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Consider Phlebas (Culture #1)

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  50,828 Ratings  ·  2,558 Reviews
The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep withi
Paperback, 471 pages
Published 2005 by Orbit (first published April 23rd 1987)
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Chris Kok I'd say... about the same. Lots of space battles and death. But, with lasers and plasma guns rather than swords and axes. If that makes sense?

I'd say... about the same. Lots of space battles and death. But, with lasers and plasma guns rather than swords and axes. If that makes sense?

Plus, the "gory details" often include alien physiology - so, purple blood, three legged aliens, and so on. Or, sentient machines. (less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Chris Kok
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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J.G. Keely
Welcome to another edition of 'Notable Genre Author Fails to Impress Some Guy on the Internet', I'll be your host: some guy.

Like so many highly-lauded authors featured here, Banks has been haunting my shelf for quite some time now. Countless are the times I have passed this book before bed, letting my eyes linger longingly on the spine, relishing the notion that I will actually read this book, some day. There have even been those occasions where I thumbed it down, peering at the cover, carefull
Nov 21, 2008 Manny rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Many discerning readers, even ones who like SF, will reflexively sneer if you say the dreaded words "space opera". One need only think of E.E. Doc Smith, for a long time the unquestioned king of this particular sub-genre. I read Galactic Patrol when I was at primary school; like innumerable other geeky nine year olds, I adored it, and particularly loved the "Helmuth speaking for Boskone" tagline. I also remember how, aged 12 or 13, I picked it up to see if the magic was still there. Oh dear! It ...more
mark monday
Jun 26, 2011 mark monday rated it really liked it
Consider Iain M. Banks. an unsentimental, often ruthless writer. his characters are provided robust emotional lives and richly detailed backgrounds... all the better to punish the reader when those characters meet their often bleak fates. his narratives are ornate affairs, elaborately designed, full of small & meaningful moments as well as huge, wide-scale world-building...all the better to deliver a sucker punch directly to the reader's gut when those narratives turn out to be ironic, prede ...more
Feb 19, 2011 j rated it liked it
This is the second Culture book I read but the first one Iain M. Banks wrote. One of us did something wrong, because I liked The Player of Games a lot more, and yet my reasons for not liking Consider Phlebas are almost all about what the book isn't.

It isn't about the Culture, for one thing. Sort of. Not really. The other books in the series are from the perspective of a citizen of the Culture, which is difficult to define succinctly so I will just say, imagine if you lived in a universe where yo
Jan 12, 2010 Felicia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves, sci-fi
I can't really say much, other than Iain Banks has become my #1 favorite Sci-Fi author. I love the way he fleshes out flawed, believable characters in a Space Opera setting. I'm always surprised by his writing, and that keeps me coming back for more. If you're not into the genre, but want to give it a try, pick up this book. You will not regret it!
Dec 05, 2009 Richard rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone that thought Spaceballs was a clever SciFi movie.
Recommended to Richard by: Robin Barooah
Two stars is about right.

Voltaire said something like "the best is the enemy of the good" (okay, he actually said le mieux est l'ennemi du bien). But what is really annoying is that the coulda-been-good is more disappointing than the meh.

Banks clearly has a great deal of imagination. If he was able to discipline himself, he'd have some four-star stuff going on here, easily — maybe better.

But he fritters away his energy on irrelevant grotesquerries, like a schoolboy scrawling naughty pictures ins
I read all of Iain Banks' Culture books in order in which they were written, beginning with Consider Phlebas and ending with the latest, Surface Detail, from 2008 through 2010. Consider Phlebas being the first Culture book Banks wrote, it was the first I read back in the Spring of 2008. I liked it. One might even say I liked it a lot. But I didn't love it. Not yet.

I just re-read Consider Phlebas and I can tell you it’s a whole different book when you have the entire collection under your belt. T
Feb 03, 2011 Kane rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: as a starting point in the Culture series
The opening scene to Iain M. Banks' opening novel in the Culture universe is one of my favourites in sci-fi. How would an ultra-sophisticated artificial intelligence escape certain death at the hands of an enemy? What moves would it make? What sacrifices?

The very next scene, in which we meet our protagonist Horza, is a huge win. Remember when we met Aragorn in Lord of the Rings? There was practically a drum roll. Yeah, well there's none of that here. Horza is being slowly put to death by drownin
Jun 05, 2008 Mark rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf
I usually like Iain Banks' sf novels, but this is simply a bad book.

