did someone muck with the backend here

Re: Guest Post: The Culture: defending Utopia.

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the Culture as depicted, most of whose population lives on Orbitals
Nitpick: Banks seems to contradict himself on this. IIRC in Excession the orbitals are described as the rustic hinterland, the GSVs as the cities, implying most people lived in ships (though that is set centuries after CP).

the "risk fleet" philosophy of Admiral Tirpitz
Could you cash that out a little? IIRC the theory was GB needed the Fleet for its empire, therefore couldn't afford substantial attrition against the Germans, and so would make concessions on the Continent rather than risk the Fleet (but varsity was long ago).


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 9:35 AM
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See? The "Deluge" reading group was totally worthwhile.

All that death and destruction in the Culture-Idrian war could have been avoided if only Woodrow Wilson hadn't screwed everything up.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 9:50 AM
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The Culture is fighting to protect itself and maybe even to survive.
As I read it, this is explicitly contradicted in the the Appendix to CP: the Idirans aimed to conquer only inferior species; the Culture was bound to intervene in order to maintain its own ideological cohesion, but wasn't materially threatened.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 9:53 AM
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Banks, being a bit of an old leftie, may here be imagining a kind of Barbarossa In Space
Interesting. It had always struck me as obviously Plan Dog In Space. The Soviets retreated across their heartland; the Americans retreated across sandbars and empty ocean,* the military doing the dying and civilians in the impregnable heartland barely touched ("Spaceship USA", no?). There are several parallels between the Idirans and the Imperial Japanese: the Idirans holding all conquered planets (islands) regardless of military value; terrestrial (land) Idiran elements carrying on the war after the space (naval) war was lost; some of those elements persisting in guerilla resistance long after the end of the war; "The Idirans seemed to relish suicide missions".
*Excepting the Philippines.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:18 AM
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It's possible that Banks changed his view, but I thought the late view of Special Circumstances was always implicit in the books. The danger always faces is boredom -- its most ambitious citizens will be tempted to meddle just to give their lives meaning.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:35 AM
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the Idirans aimed to conquer only inferior species; the Culture was bound to intervene in order to maintain its own ideological cohesion, but wasn't materially threatened.

Idiran war aim was to cause enough damage to the Culture to make them unwilling or unable to interfere in future Idiran expansion - I'd call that a material threat, even if it isn't one of conquest, as it would still involve a lot of Culture citizens dying and Culture equipment being destroyed. And he also says IIRC that the more extreme Idirans were considering going for all-out conquest; I'm away from my copy at the moment.

IIRC in Excession the orbitals are described as the rustic hinterland, the GSVs as the cities, implying most people lived in ships
I don't think it does imply that; why can't you have a civilisation most of whose members don't live in cities?
I think the typical Culture citizen lives on an Orbital. There are various remarks in "Player of Games" that imply GSV-dwellers are seen as the exception.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:35 AM
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if you're so peaceful and rich, how come someone nasty hasn't invaded and taken all your stuff by now?

I feel like I asked this question before Banks did.


Posted by: Opinionated Socrates | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:35 AM
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4: I thought it was more like Barbarossa because of the idea that you could just move your war production away from the invaders; but, yes, the endless space/overextension thing works well for Plan Dog too.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:37 AM
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WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW

One notable thing about Consider Phlebas is that it's one of the few (Only? I haven't read Surface Detail of Matter.) times where we see the Culture actually under real pressure from an enemy.

In the later books like Look to Windward and Excession, what stands out is not just that the Culture wins, but how effortlessly it wins. In fact, in both books the denouement reveals that the Culture was 10 steps ahead of its opponents* the whole time, and that the apparent suspense was just an illusion.

For Excession, I'm only counting the Affront as the opponent.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:45 AM
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1.last is correct; the idea is that you can force a stronger opponent into concessions by being prepared to cause them unacceptable losses, rather than by defeating them outright.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:45 AM
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6.1: As I read it, the Idirans would not have adopted such an aim had the Culture not intervened. From the Appendix:

