Newest Review: ... is on-going) and it's worth knowing I haven't read any of the others (yet), but despite this I feel I am the perfect candidate to write a... more
Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks
Member Name: bilbobaginz
Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks
Advantages: Imaginativeness galore, good main characters, fantastic story-line and settings!
Disadvantages: Some characters not described much, you don't feel like you get to know them well enough.
Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks from our perspective) is a Scottish writer who's spread his talent across the spectrum of fiction and science-fiction, producing popular novels under both genre titles since 1984. Prior to the writing of his SF books, Banks decided that with these, instead of using the name Iain Banks (as he had done for the previous fictions) he would use Iain M. Banks. In a BBC Four interview in 2006, Banks shed light on the reasoning behind this decision, accrediting it to a mistake made by his father at a birth registration office back in 1954. The writer's parents had wanted to name him Iain Menzies Banks but had accidentally failed. Banks however recognised this in later life and after his publishers dismissed the idea of using the 'M' in his first few books, were convinced to include it in the SF's to act as a recognisable distinguisher between the novel types. Anyway, it was with publication of 'The Wasp Factory' that Banks' career began, and after a subsequent two fiction based novels the writer felt ready to embark on a new and altogether different adventure four years later.
The 'Culture' novels intrude into the futuristic fantasy landscape within which many contrasting specie societies are known to exist. Some civilisations have long been forgotten, whilst others thrive in technological prosperity - some in peace and others involved in catastrophic conflict our real-world society would cower at the sight of. The bigger picture indentifies a momentous war, one which the blurb describes 'raged [rages] across the galaxy' where 'billions had died, and billions more were doomed'. But the actual writing and story-telling of this particular book focus's more around the ideologies associated with the different societies - the evolved belief systems, religions, hierarchies, CULTURES, and how these affect how the societies appear, and how they operate. It seems as though Banks is using his literary invention as a platform to voice the arguments and thought processes he himself has explored on the bigger questions - life, the universe, and everything. Consider Phlebas is just a taste of Banks' creation, critically, leaving you hungry for more.
Familiarity and self-comparison has to exist to make this novel relatable (some would argue), and that is most likely the reasoning behind Banks' inclusion of the human form (or humanoid) which plays a key role in the series. Consider Phlebas centres upon the doings of the Changer, Bora Horza Gobuchul, or 'Horza' as he is continually referred.
- - This book is the first of nine (and is on-going) and it's worth knowing I haven't read any of the others (yet), but despite this I feel I am the perfect candidate to write about it because I only finished the adventure last night! - -
Horza is a Changer, a small, often idealised race of humanoids which can alter their appearance to impersonate any other humanoid (once they have absorbed visually the features they wish to copy). Additionally to this, Changers have other natural abilities the reader comes across throughout the beginning of the book, and these aid in the progress of Horza's adventurous happenings.
The story follows him throughout, and as expected, you automatically build an individual mental image of the man in your mind, characterising his features and personality. At first I found this difficult as Banks' descriptions are sometimes unclear and a tad hypocritical - soon enough though, the picture forms and you realise Banks' intention - to almost give off the sense of an unpredictable HUMAN nature. Horza is mostly a determined, intelligent person with an abundance of confidence and an inert ability to control any given situation.
Opener: a grotty cell of medieval appearance. Horza is trapped. I love it when novels begin confined before exploding out rapidly into interest and new imaginative location - and that's exactly how this novel protrudes. Gerontocrat Minister Amahain-Frolk and Perostock Balveda are the first secondary characters introduced. They are of the enemy, though 'enemy' is useless terminology in an adversely interpreted world. They are of the Culture then, one of the dominant society's existent within the stories definitive area of the universe. Horza dislikes the ways of the Culture, and this is made apparent from the start by his continually described thoughts and dialogue sculpture largely ingeniously by Banks. That great war mentioned in the blurb is being fought between the Culture and the Idiran peoples, both of which more powerful than one book can possibly describe.
The Idirans are the reason for Horza's capture and imprisonment under Culture control. He is working for them, carrying out missions and attempting to alter the balance of power in one way or another - not out of love or connection with the Idirans (if anything, Horza's ancestry is more aligned with the Culture), but out of a sheer spite for the Atheist, machine-reliant society they operate. Horza feels the Culture is out of touch with its own individualism, becoming increasingly dependent of machines or robots (in every sense, not just in a manufacturing or working format). The robots are given identities, names, personalities - they are civilians (some of them), with as much knowledge, power and lawful right as any organic entity. And it's worth bearing in mind that the Culture are a society which have engulfed others, they are not one single species, but a combination which have fallen under the influence of the greater power and succumbed to its way of life.
