Re: Culture

1

Is Player of Games a good place to start? I'd always heard Consider Phlebas was the best place to start followed closely by Use of Weapons.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 11:32 AM
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These are like $10 on Kindle, which bothers me for a thirty-yea-old book written by a man who can't spell "Ian."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 11:40 AM
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Player of Games is less Culture-focused than Consider Phlebas; it focuses more on what a shitty culture looks like to the Culture. Phlebas takes place during the big war that serves as the last time the Culture has a meaningful opponent and gets into what makes it weird directly. So I guess they're two sides of a coin. I've heard both recommended; PoG is probably a bit friendly but Phlebas is also very good.

I don't think Use of Weapons is a great place to start; I recall it assuming more knowledge. I still think it's the most engrossing (literally read it in a single day, on a plane) and reading it before other books can be a let down. But you might want to go for it if you're a single-marshmallow kid.

2: It took forever for these books to come out in the US, period. I was still buying them in physical form long after almost all my other reading had moved to ebooks. I think there are annoying rights issues, or perhaps his estate wants more fancy cars.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 11:57 AM
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CLP has one more free e-copy. Unless I fucked up and checked out two.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 11:59 AM
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It says I only have one copy checked out but that both are gone.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 12:01 PM
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Consider Phlebas is the right place to start if you plan to read the lot, because it's first both, I think, in publication and chronology. But I'd endorse Player of Games if we want to read just one. It stands alone well and is quite dense in its ideas. Most of them are OK as stand alones (not Excession, which would make no sense at all without the background, but Inversions, for instance is only a culture novel because Banks said it was.)


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 12:15 PM
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Huh. I read Consider Phlebas and mostly felt like I was missing something. Sure, a bunch of stuff happens... but it didn't seem like it really went anywhere.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:00 PM
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Lightweight? Srsly? My science fiction class read Player of Games and we were all heinously depressed by it - I mean, not me, I'd read it before.

I picked up Matter and put it down for being too horrible. I've read a couple of others and they are only moderately grim, although I'm not doing Consider Phlebas again because of the homophobic part. (In fairness to Banks, I don't think he meant it to be homophobic, but it sure is.)

Could we do some a space opera compare-and-contrast? I really think that Franco-Vietnamese writer Aliette de Bodard's space opera work is underread and wonderfu - On A Red Station, Drifting and Scattered Along The River Of Heaven in particular. And there's lots of other stuff that might cut the brutal-murders side of Banks.

(Player of Games has a LOT of rape, by the way. I find it hard to read for that reason.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:07 PM
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I am not good at italics, evidently.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:08 PM
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Or Samuel Delany's Triton - Unfoggers would love Triton, or at least find it extremely postable-about. "Just how monstrous is Bron" would generate hundreds of comments, IMO.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:26 PM
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We could be bronies.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:27 PM
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Tell you what, if the Delany idea gets some interest we can do a reading group on that too.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:35 PM
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12 - I would go along with an all-Culture project because why not, but if folks wanted to read some Banks and then some other space-opera-esque stuff, I would be especially into that - not as a separate thing, but purposely to see where they contrast.

(Like, we had a lot of fun doing "Player of Games and Ancillary Justice, Two Critiques of Liberalism" in my book group, for instance.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:37 PM
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The one I read (Consider Phlebas) was ok but way too much torture porn.

I'd love the Delany. The Ballad of Beta-2 was fantastic and I'd like to do more.


Posted by: Yoyo | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:43 PM
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Well, people can read what they want alongside it and write it up - that's the nature of the game...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:43 PM
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What about starting with Player of Games and then deciding what next? Or maybe POG and some Culture short stories?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:45 PM
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I'm not sure about reading two books.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:46 PM
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8,14,etc.: That's a good point: these books are very casual about violence, including sexual violence. Sometimes this is because The Culture represents the liberal Western world enforcing its norms, or preferences, on supposedly less developed civilizations via violence that would be unacceptable at home. On the other hand, in Player of Games, Banks is criticizing our (well, 1980s our, if that difference matters) sexual norms more directly through a non-Culture society--when he wants to show fucked up stuff directly, he can't use The Culture since it has to be internally almost perfect.

