Georgiana Derwent's Reviews > Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
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I've never really been into sci-fi, despite loving decent fantasy and paranormal novels, and I wanted a good quality introduction to the genre - sci-fi that was well written, with an engaging plot and something to say. Time and again, the recommendation that came up was Iain M Bank's Culture Series. I was intrigued by the idea of an author who writes both successful genre and acclaimed literary works, so thought I'd give him a go.

This was certainly not a bad book. The writing, as you'd expect from an author with that sort of background, was fluent and engaging, and there were some very compelling scenes. Overall though, I just felt a bit underwhelmed. I was sort of expecting this to be the Science Fiction equivalent of fantasy novels like Game of Thrones or The Name of the Wind - playing with genre conventions and focussed on politics and human relationships. Instead, on the whole, it felt like a rather stereotypical sci-fi novel - lots of details of spaceships, lots of laser gun battles, lots of fawning over technology. All of this was done very competently, but there didn't seem to be anything that new, and it didn't really grab me.

It was also very patchy. Entire sections could have been cut out without dinting the overall plot. Whilst some of these episodes, such as an unbelievably high stakes poker game or a truly disturbing cult, were original and compelling, others, such as an attack on a crystal temple or an attempt to ransack and abandoned spaceship, felt intensely dull. At 25% through, I was tempted to give up. I'm glad I didn't, because it definitely got better, but I feel that a book like this should be unputdownable rather than a bit of a chore.

I'm reliably informed that the sequels are more focussed on the society of the Culture, which was one of the more interesting aspects of the book, so I might try them at some point. In conclusion, if you like sci-fi, this is probably a cut above a lot of the stuff that gets churned out, but nothing astonishing. I'm sure there must be better examples of the genre, maybe in this author's later works, maybe from others. If you believe you don't like it, then contrary to what I was anticipating, it probably won't particularly change your mind.

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