Favourite Culture Novel?

Discussion in 'Iain M. Banks' started by Boreas, Aug 11, 2015.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    So, which are you favourite instalments? I don't mean the best by some sort of objective measure, I mean your personal favourites.

    Naturally, I love them all for different reasons. As I read them in publication order since the late 90s, most new instalments exceeded the previous and became a new favourite for a while.

    I love the space operatic, mega scales in science fiction, so my favourite instalment to reread is usually Excession. Also because it's damn funny, but mostly because of the gaggle of Minds that are featured. Never have I loved reading text messages between god-like artificial intelligences like I have in Excession. And I don't know about the rest of you, but I read every abbreviation, every number, every symbol, every identifying tag in those messages. Love it.

    Surface Detail
    is the other really big scale space opera in the Culture setting, so it 'might' be my second favourite. The nastiness that goes on in those virtual Hells makes it special, but I particularly love those amazing virtual battles. And who couldn't love the Abominator Class GOU Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints?

    Besides Excession, the other novel I have reread most is Player of Games. It's the easiest of the Culture novels to read and I never tire of it. It's not as sophisticated as some of the other instalments, but it's the most tightly focused narrative of them all and there's something relaxing about reading it. I love the slower pace of it, the subtle, but important development of Gurgeh and, of course, I love the passages that feature the game of Azad.
    Diziet Sma likes this.
  2. Derk of Derkholm

    Derk of Derkholm Full Member

    Hi Boreas,

    I think my favourite is the book that introduced me to the Culture novels, many years ago: Use of Weapons.

    I picked it up for a long train ride in a train station book store, and was hooked nearly immediately.
    Not only the Culture, also its main protagonist Cheradenine Zakalwe fascinated me a lot, with the military background story, his quest to get his revenge and the interesting outcome.

    It was immediately clear to me that this was not the normal, run-of-the-mill Space opera, but a very interesting and intriguing book.

    Best regards,
    Boreas likes this.
  3. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    That's probably one of the most difficult introductions to the Culture. It was actually my favourite science fiction book for quite a while. "Interesting outcome" is a bit of an understatement.

    I think it's also the first novel that Banks wrote back in the mid-70s. And it was in trying to tell this story of Zakalwe that necessitated coming up with the idea of the Culture. But the novel was quite byzantine and complicated and so Banks retired it - until his school friend (and fellow science fiction author) Ken MacLeod took a look at it, helped him edit it and suggested how he should structure the novel. Then it was finally ready for print (by which time Banks was already one of the more well-known, new, 'literary' writers in the U.K.).

    The book is rightfully (and humorously) dedicated to his friend as "I blame Ken MacLeod for the whole thing. It was his idea to argue the old warrior out of retirement, and he suggested the fitness program, too."
    Derk of Derkholm likes this.
  4. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    For some reason, Matter is one of the Culture novels that I least connected with at the time. Have only read it once. But maybe I missed something, because I've come across more people who regard it very highly. Not that it was a bad novel, but I just don't remember it having the same kind of impact on me like most of the other Culture instalments. Perhaps because it was such a long wait between the last Culture book and Matter (something like 7 or so years) and the previous one, Look to Windward, was really good.

    What did you like so much about it?
  6. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    It starts with the medieval backdrop and that's my favorite genre of fantasy, then the daughter shows up in the middle of it and she's now become a highly ranked Special Circumstances agent of Contact. She's SO major that it's a great juxtaposition versus even the greatest fighters of the guys who live there. Then the true nature of the sphere is revealed by her and the investigations of the surface and then the various worlds is just amazing and it never lets up, just goes in totally new directions all the time with her being the constant.
  7. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    Look to Windward is my favorite. While it's perhaps the most restrained Culture novel, there is an elegiac mood to it all that underscores the Culture's imperfections (and SC's big blow it) in a way that's not mawkish nor accusatory. Very strong characters, subtle and realistic stakes and motivations. I think it doesn't get mentioned as often as other Culture novels because it is more introspective than say, Excession.

    BTW, I am a huge fan of the Culture ship names. So much so, I referenced it in my own work (a homage to the lil' Scotsman, RIP):

    “Do you want to have a vacation in the Questionable Ethics’s brig?”

    I loved the names of our ships. After the Culture Minds suddenly sublimed en masse and the Culture itself started to deteriorate, we gratefully accepted a number of their ships at bargain-basement prices and upgraded the tech to human proportions but left the names intact. “Haven’t met a brig that could hold me.”
    Boreas likes this.
  8. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Look to Windward is his most poignant of the Culture novels, and absolutely excellent! It was definitely a favourite for a while. It's the total opposite of Excession's brash tone.
  9. JamceWilliam

    JamceWilliam Full Member

    The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  10. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I think you might have misunderstood the question! ;)

    The Culture series is a SF series by Iain Banks.
  11. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    Living in San Francisco, I've met Amy Tan and she is a spectacularly wonderful person and a terrific writer, but I have to think that she would never name a boat in one of her stories, Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints.
    TomTB likes this.
  12. Hermann Morr

    Hermann Morr Full Member

    Happened to read Player of Games only. Felt an uneasy sense of hidden dystopia.
    Dtyler99 likes this.
  13. Dtyler99

    Dtyler99 Well-Known Member

    That's Banks' point. For all of its post-industrial wornderfullness, bad shit has to happen to keep it that way. Just don't do it in front of the kids. Oops! That naughty Special Circumstances!
  14. Tiran

    Tiran Well-Known Member

    I'm keeping Use of Weapons as my number one. The structure shepherds you along to an ending as inevitable as it unforeseeably shocking, yet you get the same punch in the stomach on re-reads. Banks has a way of creating characters that are simultaneous good and principled while being deeply criminal, as in Wasp Factory.

    I really liked Surface Detail's return to the kind of Contact problem shown in Player of Games. But I bought all of them in hardcover and have re-read all except Hydrogen Sonata (so far).
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2018

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