Recall that Use of Weapons is the book where the main character is raped, which we had a discussion about here a while ago--it's glossed over in a chapter recounting a bunch of awful things, and some commenters (myself included) didn't remember it at all.

So I'd understand if people wouldn't be up for them. I do like the idea of comparing it to something else in the genre, and really wouldn't mind rereading the Ancillary books. (Her new book is in the same universe, right? I could use a refresher...) The first one in particular was a breath of fresh air.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 1:52 PM
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18: The thing is, there's ways and ways of writing sexual abuse. The much more in-depth and traumatic stuff in the very interesting Marq'ssan saga by Timmi Du Champ* don't bother me as much (that is, they're upsetting and I don't read them when I'm not up to it, but how they're written doesn't bother me) because they are written with a commitment, realism and intimacy that stems from DuChamp's work as a solidarity activist with South American victims of state violence. The stuff in Banks is way too boys'-space-opera in its treatment for me. With the Du Champ, I feel very plugged in to the experience of the characters who suffer, and I feel the repercussions for them. It's not light reading. Whereas with the Banks, I feel like those things function more as signposts of villainy and make me feel pretty alienated from the books.

I like Banks as a writer and by all accounts he seems to have been a really good guy - I'm not trying to say that his work is Politically Unacceptable or something - but there are ways in which it fails to work for me.

I think if ajay is going to take responsibility for making this happen, I would like to read some Culture stuff, though.

*The writing is not what you'd call lyrical, and the first book is a little rocky, but she gains ground as a writer over the series.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 2:02 PM
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I can see what you mean. I felt Player of Games specifically was criticism of us, but a lot of other times it just did seem to be violence because it was to be expected of the villains (or morally gray protagonists).


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 2:06 PM
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I'm between books at the moment, and I've never participated in an Unfogged reading group before, so I'm up for this.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 2:07 PM
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The new standalone(ish) Leckie might work as a counterpart like Frowner suggests. I am always down with Delany except that I somehow misplaced my Dhalgren and I've now in my second autumn without a reread, which is deeply unacceptable.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 2:36 PM
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I'm up for any Banks. I have not read Consider Phlebas but have read the other two, so I would vote for CP. I loved Excession, would be happy to reread that again.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 3:38 PM
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Agreeing with Frostbite and others, the ferocity of these books shouldn't be minimized.
For reading, my choices would be
1. CP
2. PoG
5. anything else
I vote against Matter, Excession, Surface Detail, The Hydrogen Sonata, Inversions for similar reasons to other commenters.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:02 PM
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Just to emphasise that this reading group is voluntary. If anyone doesn't want to read the books and would rather read something else, or go for a walk or watch TV or whatever, they can do that. There is no obligation to read stuff you don't like.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:09 PM
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How come just that thread is voluntary and the others aren't?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:14 PM
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Rather than going through the books chapter by chapter I think a good approach might be to pick a theme each and write about that. I claim "Protecting Utopias".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:17 PM
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27: I agree, but before we call dibs can we agree what we're reading?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:18 PM
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26: I dunno, it just seems a lot of people are feeling the need to explain why they don't want to read these books and they really don't have to, they can just not read them. I won't mind.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:19 PM
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I take 28 back: shotgun "the Culture as social democracy."


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 4:21 PM
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Huh. I read Consider Phlebas and mostly felt like I was missing something. Sure, a bunch of stuff happens... but it didn't seem like it really went anywhere.

