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September Book Discussions > Consider Phlebas - September 2013

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 01, 2013 05:44AM) (new)

I have three of Banks' books and I've heard for year that The Culture is a fantastic series but I never really gave them a chance. I'm just under 60% through this book and I have to say I think it's one of the best science fiction books I've read in a long time.


Brenda ╰☆╮    (brnda) | 155 comments I have yet to read any Banks', and I have one downloaded to my phone.
Oh..for more time to read.
I'll look it up.
:)


message 3: by Donna (new)

Donna (donnahr) I had decided to give this one a pass, mainly because I didn't want to start such a long series. Glad you're enjoying it though.


message 4: by Micah (last edited Sep 01, 2013 01:22PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 233 comments Donna wrote: "I had decided to give this one a pass, mainly because I didn't want to start such a long series. Glad you're enjoying it though."

Don't let that stop you. All of his Culture novels are standalone works that don't need to be read in any order. Each of them tends to focus on a different aspect of the Culture, and/or the societies it co-exists with.

Having said that, there are some that probably would not be good first reads. There are definitely some rougher patches in the series and no single book in it is representative of the whole.

I actually started with Phlebas and was...underwhelmed by it, perhaps because I had heard so many good things about it. Personally, I did not find it a particularly deep book, but rather a mildly entertaining mainstream SF work. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing all that exciting, but a good read.

Of the Culture books I've read so far, I'd say Excession and The Player of Games are my two favorite. The former is mainly about the ship minds that effectively run the Culture, while the latter deals a lot more with the Culture's interactions with non-Culture societies.

The only reason I can think of to read Phlebas first is that it deals with a time in Culture history that is referred to in a lot of the later books. Phlebas takes place in a time that for most of the series is a thousand or more years in the past. And perhaps it does give you a good entryway into the Culture's world.


message 5: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) Won't be re-reading it for this club, as I've read all the Culture novels, and while it's definitely okay, it's not close to being my favorite. Excession was my favorite, and of course it's the one that's not enKindled (at least here in the US). :-(

I'll second the motion that they are all stand-alone books with no connecting story arc, plot-wise or character-wise.


message 6: by Ken (new)

Ken (kenzen) I started with Consider Phlebas and found it severely lacking. Banks is rambling on, going on irrelevant tangents and padding the action to make it seem more exciting. All in all I consider 'Phlebas' to be poorly written and boring as a result. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

Culture fans usually respond to this opinion by agreeing (although not quite as strongly) and saying that Player of Games is a much better introduction to the series.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm going to skip this book because there are still other Culture novels I haven't read and I want to finish them all before rereading. I'm reading The State of the Art right now. But Consider Phlebas is a really good starting point for Iain M. Banks.

As others have said, the Culture Books should not be called a series unless you're in a marketing department. Think instead of an author in New York City who places many of his novels there but always writes about different aspects of the city across many decades, then someone yahoo in Marketing calling it the author's "New York Series". I can only think of one character cross over form one book to another out of the six I've read.

There is a general feel to the Culture which makes reading the earlier novels the better choice for some one new to Bank, but there need not be a reading order.


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments The mate of mine who loaned me the book said it reminded him of some rambling 'Traveller' campaigns he'd played in in the past, and having read the book I rather agreed with him.


message 9: by Bev (new)

Bev (greenginger) | 42 comments This book I read years ago and for some reason it has stuck with me for than most sci fi. I do like Player of Games but this one has something too and I think many of you are missing a trick by passing on it. Your loss guys ......


message 10: by Suzanne (new)

Suzanne This was only my second Culture book. I liked it. I usually am more into the story characters, but the thing that attracts me to the Culture books is more the universe itself. Parts of the book were so gross to me, and parts were very interesting - like the death games.


message 11: by Maggie (new)

Maggie K I love this book, although I think it makes for a different point than most of the culture books, and thus sometimes get missed....making a philosophical point by showing a lot of meaningless action.