It is partly an action novel, with the plot roughly "go to planet X and retrieve an advanced piece of technology." There are a few very exciting action sequences. The major problem is that after setting up the plot by page 4, we have a diversion of about 300 pages before returning to the plot. ??? The vast majority of the in-between chapters feel like a bunch of half-realized short story ideas jammed together, including one chap
I'm not really sure what to say about Consider Phlebas. It was, quite fittingly, the first Culture book I read, though it was my fourth Banks book (preceded by The Wasp Factory, Dead Air, & The Bridge respectively). And now it is the third Banks book I've reread (The Wasp Factory twice, and Use of Weapons once).

I like it very much, so I feel a little sad that many friends I respect don't love it as much as I and a good deal of them just think it is mostly okay.

I love that Horza is an unlikab
People love their Iain Banks, and I respect that, though I've yet to read something of his that impresses me much. Of course, I've read only two books, and both seemed like slow, ponderous exercises.

This novel, for example, was recommend as "thinking man's sf adventure." Hey, that's appealing. But this didn't strike me as that sort of book. Instead, it was slow-going, and lacked the giddy joy of invention and play that to my mind the best science fiction always has. I gritted my teeth and pushed
Jamie Collins
Apr 03, 2011 Jamie Collins rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A frustrating book, perhaps just not my cup of tea. The writing did not click with me - I can't put my finger on it, but I kept being pulled out of the story because the writing felt bland and awkward. Considering the popularity of this series, I'm obviously in the minority in feeling this way.

I think that if I had enjoyed Banks's writing style, I wouldn't have objected to the slow pacing or the meandering storyline, but as it stands I thought most of the book was dull. The story seemed to be c
4.0 stars. This book is chalk full of some big ideas and I really enjoyed the set up of the Culture civilization as well as how it is viewed by those outside it. In addiiton to big ideas, the book has some really intersting characters (the Eaters come to mind) and I thought the Game of Damage was original and well thought out. I will certainly read other books in teh series.
I don’t know about you, but I remember reading exercises done when I was in Grade 5 that suggested that by now, we would be living in “the Culture”—work would be handled by machines of all kinds and humans would be living in a leisure-based society, post-money, able to do pretty much whatever we could dream up for ourselves. I seem to recall that this utopian ideal was to be in place by about the year 2000….I feel somewhat ripped off, now, that I’m still heading to work every day and saving my s ...more
Apr 02, 2013 Stuart rated it really liked it
Consider Phlebas: The first Culture novel, but later books are better
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
This is Iain M. Banks’ first novel (1987) set in his now famous CULTURE universe, and although it’s a well-written book with lots of clever ideas, I wouldn’t say it’s the best book in the series. Then again, if like many readers you would have feelings of angst and guilt if you were to read the books of a series out of order, then it makes sense to start with this one.

To be very brief, t
Sep 22, 2007 Bonnie rated it it was amazing
Actually any Iain Banks book is worth its weight in gold as far as I am concerned. He is a master storyteller and an outstanding scientist. Interesting ideas wrapped up in believable characters with believable feelings and goals placed in believable settings.

Good science fiction is VERY hard to find. It takes an author that is not only good at telling a story but, especially in books like Banks writes (that are based on future science as well as current astrophysics), someone who understands ho
Jul 28, 2016 Nate rated it really liked it
Who could find fault in a book about a shape changer who goes on a suicide mission to recover a rogue Mind (apparently they don’t like being called AI) in a science fiction universe full of stuff like governments run solely by old, decrepit men who execute offending parties by literally drowning them in shit? Who wouldn’t be happy with a book with mind-bendingly huge spaceships named things like Nervous Energy, Trade Surplus, or No More Mr. Nice Guy? Who wouldn’t thrill to scenes of ritualized c ...more
Alex Ristea
Nov 09, 2011 Alex Ristea rated it really liked it
Found this boxset sitting on my shelves and picked it up based on a friend's did not disappoint! (Especially for a novel that's almost 30 years old.)

Well-written and fast-paced, Consider Phlebas definitely scratched my space opera itch. I'd recommend this one to fans of James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes.

(Neat bonus: many fans say this is the weakest of the Culture books, so I'm excited to read the rest. This was was a solid 4 stars.)
Apr 05, 2011 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Xenophobic aliens, meddling utopians
Everyone seems to love this book. Iain M. Banks, who "slums" with that middle initial when he's writing science fiction and is otherwise known as literary author Iain Banks, is indeed a fine writer, but Consider Phlebas, the first book in his Culture series, and his first SF novel, just did not kindle the love in me that it seems to for others. It's a decent enough book, but basically it read as your fairly typical space opera written by a better-than-average writer. "Look folks, I can do that s ...more
This review is totally phoned in.