Agreed. Disappointingly nihilistic for me.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 8:42 PM
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31: Maybe this is a function of when I read it, but I found the nihilism cathartic, in the tragic sense,* and took it to be the point.
*This isn't quite what I mean, and I'm not arguing CP is a classic tragedy.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-10-17 10:09 PM
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I think some level of existential despair is par for the course in Culture novels. If I had to speculate, I'd say it somehow goes together, the optimism for what can be achieved materially and societally, with the sense that greatest good for the greatest number can imply some horrible things on the individual level or in the interstices, as well as the knowledge of how monstrous societies can be when they put their mind to that instead. Some of, yes, the universe is vast and unfeeling, so let's have a party.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 8:27 AM
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28: I'd suggest the first three. Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, Use of Weapons. And posts in, say, mid December?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 8:43 AM
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>### Player of Games

>**Culture Plate**:

>This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game. The man is a game-player called "Gurgeh." The story starts with a battle that is not a battle, and ends with a game that is not a game.

>Me? I'll tell you about me later.

>This is how the story begins:

>Dust drifted with each footstep. He limped across the desert, following the suited figure in front. The gun was quiet in his hands. They must be nearly there; the noise of distant surf boomed through the helmet soundfield. They were approaching a tall dune, from which they ought to be able to see the coast. Somehow he had survived; he had not expected to. It was bright and hot and dry outside, but inside the suit he was shielded from the sun and the baking air; cosseted and cool.

>One edge of the helmet visor was dark, where it had taken a hit, and the right leg flexed awkwardly, also damaged, making him limp, but otherwise he'd been lucky. The last time they'd been attacked had been a kilometer back, and now they were nearly out of range. The flight of missiles cleared the nearest ridge in a glittering arc. He saw them late because of the damaged visor. He thought the missiles had already started firing, but it was only the sunlight reflecting on their sleek bodies. The flight dipped and swung together, like a flock of birds. When they did start firing it was signaled by strobing red pulses of light.

>He raised his gun to fire back; the other suited figures in the group had already started firing. Some dived to the dusty desert floor, others dropped to one knee. He was the only one standing. The missiles swerved again, turning all at once and then splitting up to take different directions. Dust puffed around his feet as shots fell close. He tried to aim at one of the small machines, but they moved startlingly quickly, and the gun felt large and awkward in his hands. His suit chimed over the distant noise of firing and the shouts of the other people; lights winked inside the helmet, detailing the damage. The suit shook and his right leg went suddenly numb.

>"Wake up, Gurgeh!" Yay laughed, alongside him. She swiveled on one knee as two of the small missiles swung suddenly at their section of the group, sensing that was where it was weakest. Gurgeh saw the machines coming, but the gun sang wildly in his hands, and seemed always to be aiming at where the missiles had just been. The two machines darted for the space between him and Yay. One of the missiles flashed once and disintegrated; Yay shouted, exulting. The other missile swung between them; she lashed out with her foot, trying to kick it. Gurgeh turned awkwardly to fire at it, accidentally scattering fire over Yay's suit as he did so. He heard her cry out and then curse. She staggered, but brought the gun round; fountains of dust burst around the second missile as it turned to face them again, its red pulses lighting up his suit and filling his visor with darkness. He felt numb from the neck down and crumpled to the ground. It went black and very quiet...

Banks, Iain M.. The Player of Games (A Culture Novel Book 2) (pp. 1-2). Orbit. Kindle Edition.

----

OK. We have a military-SF with protagonist Gurgeh and laughter-of-the-guns-comrade Yay, opening _in medias res_. We expect the next scene to have our protagonist recovering from wounds (his wounds? her wounds? This reading through I code Gurgeh as male and Yay as female, but maybe not) in a hospital days or weeks later, with comrade Yay probably dead.

But there are too oddities that already tell us that this is not just a MILSF novel written by somebody who is a much better stylist than Jerry Pournelle. There is the mysterious narrator. And there is the "battle that is not a battle" declaration...


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 8:48 AM
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I endorse the claim in 6--Player of Games was where I entered the series, and it's very good. I do think Look to Windward (as the name might suggest to obsessive Eliot fans, a very loose sequel to Consider Phlebas, about the aftermath of the war going on during that book) also works very well as an option if you're only interested in reading one book in the series.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 8:58 AM
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36 was me.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 8:58 AM
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Space opera junkies looking for other things to compare and contrast to the Culture alongside the Leckie trilogy might also be interested in Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit.

