After reading Stand on Zanzibar I decided to read the next Culture book in my list. Unlike Zanzibar, I couldn't put this book down. I finished it within two days.. For the uninitiated, the Culture novels are a set of short(ish) books by the British author Iain M. Banks. Some maybe be familiar with his more mainstream work such as The Wasp Factory.
The Culture is a galaxy spanning civilisation made up of a number of biological beings as well as intelligent machines. There is no government per se, but the whole thing is basically run by many hyper-intelligent artificial "Minds". The Culture is one of the more enticing (and believable - if these things can be called believable) socialist utopia commited to paper.. least as far as I know. Despite the grand space opera that forms the backdrop to his stories, Banks always concentrates on the little battles of a few characters. This was most evident in the first Culture book "Consider Phlebas" where the backdrop was a war in which over 800 BILLION lives were lost, but the story follows a single characters small part in this war.
However, despite the focus on a small detail, Banks always manages to use the story of these few characters as a metaphor for the much larger happenings in the background, but also as a metaphor for his own convictions. in each of the three Culture novels I have read (Phlebas, The Player of Games and The Use of Weapons) this metaphor is clearly visiable. In each Banks book there is this nagging in the back of the mind of what he is really trying to say through the story. Combined with the action, humour and incredible locales Banks thinks up, this makes for a thouroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
Also, any author who uses lines from a T. S. Elliot poem for two of his books is pretty cool in my book. I definately recommend reading Elliot's "The Waste Land" before reading "Consider Phlebas"
IV. Death by Water
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.
T. S. Elliot - The Waste Land