The Jinmoti of Bozlen Two — 5 years ago
Iain Banks was born in Scotland in 1954 and published his first book – “The Wasp Factory” – in 1984. In the years since, he’s won critical acclaim, topped best-seller lists and has even written Science Fiction books under the cunning nom-de-plume ‘Iain M. Banks’. “Consider Phlebas” was first published in 1987, and is the first of his sci-fi novels.
The majority of Banks’ sci-fi novels to date feature the Culture – a symbiotic society, part humanoid and part artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence element to the Culture can be sub-divided into two parts – Drones and Minds. For the most part, the a Drone’s intelligence will be roughly similar to a humanoids. However, while some drones will be significantly more intelligent, the Culture’s essential work is carried out largely by non-sentient machines. Minds, on the other hand, are significantly more powerful than both humanoids and drones. They tend to act as the controlling intelligence behind, for example, the Culture’s ships and Hubs (artificial habitats). Minds are also largely responsible for making decisions at the very highest levels of society – only a very small number of humanoid Referrers would be intelligent enough to join the process. In “Consider Phlebas”, the Culture is at war with the Idiran Empire. Physically, Idirans are very imposing : they’re about about three metres tall, fully grown, have three legs and are protected by a natural body-armour. They can also survive a great deal of damage, what would be more than enough to kill another species. They are also a deeply religious people and believe in converting as many as possible to the faith – preferably by conquest.
A little strangely, though, the book’s hero isn’t a Culture operative – or even a significant player in the war. Bora Horza Gobuchul is a Changer and works for the Idirans as a spy and a killer. Changers are shapeshifters, and have a couple of very impressive natural defences – including the ability to sweat acid and spit poison. The Changers’ homeworld is an asteroid called Heibohre, which is located within Idiran space . However, he’s not fighting because he’s pro-Idiran – it’s because he’s anti-Culture. In “Consider Phlebas”, Horza is sent to Schar’s World – a Planet of the Dead – to retrieve a Culture Mind. Naturally, the Culture won’t want a Mind to fall into enemy hands – though it won’t be easy for them to retrieve it. Schar’s World is ‘protected’ by the Dra’Azon – an exceptionally powerful race, who won’t allow anyone other than Changers onto the planet. Nevertheless, it won’t be too easy for Horza to complete his mission either. Shortly after receiving his orders from Xoralundra, his Idiran contact,the spaceship on which they are traveling is attacked by a Culture vessel. Xoralundra promptly throws Horza out of an airlock and essentially tells him to hope for a lift. Luckily, the Clear Air Turbulance is passing – a ship that’s staffed neither by Idirans nor Culture, but by spacefaring pirates.
It’s been a long time since I read any sci-fi, and the main reason I picked this up was of how highly I rate Banks’ ‘standard’ fiction. I was slightly taken by surprise that the Culture were (technically) cast as the book’s ‘bad guys. (In a ’normal’ book, the Idirans would’ve been the ‘bad guys’ – though things don’t always have to be that straightforward when Iain Banks writes a book). Furthermore, while Horza is the book’s hero, there’s nothing villainous about the Culture’s operatives who appear in the book – both Perosteck Balveda and Fal N’geestra are actually very likeable. The book’s only flaw, for me, was the section that featured the Eaters – it really didn’t add to much, and I couldn’t see the point of including it. However, an enjoyable story overall and certainly good enough for me to try a few other Culture books.