(And for Ajay and maybe gnoLeD .forP, I'm going to recommend the vaguely Byzantine, vaguely Renaissance-y Sharps, not a space opera at all, by "K.J. Parker".)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 9:08 AM
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And posts in, say, mid December

Damn. I'll be in leave and very busy travelling the first three weeks of December. Will try to read CP in the next week or so but I don't know that I'll be able to contribute much.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 9:14 AM
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In s/b on


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 9:19 AM
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39 - no worries Barry, that was just a suggestion. We can push it to January. Posts from the 11th?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 9:51 AM
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38.1: I read those thanks to you, snark, but boy do I hope Revenant Gun is just a working title for the end of the trilogy.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 12:36 PM
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34: Experience suggests that people will flake on that much reading. All those books are short, but three in a row aren't. I suggest one book to start, more later if there's appetite. My vote is CP, posts from early December; Barry will at least have time to read the book and write the first post if he wants.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 2:04 PM
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I just discovered that I've read 7 Culture novels, so I say we read only those 7.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 2:47 PM
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>### Consider Phlebas

**Prologue**

>The ship didn't even have a name. It had no human crew because the factory craft which constructed it had been evacuated long ago. It had no life-support or accommodation units for the same reason. It had no class number or fleet designation because it was a mongrel made from bits and pieces of different types of warcraft; and it didn't have a name because the factory craft had no time left for such niceties.

>The dockyard threw the ship together as best it could from its depleted stock of components, even though most of the weapon, power and sensory systems were either faulty, superseded or due for overhaul. The factory vessel knew that its own destruction was inevitable, but there was just a chance that its last creation might have the speed and the luck to escape. The one perfect, priceless component the factory craft did have was the vastly powerful--though still raw and untrained--Mind around which it had constructed the rest of the ship. If it could get the Mind to safety, the factory vessel thought it would have done well.

>Nevertheless, there was another reason--the real reason--the dockyard mother didn't give its warship child a name; it thought there was something else it lacked: hope. The ship left the construction bay of the factory craft with most of its fitting-out still to be done. Accelerating hard, its course a fourdimensional spiral through a blizzard of stars where it knew that only danger waited, it powered into hyperspace on spent engines from an overhauled craft of one class, watched its birthplace disappear astern with battle-damaged sensors from a second, and tested outdated weapon units cannibalized from yet another. Inside its warship body, in narrow, unlit, unheated, hard-vacuum spaces, constructor drones struggled to install or complete sensors, displacers, field generators, shield disruptors, laserfields, plasma chambers, warhead magazines, maneuvering units, repair systems and the thousands of other major and minor components required to make a functional warship.

>Gradually, as it swept through the vast open reaches between the star systems, the vessel's internal structure changed, and it became less chaotic, more ordered, as the factory drones completed their tasks. Several tens of hours out on its first journey, while it was testing its track scanner by focusing back along the route it had taken, the ship registered a single massive annihilation explosion deep behind it, where the factory craft had been. It watched the blossoming shell of radiation expand for a while, then switched the scanner field to dead ahead and pushed yet more power through its already overloaded engines.

>The ship did all it could to avoid combat; it kept well away from the routes enemy craft would probably use; it treated every hint of any craft as a confirmed hostile sighting. At the same time, as it zigzagged and ducked and weaved and rose and fell, it was corkscrewing as fast as it could, as directly as it dared, down and across the strand of the galactic arm in which it had been born, heading for the edge of that great isthmus and the comparatively empty space beyond. On the far side, on the edge of the next limb, it might find safety.

