were rambling and confusing, but Peter Kenny's narration actually honed in the point that
    it was supposed to be rambling and confusing and a major clusterfuck. The narration made both the action a little clearer (for me) whilst emphasising what a fiasco it was.
  9. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    The parts that really stood out are the primitive eaters scenes, the scenes inside the Ends of Invention, and the card game with the 'live lives'. They're the parts that have stuck in my mind in any case ...

    Well maybe not pointless .. looking back I can see the relevance of the parts I mentioned; it's just that I was expecting them to converge with the rest of the story.

    Having finished it, I can definitely see how a re-read would be a good experience .. it would definitely help to put the actions of certain characters into perspective having gotten to know them during the initial read, and would also help put the interludes into context ... just got the other nine to finish first ;)

    Oh, and yes, the appendices and epilogue ... I did finish listening to these parts, and they were more integral to the story presented in the preceding chapters than in any other book I've read, and, were also integral for 'closure' of certain elements of the story.
  10. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    That island is scene is so grotesquely memorable. I also found Horza's chase and subsequent confrontation with Kraiklyn under that hovercraft very intense:
    the palpable fear, confusion and maybe revulsion when Kraiklyn looks upon his own face.

    In that whole Damage game sequence, there's one thing I've never quite understood. Before the game starts, there is a description of these two...'animals', I guess, can't remember if they're partly sapient or not...that are performing fluid and synchronised acrobatics, and they slowly start to viciously savage each other as they continue their acrobatics. I've never understood what specifically Banks was trying to use that scene as a metaphor for, or if it even was an allegory for anything at all. Do you remember this?

    Another very memorable joke is the temporary name the ship responsible for Vavatch Orbital's destruction takes: GSV Eschatology. Now that was amusing. Consider Phlebas contains one many brilliant ship names for war crafts, the ROU Trade Surplus. Love it!

    Meaning that you expected the characters from the interludes to show up in the main narrative?
    The Mind did, but Fal N'geestra was 80 kilo lights away. If I remember correctly, it would have taken her two years with the Culture's fastest craft (at that moment in time) to reach the conflict zone.
  11. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I do .. I was under the impression that it was a means of further entertainment (albeit sick entertainment) for the crowd and players etc. As though the loss of a life (an actual life) when the players lost turns in the game wasn't horrible enough ....

    Saying that if it was meant to be a metaphor or have a hidden meaning then it would likely be lost on me in any case :)

    Well, yeah, when you put it that way ......
  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I don't know, actually. I was probably over-thinking it, but each time I've read the novel, I've always wondered specifically about that scene. It's like I'm convinced there's more to it, but you're probably right...Banks was probably larking about with his occasional penchant for almost perverse viciousness.

    If you want the specifics of the Idiran/Culture matchup, then just read the few pages of the various appendices. I think that tallies up not just the stats, but also the status quo from the moral perspective and future repercussions.
  13. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Thanks Boreas. Never occurred to me.

    Say, what happened to my post where I asked that? Did you delete it? Or did I post it in another thread and you answered it here?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2016
  14. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    You posted in the main "What SF are you currently reading?" thread. I just replied here since it was CP-related.

    Edit: original post by kenubrion here.

    How far have you gotten in your CP re-read and how are you finding it?
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2016
  15. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    I'm at 41%, enjoying it a lot. I remember stuff in general terms but not specifics so it seems almost new. That beach scene, I'm surprised I forgot that bizarre situation. Damage game is just about to start.

    Edit to mention I went through his bibliography this morning, trying to figure out when he wrote this versus the Iain Banks books, where his head was at. First sci-fi book which I think about a lot as I read, and he had a few very well received non-sci-fi books already. Pretty interesting to read about those books in terms of his development, although he seems almost to have arrived on the scene as a fully formed great. I read The Bridge after I finished the Culture books a few years ago, and now I intend to read Stonemouth. Wasp Factory story repulses me or I would read it.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2016

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