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

I thought it was a really good novel. While it's not one of his best and there is one section of the novel that I didn't care for, for the most part I was entertained. The Player of Games is a better novel, but it's also a different novel, with a different perspective. That one is certainly one of the best of the Culture novels, that I've read at least, but Use of Weapons is my favorite so far.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Ken wrote: "I started with Consider Phlebas and found it severely lacking. Banks is rambling on, going on irrelevant tangents and padding the action to make it seem more exciting. All in all I consider 'Phlebas' to be poorly written and boring as a result. I would not recommend this book to anyone.

Culture fans usually respond to this opinion by agreeing (although not quite as strongly) and saying that Player of Games is a much better introduction to the series.
"


That's funny, because everyone I've asked that reads the Culture novels said they thought Consider Phlebas was great and was a solid introduction to the series :-)


message 14: by Chad (new)

Chad (doctorwinters) I started reading this about 2 years ago and just faded out.... It's in my stack of "I really should finish this at some point but there are just so many more interesting books to read.."


message 15: by Chris (new)

Chris Nielsen | 48 comments I am half way through. This is my first Culture novel and I am enjoying it so damn much I am sad there is only half left. I am going to be sorry when it is done I think


message 16: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) Chris wrote: "I am half way through. This is my first Culture novel and I am enjoying it so damn much I am sad there is only half left. I am going to be sorry when it is done I think"

Don't be sorry -- that just means you can start the next one. :-)


message 17: by Chris (new)

Chris Nielsen | 48 comments I think the estate of Mr Banks will be receiving more of my money soon


message 18: by R. (new)

R. Leib | 10 comments I find it interesting reading the comments in that they are so polarized. I just finished reading "Consider Phlebas" today. I am also torn between thinking that it was both good and bad. On the plus side, the writing was pleasant and easily readable. The concepts were quite inventive and well detailed. On the minus side, the story could have been told better in 300 pages rather than 500. There were sections that did little to advance the plot or entertain the reader. A few of the graphic depictions bordered on S/M which I thought was gratuitous. (I would not recommend this book to anyone with delicate sensibilities.)


message 19: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) When writing a book about war, it's often a delicate juggling act between how graphic it needs to be to illustrate the horrors of war while not turning off readers, versus being so benign as to risk hiding war's horrors and potentially glamorizing it -- and you'll never satisfy everyone with your choices.

That being said, it's been quite some time since I read "Phlebas", so I don't really remember anything specific as to this issue. I guess that means he did not go significantly past my sensibility level to the point where I remember it, but then I've read quite a bit of military history and fiction over the years, so I might be a bit more desensitized. :-)


message 20: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Hope (endovert) R. wrote: "On the minus side, the story could have been told better in 300 pages rather than 500. There were sections that did little to advance the plot or entertain the reader ..."

I had the exact same reaction. While the universe was interesting, the story felt like a strange travelogue, where entire excursions didn't seem to affect the main narrative and had little consequence. And then the final encounter was dragged out for far too long. It was building great tension for a little while, and then it just got old.

So I agree, can't decide if it's good or bad.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't remember there being parts that dragged on too long; but I have a fondness for authors who take the time to flush out details and descriptions and frowns for those who speed things along too quickly.

I suppose there is a sweet spot, but a lot of contemporary readers seem to have a low threshold for "slow" stuff.


message 22: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) If you guys keep this up, I may have to re-read it just to see what I feel about pacing, graphic violence, etc. -- and I've already done more than enough re-reads for one year (and am planning on re-reading Night Watch soon for a number of reasons). ;-)

I suppose Banks does like to take time to let the reader see/experience the various aspects of his universe, perhaps not all that far removed from some of the "hard SF" authors who may spend a lot of time explaining ring-worlds, FTL drives, etc. -- and some people enjoy that kind of diversion and others don't. (I probably tend to, but of course, it has to be well done and not to excess -- which boundary will be different for each of us.)


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

I've still got Inversions, Look to Windward, and Matter to go before I think about rereading.


message 24: by R. (new)

R. Leib | 10 comments Charles wrote: "When writing a book about war, it's often a delicate juggling act between how graphic it needs to be to illustrate the horrors of war while not turning off readers, versus being so benign as to ris..."