>Just as it arrived at that first border, where the stars rose like a glittering cliff alongside emptiness, it was caught. A fleet of hostile craft, whose course by chance came close enough to that of the fleeing ship, detected its ragged, noisy emission shell, and intercepted it. The ship ran straight into their attack and was overwhelmed. Out-armed, slow, vulnerable, it knew almost instantly that it had no chance even of inflicting any damage on the opposing fleet. So it destroyed itself, detonating the stock of warheads it carried in a sudden release of energy which for a second, in hyperspace alone, outshone the yellow dwarf star of a nearby system. Scattered in a pattern around it, an instant before the ship itself was blown into plasma, most of the thousands of exploding warheads formed an outrushing sphere of radiation through which any escape seemed impossible. In the fraction of a second the entire engagement lasted, there were at the end some millionths when the battlecomputers of the enemy fleet briefly analyzed the four-dimensional maze of expanding radiation and saw that there was one bewilderingly complicated and unlikely way out of the concentric shells of erupting energies now opening like the petals of some immense flower between the star systems. It was not, however, a route the Mind of a small, archaic warship could plan for, create and follow.

>By the time it was noticed that the ship's Mind had taken exactly that path through its screen of annihilation, it was too late to stop it from falling away through hyperspace toward the small, cold planet fourth out from the single yellow sun of the nearby system. It was also too late to do anything about the light from the ship's exploding warheads, which had been arranged in a crude code, describing the vessel's fate and the escaped Mind's status and position, and legible to anybody catching the unreal light as it sped through the galaxy. Perhaps worst of all--and had their design permitted such a thing, those electronic brains would now have felt dismay--the planet the Mind had made for through its shield of explosions was not one they could simply attack, destroy or even land on; it was Schar's World, near the region of barren space between two galactic strands called the Sullen Gulf, and it was one of the forbidden Planets of the Dead.

Banks, Iain M.. Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1) (pp. 1-2). Orbit. Kindle Edition.

Note that not a single human has appeared yet: it's all AIs, machines, and (chord) "Schar's World... one of the forbidden Planets of the Dead." It's as if humans are not very important in this universe: not important at all...


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 3:04 PM
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Technically, I think that's true.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 3:23 PM
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Self-importance counts.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 3:30 PM
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BDL, we haven't started yet.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 4:20 PM
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I'm still reading about the Polish-Soviet War, so I probably won't start on other books until next week.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-11-17 4:26 PM
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I'M SO IN


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 11-12-17 7:47 PM
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48: I think he's doing trailers?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 1:29 AM
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It would explain why he's typing in a growly voice.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 1:29 AM
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34: Experience suggests that people will flake on that much reading.

Yeah, that may well happen. But remember we're doing the writeups by theme, rather than chapter by chapter. That means that even if someone has not read all three, they'll still be able to understand and contribute. (Though there may be spoilers.) Plus, different people want to read different ones first.

I'd like to stick with my plan, because that gives everyone a couple of months to read at least one and maybe all three. Drab Gnole has clearly already started to read two simultaneously, and it would be churlish to tell him to stop, and quite a few others have read at least one already.

And I'd encourage anyone who's writing stuff to remember that not everyone may have read all three, so don't base your entire writeup on just one book.

Finally, for the benefit of those who need to be wary of this kind of stuff: Consider Phlebas is set during a major war. Player of Games is set partly in a violent, oppressive and unequal society. Use of Weapons is about a mercenary and his handler. The content is as you might expect from these descriptions.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 3:40 AM
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Space opera junkies looking for other things to compare and contrast to the Culture alongside the Leckie trilogy might also be interested in Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit.

I got this out of the library the day before you typed this. I'll start it shortly.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 3:42 AM
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ajay pwns people IRL.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 5:04 AM
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53.1/2/3: Fair enough. Shall we say post-writers undertake to read at least 2 of CP, PoG, UoW?
Also, spoiler policy. I suggest those 3 books are fair game, anything else should be marked.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 5:09 AM
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In this world, Mr Gurgeh, one can be either. One can pwn others, or one can be... pwned. Do you see?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 5:54 AM
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When I saw this post I reached for my gun.


Posted by: Opinionated Joseph Goebbels | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 5:59 AM
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56.1 and 56.2 both sound good.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 6:00 AM
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>Finally, for the benefit of those who need to be wary of this kind of stuff: Consider Phlebas is set during a major war. Player of Games is set partly in a violent, oppressive and unequal society. Use of Weapons is about a mercenary and his handler. The content is as you might expect from these descriptions.

