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A Few Notes on the Culture by Iain M. Banks

Firstly, and most importantly: the Culture doesn't really exist. It's only a story. It only exists in my mind and the minds of the people who've read about it.

Looking for a void to fill my Culture shaped hole in my soul, I stumbled upon this essay written by Banks that explains many different parts of the Culture that are only mentioned briefly in different books: culture of the Culture, their philosophy, their tech, more info about orbitals, and their politics.

This is for anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the Culture, and the Mind, Banks, who put it all together.

A short but brilliant read that caps off my completion of reading the whole Culture series from 1-10.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #91 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #essay

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #10)

“One should never mistake pattern for meaning.”

The last novel in the Culture series. It's over and I'm feeling a bit sad it's over, but thankful for the ride I've been on over the past year or so. This novel published in 2012 was the last Culture novel as Mr. Banks died in 2013. Enough about my feelings of sadness, onto the novel!

This novel focused on a the Gzilt civilization just about one month before the date they will Sublime. As with most things in the Culture universe, things do not go smoothly. There is a message delivered to the Gzilt, but it is destroyed and not passed on to the population. There are military factions contesting the Sublimation. There are also the scavenger species waiting to pick over the carcass of the Gzilt and find pieces that can improve upon their own civilization.

This novel wasn't as exciting as some previous novels. There were moments of brilliance, but also many long points where we had ship to ship communication about planning what they should do to interfer, 'help', with the investigation into the happenings around Gzilt. There is also lots of traveling around the universe looking for someone who may have information that could unravel some of the mystery of the message that was supposed to be delivered to the Gzilt.

“One should never regret one's excesses, only one's failures of nerve.”

This was still a Culture novel, and I ate it up, but I only rate it 4 stars because standing beside other Culture novels it fails to shine brightly.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #90 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #Sublime #Gzilt

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #9)

Now this was a quite strange one, even by The Culture standards. It all begins with a powerful man who kills one of his slaves. Their are other civilizations fighting for the right to have virtual Hells, inside hell. And all the story lines connect at the end, fairly standard Iain M. Banks stuff right?

“Don’t you think it’s hilarious when people think they’re being terribly clever? I know I do. Just as well some of us genuinely fucking are or we’d be in a hell of a fucking state.”

The heart of this book is great, what if some civilizations had a virtual Hell? We even get to 'see' inside this virtual Hell through the eyes of some of the characters of the book. I am very happy with the ending of this book. Their is a Special Circumstances Mind who doesn't really play by the rules that helps one of the characters get some sweet revenge.

“The truth is not always useful, not always good. It’s like putting your faith in water. Yes, we need the rain, but too much can sweep you away in a flood and drown you. Like all great natural, elemental forces, the truth needs to be channeled, managed, controlled and intelligently, morally allocated.” —

I really love The Culture series. I have already jumped into book 10. Sadly, book 10, Hydrogen Sonata, is the last book in the series. What will I read when that is finished? I guess some of the other hundreds of books on my bookshelf, and loaded on my eReader.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #89 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #hell

Matter by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #8)

“Even galaxy-spanning anarchist utopias of stupefying full-spectrum civilisational power have turf wars within their unacknowledged militaries.”

This was an incredible Culture novel. Iaian M. Banks still manages to surprise me a little in each new iteration of The Culture series. In this book, we follow the fortunes of the royal court of a low-tech civilization, the Sarl, at war with another similar sort of civilization, Deldeyn. While this sounds rather hum drum, we later learn that these civilizations are on separate levels of a shell world, Sursamen, a mechanical planet with multiple layers all overseen by other more technologically developed civilizations. The conflict is first about the succession of the king, and the war effort. Then it changes once the sister of the successor to the king gets involved, and guess what, she's part of Special Circumstances.