Charles:

Although there are some scenes that are war related that I thought were a bit excessive, the section that I found actually distasteful was the one involving the cannibals. I admit that there are somewhat graphic depictions of violence in my own writing. But I think there is a level of degradation that fiction does not benefit from crossing. It is, after all, fiction which is intended to entertain and to stimulate thought.


message 25: by Chris (new)

Chris Nielsen | 48 comments See, I thought the cannibals were awesome


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

R. wrote: "But I think there is a level of degradation that fiction does not benefit from crossing. It is, after all, fiction which is intended to entertain and to stimulate thought. "

But that's all a matter of taste. I'm sure something like that entertained someone. For me, I wasn't entertained by that part of the novel, but not because of the graphic nature, but because it bored me!


message 27: by Charles (new)

Charles (nogdog) Heh...I don't even remember there being cannibals in the book. I guess they didn't make a huge impact on me -- or else my age and dwindling memory are showing themselves. :-)

"It is, after all, fiction which is intended to entertain and to stimulate thought."

Of course, depending on the type of thought stimulation we're talking about, it may not be conducive to fitting in with what some might consider the bounds of entertainment. But then I'm just playing Devil's Advocate, since (a) I don't remember the scene(s) in question, and (b) not all fiction is necessarily first and foremost "just" entertainment, in my opinion. (I'm trying to work my way through Infinite Jest , and it's definitely not something that one should pick up for entertainment, though it does have its occasionally entertaining moments.)

Bottom line, though, we all have different life experiences, tastes, preferences, etc., and none of them are wrong. It does, however, make it pretty difficult for any author to satisfy all the people all the time, to paraphrase whoever it was. Heck, I actually know a few people who don't like the "Discworld" books, while I've never completed a Stephen King novel. :-)


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 14, 2013 11:06AM) (new)

R. wrote: "It is, after all, fiction which is intended to entertain and to stimulate thought. ..."

If you want just entertainment, focus on movies and TV where there is little or no risk of thought simulation. Good fiction, however, can and probably should stir the brain. When I read, I prefer authors who give me something to think about over those who show me something to cheer about. I'm not opposed to mindless entertainment now and then, but those kind of books are like eating at McDonalds: temporarily filling but not very satisfactory long term. Lois McMaster Bujold might be the better choice for a long airplane trip over David Foster Wallace, but the later will give you food for thought where the former will only keep you occupied at 30,000 feet. Your choice in the end what you want to pick up.


Also, it times gone by, the novel was considered the a primary way to communicate ideas about society, social injustice, and contemporary issues. For example, Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle changed the way Americans viewed meat production.

As for graphic nature of war, I think it's important not to hold back. It's war and it isn't nice. All Quiet On the Western Front was a profound shock on readers of it's time who came in contact with descriptions of wounded soldiers dying in the mud. It was an unromantic novel.

Like Charles, I have no recollection of cannibals in the book. Damn getting old.


message 29: by Jim (new)

Jim | 418 comments Charles wrote: "Heh...I don't even remember there being cannibals in the book. I guess they didn't make a huge impact on me -- or else my age and dwindling memory are showing themselves. :-)

"It is, after all, fi..."


You're right about it being a matter of Taste Charles. I too have never managed to finish a Stephen King book. It probably means we belong to a small and not desperately select subgroup :-)


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I am about 2/3rds of the way through on what is my 2nd re-read of this book (first read several years ago) .As an Ian Banks groupie I have no difficulty re-reading. This time I do find though that some of the passages, notably the cannibals, are pretty superfluous contributing little to the view of the universe/war/culture etc. Still being more linear and straightforward in its telling, it is a better introduction to Banks' writing than many others (my initiation was Fearsome Injunn which was not easy though totally enthralling). Several of the other culture books are certainly much stronger and those of you above just beginning to explore this universe are in for hours of pleasure. And PS - I too fail to read Stephen King


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

I just finished and I have to say that I could give the read a solid 4 stars if not for about a hundred pages of totally useless pages that added nothing to my enjoyment or to the worth of the read. Primarily the "The Eaters" left me totally wasted after this encounter. Then there was other bits and pieces in stretches that added up to a lot of vacuumed space for me.
However, I did like the characters and the drones were especially entertaining.
I do want to read all the "Culture" books as I do like what I am reading and based on the fact that most say that it gets better with the following reads. Overall...a good read.