This is the second of his books that I've read in the past week or so. The other one I didn't write about but it was called The Game Player, and it was better than this one. It was kind of like Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game, but kind of cooler with mutilations and stuff like that. Like HH's book though neither author ever really got down to describing what such a complex game would really be like, which I would be interested to know about, but oh well.
This book
Jan 14, 2017 Ryan rated it really liked it
The Good:
This book contains some extremely clever world-building, even if at least some of it is ripped from elsewhere (hello Ringworld). The story is very good and the action scenes are outstanding. I liked the characters too.

The Bad:
Some of the dialogue is very ordinary. Surprisingly so, considering the quality of the rest of the writing. There is an overarching antagonist through the story, though extremely philosophical in nature – religious fanaticism is an enemy we can all hold hands and d
Michael David Cobb
Jan 15, 2009 Michael David Cobb rated it really liked it

The worst thing you could do is read Consider Phlebas back pages first. Once upon a time I used to take the first and last sentences or first and last words as a brief synopsis of every book. It kinda works for the Bible. "In Amen". But to do so for Iain M. Banks celebrated sci-fi would almost obviate the great adventures contained therein.

Consider Phlebas is a space opera, something of a cowboy story with a trick ending, an amoral tale of the actions of civilizations on conflict down to the dea
Rebecca Watson
Jun 27, 2013 Rebecca Watson rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
When I Tweeted to say that this was next on my reading list, a lot of people warned me that it wasn't very good. Considering the number of people who told me I'd love Ender's Game, I think it's safe to say that I have wildly different tastes than many of my Twitter followers.

So yeah, I really, really enjoyed this. It was maybe a bit too long, but I never got bored. It had lots of action, interesting characters, strong women, and thought-provoking subtext about identity, war, and death. What's no
Tim Pendry
Jun 07, 2008 Tim Pendry rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: space opera fans
Shelves: science-fiction
I came to this with great expectations because it is written by a 'literary figure', albeit that it is an early work (1987) and only the first in a series of 11 science fiction 'culture novels'.

Those expectations were too high but it has to be said that Iain M. Banks (aka Iain Banks) writes infinitely better on a technical level than the vast majority of science fiction writers. There are moments where his talent for precise description make the novel almost filmic.

There are also times where a
Aug 01, 2012 Guillermo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction

The book's beautiful minimalistic cover of a sun streaked blue ocean below, with gorgeous cumulus clouds in the far horizon, and a black star fillled space on top, ranks among my favorite book covers ever. To think that there is an actual explanation for that in this book; a deep analogy between a ship with a thinking conciousness, flying "like a microscopic insect" between real space and a hyperspasic energy grid, with a vista that I can easily see appearing on a travel website to Cancun, is am
Dec 10, 2009 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
I did not appreciate this first book of Iain Banks' "Culture series". The story is of the science fiction genre, but did not really engage me as much as Banks has in the past. The plot is pretty transparent, but I like science fiction stories where interesting, imaginative concepts are presented. Absent that, some interesting psychology, complex relationships, or clever puzzle-solving is a big plus for me. None of that is present in this novel. The most interesting character is a drone who compl ...more
To be honest, I had mixed feelings here. At times I was really into it, but during others I felt it dragged on. I'd say the good outweighed the bad, however. So I'll round up my 3.5 stars to a 4 rating.

I really liked the characters, and I loved Banks's development. I also enjoyed the universe building that this first Culture novel has. I'm definitely curious enough to look into reading others (I've actually read Player of Games, but it's been 20 years and I don't remember much).

Ben Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 08, 2012 Otherwyrld rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
I couldn't decide whether this book was 3 or 4 stars for me, with 3 stars being an OK but unmemorable book and 4 stars being a good book but one I probably wouldn't read again.

This is the first of the Culture novels, but in many ways it is an anti-Culture story, as much of the book is told from the point of view of an agent for the Culture's enemies, the Idirans. Horza is a Shape Changer assassin and spy, sent to a dead world to retrieve a Culture Mind, a sentient machine that normally runs thei
Jun 07, 2008 Deborah rated it really liked it
A stunning introduction to a powerful series. Banks renders even space opera utterly believable due to his realistic, expertly observed dialogue. If he has one great strength as a writer it's that. You are thrown headlong into the high dudgeon and poltical machinations of a fascinating, advanced civilization known only as "The Culture". Rather than waste precious time and precious attention span with tedious back story and set-up we are simply there, in the thick of it. Watching how people cope ...more
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Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
More about Iain M. Banks...

Other Books in the Series

Culture (10 books)
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)
  • The State of the Art (Culture, #4)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • Surface Detail
  • The Hydrogen Sonata

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