This was a long setup for a short battle at the end. It wasn't the most satisfying ending I could've imagined. The whole effort seemed a bit rushed when we got near the end, but the setup was wonderful. If you like getting lost in the details of the civilizations, and races of The Culture, you will like this novel. If you are easily confused by complicated names of many different aliens, this one will most likely leave you scratching your head.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #88 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture

Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

(Culture, #7)

One of the better Culture books in the series. I hate most series of books, but The Culture keeps me coming back for more. This book is about a well hatched plot by an enemy of the Culture to take revenge for an 800 year old injustice. There are three threads in the story: the Chelgrian ambassador going to visit the Culture orbital, the Chelgrian emigre living on the Culture orbital, and a Culture scientist studying flying creatures. These threads we beautifully woven together until everything becomes clear near the end of the book. It's incredible how Banks can weave together such a dastardly political plot which keeps the reader guessing, and makes you laugh at the great dialogue too. It's hard to write reviews for books like this because I don't want to give too much away, so if you want to learn more, read some other reviews people have written.

As with all Culture books, we learn a bit more about the Culture civilization. We learn how people keep themselves busy for entertainment on orbitals. We learn more about the history of past battles with the Culture. We also learn about new species. In this one, we get to know the Chelgrian species. They are a furry, sort of centaur/cheetah like race. We get to look inside the Mind who runs the orbital Masaq' and dig out some of the skeletons in its closet too.

“In the old days people died and that was that; you might hope to see them in heaven, but once they were dead they were dead. It was simple, it was definite. Now … ” He shook his head angrily. “Now people die but their Soulkeeper can revive them, or take them to a heaven we know exists, without any need for faith. We have clones, we have regrown bodies—most of me is regrown; I wake up sometimes and think, Am I still me? I know you’re supposed to be your brain, your wits, your thoughts, but I don’t believe it is that simple.”

This is probably my 2nd favourite novel in the series after The Player of Games. I know if I could live in any fictional universe, it would be The Culture. Their citizens get to enjoy all the excitement of life without the fear of death. They are free of money. They get to live on paradises called orbitals. I wonder if our species will ever make it as far as The Culture civilization? I can only hope.

And, as often happens after reading a thrilling Culture novel, I have already dived right in to #8 Matter.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #84 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #TheCulture #space

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #6)

There seem to be two lines of thinking about this book: one that this is not really a Culture book because of the absence of 'sci-fi' elements, while others say it's the best goddamned culture book because it's beauty is its subtlety.

I have read lots of reviews on GoodReads about this and think it's a great novel, but not my favourite Culture novel.

Description from the publisher: On a backward world with six moons, an alert spy reports on the doings of one Dr. Vosill, who has mysteriously become the personal physician to the king, despite being a foreigner and, even more unthinkably, a woman. Vosill has more enemies than she first realizes. But then she also has more remedies to hand than those who wish her ill can ever guess.

Elsewhere, in another palace across the mountains, a man named DeWar serves as chief bodyguard to the Protector General of Tassasen, a profession he describes as the business of “assassinating assassins.” DeWar, too, has his enemies, but his foes strike more swiftly, and his means of combating them are more direct.

None trust the doctor, while the bodyguard trusts no one, but what is the hidden commonality linking their disparate histories? Spiraling around a central core of mystery, deceit, love, and betrayal...”

There are lots of common themes in the two stories, and similarities between the two main characters. There are even love stories but they don't take the focus off of the deceit and betrayals in these different kingdoms.

“Truth, I have learned, differs for everybody. Just as no two people ever see a rainbow in exactly the same place – and yet both most certainly see it, while the person seemingly standing right underneath it does not see it at all – so truth is a question of where one stands, and the direction one is looking in at the time.”

After reading other reviews, it makes sense that the two main characters might actually be Culture agents tasked with keeping the two leaders alive, the King, and the Protector (hints in the Epilogue). The Culture does sometimes carefully intervene in worlds if they think it's in the best interest of the Culture.

I enjoyed this novel and couldn't put it down once I got near the end. It's a great ending that pulls all the elements together. I'll be thinking about this for a while to unravel the subtle story lines that Banks has put together here. This is certainly the most unique Culture I've read thus far. It has all the things I love in an Iain M. Banks story – dark humour, interesting dialogue, and compelling conflicts. This is a solid 5 star story, but don't come into it expecting it to be like the other Culture novels.

“You can draw the blinds in a brothel, but people still know what you’re doing.”

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #70 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Culture #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #Medieval