I have not read a Stephen King book in maybe 15 years....just not my kind of read!!


message 32: by Micah (last edited Sep 21, 2013 01:31PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 233 comments I remember "The Eaters" part and it's a good example of what I meant by calling it a mainstream SF work, i.e., a bit of light entertainment. Yeah, it was graphic, but nothing out of the ordinary if you've ever played computer games. Grand Theft Auto is a lot more objectionable to me than graphically violent elements in a SF book, because in a SF book it's usually not the main character engaged in the bad stuff.

The Eaters scene, in my memory, was basically like a set piece from an action adventure serial: a momentary, non-plot driving obstacle set in the protagonist's path to ramp up the tension and action in a section that was about to become too sedate. There were a lot of these kinds of scenes in the book, IIRC, which all detracted (IMHO) from what I had been expecting: a big ideas, heavy on world creation and really wild things modern space opera.

There was enough world creation in it that I didn't regret reading the book, and for me to want to read more of his Culture novels, but I thought the book felt more like light entertainment than a serious thought provoking work.

P.S. A lot of other popular writers have done far more graphic and disturbing scenes than Banks (Clive Barker, for example).

P.P.S I've never finished a Stephen King story either. ;)


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Danny wrote: "I just finished and I have to say that I could give the read a solid 4 stars if not for about a hundred pages of totally useless pages that added nothing to my enjoyment or to the worth of the read..."

Funny that you mention the drones, I highly recommend
The Player of Games for your next "Culture" read, the drones are quite funny in that one, not to mention the whole novel is fantastic.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

On The Eaters again..not so much that a bit gruesome and grizzly.just too much padding...as the tunnel section equally drags a bit. There is so much more development and depth to the universe of the Culture in his other novels..and his handling of 'gruesome' so much more relevant/pertinent elsewhere - see the chair and the rain/mud/gore in..oh s.... name escapes me . As for drones and Minds, i am in love.

Sub group forming of the 'Dont read S.K.' :) :)


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Micah, John and Sally..you all speak to me and that is the point...The Eaters, the tunnel's and the break out of the Clear Air Turbulence from the Culture rescue ship went on way to long...I found my self hitting my next page button on my Kindle way to often. I did not see how all this added to the wealth of the read.

To me The Eaters did not come across as to graphic or grizzly...I love it when it's an integral part of the story and adds to my reading pleasure but not as you say Sally...just for PADDING....that I do not care for!

John, I am going to read through the Culture series as I do like them...I loved the Changer as well...but I am a huge lover of the drones or any AI...I hope the MIND has growing part in this series or I will be disappointed.

Thanks for the input and have a SicFi day!!


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

Danny wrote: "John, I am going to read through the Culture series as I do like them...I loved the Changer as well...but I am a huge lover of the drones or any AI...I hope the MIND has growing part in this series or I will be disappointed. "

Good to hear :-) Of the 4 culture novels I've read so far, Matter is the only one that I didn't care for, though it was still a decent read. Also, I just finished one of his lit novels, Stonemouth, which I really enjoyed, and I will certainly check out more of his non-scifi works.


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

John wrote: "Danny wrote: "John, I am going to read through the Culture series as I do like them...I loved the Changer as well...but I am a huge lover of the drones or any AI...I hope the MIND has growing part ..."

Thanks John, I am going to follow up with the Culture series and then explore his other work...such as Stonemouth which I hear is a good read.

I have always been a reader of all genre but Sci-Fi is my "If you were marooned on an island with no hope of rescue but you could have all the books you would like, what genre would you choose?"...I'd have to go with Sci-Fi. I wander about for a couple of years over every genre then I have to get back to my roots and satisfy my craving for Sci-Fi and that's where I'm at now...but I'm finding so many good reads out there now..with the self publishing and ebooks I may not ever read another genre...hahaha...love it!!

Thanks John!


message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

Every so often I read something different.. but not for long..nothing satisfies like Sci Fi and a little bit of Fantasy.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

Sally wrote: "Every so often I read something different.. but not for long..nothing satisfies like Sci Fi and a little bit of Fantasy."

That's me Sally as well with some good Fantasy thrown in the mix. I do enjoy Terry Goodkind's work!!


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