'The Finmoti of Bozlen Two kill the hereditary ritual assassins of the new Yearking's immediate family by drowning them in the tears of the Continental Empathaur in its Sadness Season.' The meaning of this indeterminate italic centred passage is revealed - but only the text is mentioned at the beginning.
'The Querl Xoralundra, spy-father and warrior priest of the Four Souls tributary sect of Farn-Idir' as he is introduced, is the Idiran soldier Horza has been undertaking missions from. And this spoils nothing believe me... but he is the commander who manages to rescue Horza from the grubby cell, taking him to the Idiran's war-ship, 'Hand of God 137'. As the Changer explains, to the Idirans 'a ship name ought to reflect the serious nature of its purpose, duties and resolute use' - a belief opposed by the Culture who choose 'jokey, facetious names' to christen their war-ships (or GCU's - General Contact Units)
The Idirans are a 'near immortal' (or biologically un-ageing) race of 3 meter tall, three-legged, two-armed individuals all of whom worship the same god, and follow the same path in life (for the most part). They are born, grow up and learn, impregnate, raise, and then drop their gender, grow to their full height, increase in weight, become armoured with layers of Keratin, and live out their lives as a loyal warrior to the state. Though the description emits an animalistic tone, the species intelligence shouldn't be under-estimated. They have adopted a secondary species (evolved in social symbiosis with the Idirans) as their grunts, slaves: the Medjel 'companion' race (which is of less intelligence).
I can't help but find it strange how Horza (who comes across as a reasonably minded, fair, though self-righteous [given his responsibilities] person) prefers the Idirans over the Culture. Yes you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but the beliefs and way of life of the Idirans is so strange and unconventional (even to the Changer) that I still find it hard to contemplate Horza having such a deep hatred for his and the Idirans enemy (used wisely) over the Idirans themselves. Maybe there is some hidden message here from Banks which you will find out in a further novel?
The story continues on after Horza's rescue onto the 'Hand of God 137' when he is given a new mission from Xoralundra regarding the capture of a Culture designed 'Mind'. I'm not going to spoil anything so don't worry, but I will explain the properties of said Mind as it is definitely the most masterfully designed prop from within Banks' creation.
Minds are immensely intelligent computers initially created by biological beings, but with the ability (over time) to reinvent and redesign themselves to become many more times intelligent than their creators - they are sentient, hyper-intelligent machines: conscious beings. Usually resided to larger starships, they are the culmination of the Cultures societal advancement, they are everything that they stand for - and they are also the Culture's key weapon in the war.
Phlebas considered, I really enjoyed this book very much indeed. It enlightened me as to the creative possibilities of the science-fiction genre when a great writer gets involved. With cross-character development and the setting of a variety of vibrant scenes with which you as the reader feel you're actually exploring, I can find few faults with the novel. The major downside to this book however is the lack of significant characters, or more the lack of certain significant characters being described as fully as others. With many introductions throughout the story, some coming all at once and rather startling you into a state of 'oh god, can I remember all this for later', I feel Banks could have spent a little more time ensuring the reader was able to interpret each without coming under pressure. Despite this, as I've already stated, this is a great read.
I have now set the scene from which the novel blossoms. How will Horza go about capturing this mysterious Mind for the Idirans? What new interesting settings and societies will he find himself in? What vibrant characters will he encounter on his travels? And how will he use his specie-unique talents to manipulate his progress along the route to success (if success is routed)? ...State of Play.
- Book Information -
Author: Iain M. Banks
Availability: Amazon.co.uk with FREE DELIVERY.
Target Audience: I'd have to say anyone with good reading skill and understanding who's over the age of 14/15. There are some quite vulgar occurrences some readers may find distressing, and a few paragraphs describing sex (not in much detail at all though!).
*All text I have typed which is surrounded by speech marks is taken directly from the novel*
Thanks very much for reading my 200th Dooyoo review! I hope you enjoyed my insight into Iain M. Banks' imaginatively described inter-galactic universe - and Horza!
...'Clear Air Turbulence'
Summary: I can't wait to read the next one now and will be purchasing it soon -and reviewing it in the future