NO!!!!! THE CONTENT IS **NOT** AS YOU MIGHT EXPECT FROM THESE DESCRIPTIONS. AT A NUMBER OF POINTS IN EACH OF THE THREE BOOKS, YOU WILL SAY TO YOURSELF: "I SIGNED UP FOR THIS!?" AND HEAD TO THE TOILET TO RETCH

**YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED**


Posted by: Brad DeLong | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 7:45 AM
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I retched last night at about 4:00. I still haven't had anything to drink or eat since then. I blame a bad shrimp.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 7:49 AM
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I wonder when it is safe to have coffee? I really need some.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 7:55 AM
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60 is truth.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 7:57 AM
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62: try sipping some clear drinks first - water, weak tea, etc.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 8:04 AM
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I have something called "apple cinnamon" tea. It was blended in McKees Rocks, so it must be good.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 8:23 AM
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You know, BDL didn't sign as "Opinionated", but it sure reads that way.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 8:29 AM
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I've started on CP; only a chapter in, and the layers I'm seeing on second viewing have made it worthwhile already.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 8:35 AM
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Since the tea went fine and I'm hungry, I'm going to try chicken tenders and fries.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:35 AM
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Drab Gnoll! Excellent first-tier tabletop baddies.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:39 AM
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My books haven't even arrived and I have an on-and-off queasy almost-migraine. Hmmm.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:43 AM
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I've got to say, I'm wracking my brain trying to remember what was so objectionable in those books that's prompting some of these responses. I certainly never had a retch response. But I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be comparing them with. I mean, there's pretty grim stuff in a lot of sci-fi - eg Slaughterhouse Five. And thinking back on the Culture in general, it doesn't really get much grimmer than Surface Detail, surely.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:47 AM
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I think it comes down to whether you're the sort of person who really visualizes descriptive prose. I haven't read any of the Culture books for a few years, and I reacted to them like you did, but I think he does a fair amount of viscerally horrifying description that I sort of page past in the same way I skim through descriptions of scenery. For someone who's really looking at the picture being drawn, it'd be intense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:51 AM
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I wasn't bothered by much of this, but I haven't had much trauma in my life. Different people take stuff different ways.

Surface Detail was over-the-top, to a farcical level IIRC. But by its existence has probably prevented a thousand less well-crafted anti-religion screeds from being written.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 9:53 AM
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74

FUCK YOU TOO, "LIZARDBREATH"


Posted by: OPINIONATED CREATIVE WRITING TEACHER | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 10:15 AM
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75

71: The final reveal in UOW?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 11:29 AM
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75: Apparently the original British cover spoiled it. Very tasteful.

UOW is generally disturbing throughout.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 11:41 AM
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77

I usually don't have too much trouble ignoring long description of any sort. I think that may be why I liked Lord of the Rings. I never noticed how long the description was because I automatically ignored it. Also, reading a ten page epic poem gets really old but reading the prose after where somebody tells you what the poem was about takes a few seconds.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 11:50 AM
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71: Consider Phlebas has the scene on the beach? And the setting of the opening chapter is pretty grim. Player of Games has long descriptions of people playing complicated board games which may be triggering for people who hate nerds.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-13-17 8:16 PM
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79

"Triggering for people who hate nerds" might come a little late for readers here


Posted by: NW | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 12:06 AM
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80

So far my response to CP is mostly surprise that Kraiklyn as a name hasn't taken off, though I blame Banks for thinking it would read male.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:05 AM
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81

It sounds kind of like a candy bar.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:17 AM
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82

Or a baby kraken.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:31 AM
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83

60. If you can get past the first chapter of CP ("Sorpen") without a retch reaction you are probably going to be okay, but you will be tested on this repeatedly.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:36 AM
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84

I got through the fourth chapter because I couldn't get back to sleep after a child woke me for night vomiting, so maybe that is the theme.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:39 AM
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85

Kids are harsh. If you vomit once, they'll keep waking you up.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:41 AM
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86

And then at night the nauseous ice weasels come.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:48 AM
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87

It's Thorn's fault for sending everyone hoem before they were finished in the vomitarium.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:50 AM
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88

One of the funniest things I know about Iain Banks is, AIMHMHB, he apparently wrote "Use of Weapons" and another SF novel first, and couldn't get any publishers interested, so he thought to himself "right, though I still think of myself as an SF author, I need to get my name in print somehow, and then once I've done that my SF books will have a better chance. So I'm going to give up on SF temporarily and give in to the will of the market - sell out, basically - and write something really mainstream with wide appeal that will definitely get published."

