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Old 03 October 2018, 02:21 PM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,437

I gave up (temporarily) on everything I'd been reading last month and anything new on my shelf, and I've been re-reading Iain M Banks's science fiction novels, just to make sure I still enjoy reading.

I've been reading in order of publication, and have just finished Against A Dark Background, so that's Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games, Use of Weapons, The State of the Art (short stories) and Against A Dark Background so far.

I've read them all before, often more than once, but not for a while - and it's the first time I've read them all together like this, so it's interesting. All except AADB and TSOTA are Culture novels - and TSOTA contains mostly Culture stories, including the title novella. (Sorry about abbreviations, but the titles are too long to keep typing).

I'd not consciously noticed the development in style before - I think his science fiction is consistently good - but reading them back-to-back there are a few changes between Consider Phlebas, and the stories in TSOTA (some of which I'd describe as "juvenilia") and the slightly later ones. I don't think he'd quite worked out everything he wanted to do with the Culture during CP, although it's almost there. He skips several hundred years between that and TPOG, though, and I think that was so that he could tweak some of the politics and technology involved without its being obvious. CP is set during the last major war that the Culture was involved in, the Idiran war, whereas in all the later novels it's a very stable, very high-tech society that doesn't have many major outside threats. I'd forgotten that there was an appendix to CP that sets it all out on an Earth timescale (for no particular reason, since most of his books have nothing to do with Earth) and it was all happening around the 12th Century AD. I'm not sure why he needed to put that in unless it was just the fashion for science fiction as history at the time (like Star Wars); but the 700 year jump means that the title story for TSOTA can be set on Earth in 1977 (... like Star Trek?). But I don't much like that one.

He's also got more obvious Douglas Adams influence in CP than in later ones (although Marvin the Paranoid Android makes a subtle cameo appearance in AADB which I remembered when I got to it). Some of the lesser starship AIs (not minds in that one) talk as though they were written by Douglas Adams.

There's no plot continuity between the Culture novels - one of the later ones does refer back to events in the Idiran war but obliquely (Look to Windward, hence the titular connection with Consider Phlebas) - and few recurring characters. I'd not noticed last time I read them that Diziet Sma and the drone Skaffen-Amitskaw from Use of Weapons are also main characters (narrators) in TSOTA too, but there's no other connection between the books and no indication which was even written first - I suspect the short story, although it was published later.

The novels are all great, although I don't like the more experimental short stories. He's better when he's not trying to be particularly literary or experimental, I think. (I've read his poetry too, and thought it was awful). I think UOW is still one of my favourites. AADB is great too, although one of his few SF novels that isn't connected to the Culture.

Quite a few of my favourite moments from the books, including a lot of things making it explicit just how impressive the Culture's abilities and technologies are, haven't come up yet. So I'm tempted to keep reading through the rest... really I should get back to the books I've been stuck on, though.

Last edited by Richard W; 03 October 2018 at 02:27 PM.
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