Consider Phlebas By Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas was the 1st novel of Scottish writer Iain M. Banks in the science-fiction genre.

It was published in 1987 and introduced the reader to The Culture, an odd multi-species biological and machine meta civilization.

This is the 3rd novel from Banks that I have read over a short period of time. Over the last week, I have also read Excession and The Algebraist. All three novels use a similar plot device: the finding of an artifact or knowledge that the main characters need.

This is a review of the science-fiction novel Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. It does not contain any spoilers.

I find that a bit tiring. It’s not apparent if you do not read his novels in sequence, but using the same plot device used over and over again?

I’ve just started reading The Player of Games and I hope that it doesn’t use the same plot device.

(In fact, having read about 200 pages of that novel, I can assure you that it doesn’t use the same device. But still, I find that I like Excession a lot more than Consider Phlebas. And although The Algebraist uses a similar device, it’s still very good.)

Some plot elements, like the use of the Culture character Fal in the war, would have been good to expand upon. There isn’t a lot of information on her, perhaps there is more on her type of human in Look to Windward. In the whole Culture, there are at one time about 30 people like her. They have a talent similar to Golan Trevize from the Asimov novels, the ability to know how things will turn out or what is the right decision.

A similar talent is shown by John Sheridan of Babylon 5.

You are what we call a nexus. You turn one way, and the universe follows suit.
Shadow agent The Man In Between to Sheridan on Z’ha’dum, moments before he plunges to his first “death”.

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The novel Consider Phlebas takes place during the height of the Idiran-Culture war.

It has been millenia since the Culture had to fight a war.

They are fighting an odd three legged species named the Idirans, who are devoutly religious and plan on conquering the known galaxy or expanding significantly their sphere of influence. They are as much non-humanoid as the so-called aliens of Star Trek. They do have a strange physique, but still are biological tripedal humanoid, with heads and limbs.

The Culture has not been fighting the war, really. They have been retreating and preparing, gearing up their significant war machine.

This is the background of the novel.

The principal character of this novel is Bora Horza Gobuchul, a so-called Changer because he is a meta-morph, able to take the shape of anyone he comes in contact with. The Changers as a sub-species of humanoids, have been working for the Idirans. Horza wants to put the Culture back into their place, which is why he is fighting for the Idirans and spying for them.

The focus of this novel is a mind that has done something incredible that both factions of the war want desperately to have. The Mind, which is the name of the AIs inhabiting and controlling the spaceships of the Culture, has managed to warp itself into a planet. And not just any planet, it’s a Planet of the Dead, protected by a sublimed enlightened species called the Dra’Zon.

Horza is rescued from his demise by his Idiran patrons, just to be lost once more when they get attacked by a Culture GSV (General System Vehicle, a large Culture spaceship).

He has to negotiate his way into a Free Company, a band of privateers run by Kraiklyn.

Kraiklyn is a gambler and he wants to make his way to Vavatch, an Orbital that the Culture plans on destroying because th Idirans are about to invade that volume of space. On that Orbital, there will be a game of Damage, a game known for taking place on locations that will cease to exist in a short while. The Players of the End of the World. We see where Banks got his interest for his next Culture novel, The Player of Games.

Horza manages to take control of the Free Company and take them to Schar’s World, the Planet of the Dead where the Mind has sought refuge.

He is accompanied by Balveda, a Special Circumstance agent from Contact. She has been his nemesis during this whole affair.

(She is part of the military intelligence division of the Culture)

He has managed to capture her and plans to use her as leverage with the Idirans.

When they make their landing on Schar’s World, they discover that Horza’s plans are slowly falling apart.

There is an intense battle with Idirans and a struggle for who will control and discover the rogue Mind.

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One response to “Consider Phlebas By Iain M. Banks”

  1. Against A Dark Background By Iain M. Banks « memoirs on a rainy day Avatar

    […] Banks that I have read over a short period of time. Over the last week, I have also read Excession, Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games and The […]

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