And so he wrote "The Wasp Factory".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:51 AM
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89

"home"
(Firefox wants us to use a sanitarium instead. Prude.)


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:52 AM
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90

87: Same place, I assure you. 86 is my life. (It's gotten tons better, but not completely.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 6:57 AM
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Last time I read CP I decided to skip "The Eaters" next time round. Sticking to the plan.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 7:54 AM
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I don't remember "The Eaters" or anything in Surface Detail that would be horrifying. Perhaps I am dead inside. I do remember the end of UoW, though, so maybe my insides are just in a coma?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:14 AM
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93

Your soul is expatriate.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:23 AM
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94

88 is hysterical.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:38 AM
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95

The concept Surface Detail is built around is horrifying, yet makes perfect sense given certain patterns of thinking common in America. If we had the technology (if it was even possible), we would implement it.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:43 AM
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The Eaters scene on the beach - somewhat horrifying, but blunted by being more comedic, significantly by Banks's standards. Almost like something that could be in Doctor Who with some discreet camera angles.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:52 AM
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Skipped anyway. Life is too short.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 8:57 AM
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98

My memories of reading the Culture novels are pretty much in line with 71.

Surface Detail is a bit of an exception and 95 is sadly correct.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 9:05 AM
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"I certainly never had a retch response..." "My memories of reading the Culture novels are pretty much in line with 71..."

I hate to have to say that I am no longer sure I am of the same species as you people...

But I will start rereading _Surface Detail_ in order to keep from falling asleep in seminar this afternoon...


Posted by: GnoLed Darb | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 2:07 PM
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95 and 99. The whole point (or grim joke) of "Surface Detail" is that it precisely contradicts the ideas that a true believer would have about the main trope. That is, to a true believer that trope is unnecessary and heretical. (Trying to avoid spoilers.)

I decided to reread "Consider Phlebas," since I had a couple of longish plane flights, and while "The Eaters" is pretty gross it read as less gross than the first time I read it. On the other hand, I have vowed never to re-read "Hannibal" or "The Road."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 4:52 PM
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101

100 was me. Also, I apparently can't settle on the correct spelling of "re-read."


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 5:24 PM
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102

rerëad.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-14-17 5:26 PM
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103

I just came across the fascinatingly titled Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies and I'm afraid I may have no time for the Banks.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 12:38 AM
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104

I think we need to move Barry to the "bad kind of ex-pat" column.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 2:45 AM
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105

Hey now!


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:03 AM
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106

What kind of equipment studies did the Roman military do?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:05 AM
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106: mostly they fought everyone they could reach and paid close attention to what the other chaps were using and whether it was any good. Hence replacing the gladius with the longer spatha, for example.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:17 AM
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Some people just don't know how to take a joke.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:19 AM
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109

Like the Carthaginians.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:22 AM
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110

I find the nascent argument in my mind demands that I turn back and read The Eaters anyway. Ugh.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:24 AM
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105: Ex-pats can't be trusted. We're incapable of loyalty.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 6:37 AM
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Read the Eaters, or Eat the Readers,
That is the question


Posted by: Cannibal Hamlet | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 7:40 AM
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Some critics have argued that it is not the fear of action which paralyzes Hamlet, but rather the fear of what he may become in acting, if he follows the footsteps of his mother and uncle. Do you fear the eating? Or what the eater may become?


Posted by: Dr Hannibal Lecter | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 7:57 AM
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114

Speaking of the Culture novels, this seems timely.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 8:00 AM
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115

I tried to read it, but the backdrop made me sick.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11-15-17 8:02 AM
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