The Culture went to war to safeguard its own peace of mind: no more.
[...]
...Idir had no designs on any physical part of the Culture itself...
[...]
Only the most fervent and fanatical sections of Idiran society urged or even contemplated a war to the finish, and even so merely counselled continuing the fight against the Culture after and despite the back-down and attempt to sue for peace which they too believed the Culture must inevitably make.
6 last: You're quite right, that's why I think Banks was inconsistent (or changed his mind; the books cover centuries.) I took the rustic/city statement to imply an orbital minority because that's what modern societies look like; you're right it doesn't necessarily have to be so.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 10:56 AM
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9 is entirely right, and the success is repeatedly noted as being built on the experience of the Idiran War. The Mistake Not... says "we have spent a thousand years perfecting the legacy of a won galactic war". I think the very fact of those successes also forms part of the graying ajay mentions in the OP.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:09 AM
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I reread all three books, and found myself mostly overcome with crabbiness about them. Should I bitch here, or put up a post of disconnected bitching?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:10 AM
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13: I vote in favor of bitching here so Culture related stuff stays concentrated in 1 thread for a little while.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:14 AM
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LB does the GSV thing again.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:15 AM
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Separate thread. I am avoiding all bitching in life that it not Trump or MeToo related.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:17 AM
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I say OP-relevant bitching only.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:17 AM
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Starting with Consider Phlebas. We spend the whole book following our sympathetic viewpoint character, who's on a crusade against the Culture because he's disturbed by its incorporation of/domination by AI intelligences. He's not crazy about the Idrans, but anything's better than the Culture's devaluation of biological intelligence in favor of the Minds.

Is there any meaningful engagement of his position at all? Banks seems to handwave past any sense that the Minds are anything but benevolent by giving us scenes of them being adorably avuncular toward the humans they're fond of. The fact that the Minds are, you know, super nice is just treated like a fact of nature. This seems really weak.

The other side of that, though, is that the Minds are supposed to be wildly beyond biological levels of intelligence, at which point who cares what humans/other biological entities think about their rights, they're helpless before them. How are the Idrans successfully opposing the Culture tactically/strategically at all given that they're not relying to the same extent on AI?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:24 AM
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11: I think the orbitals are so vast compared to the GSVs that it's almost impossible that the people on the former don't hugely outnumber the latter. in which case it's sort of definitionally impossible for orbitals to be the hinterlands. in addition to which it was my impression that there are cities on the orbitals; this is where the damage tournament is held, no?


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:24 AM
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Whoops, that was in reaction to 14, before I saw 16 and 17.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:25 AM
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The fact that the Minds are, you know, super nice is just treated like a fact of nature.

Deus est machina?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:27 AM
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18 makes good points, but I'd really appreciate discussion of them being held for other threads. I'll be touching on some of them, and IIRC lw wanted to write specifically about the role of the Minds.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:29 AM
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18 qualifies as OP-relevant bitching, I think.

Regarding Banks handwaving the fact that the Minds are benevolent, I guess one explanation is that since they are so superior in their capabilities the humans would all be dead if they weren't.

Also, "Evil AIs oppress humanity" has been done enough times that "Charming AIs hang out with humanity and have pleasant conversations" was a more original direction to go in when Consider Phlebas was written.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:31 AM
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19: Orbitals are vast but essentially 2D and very thinly inhabited. AFAICR every Orbital city described is tiny, less than million people. The GSVs are densely inhabited and essentially 3D. We're told of GSVs with billions of inhabitants. And GSVs can presumably be more easily multiplied than Orbitals because they don't need host solar systems.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:33 AM
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22: Saved for when your post goes up.

I also want to crab about Use of Weapons as literature, rather than about the worldbuilding. It doesn't seem exactly worth its own post, the Culture is more interesting than whether Banks' plotting kind of sucks, so I'll save that for when UoW comes up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:36 AM
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I wonder sometimes whether banks really does love his benevolent culture utopia given the amount of time he spends on it, versus on brutal violence at the fringes carried out by varying more or less sane SC operatives. I think it's rather that utopia is just hard to write in a way that keeps the readers interest, while violence is very easy to write in a way that keeps the reader's interest. the result is a kind of curious, brief stipulation that billions of people are going to parties and climbing mountains and participating in orgies and playing impossibly real VR games, followed by roughly twenty times as much prose about some of the old ultra-violence, sexual and otherwise.

to me there is the continuing question of whether the sort of people who want to be in SC are the sort you should let do it. even with the knowledge that many wash out/aren't accepted when they apply, while perhaps most are recruited, one still wonders. the ordinary culture citizen clearly isn't ready to deal death out there; are the ones that are able to a bit off, psychologically? it's not surprising that SC needs to look out for people like zakalwe rather than only among its own ranks for people with the requisite amount of madness (hint: lots). and isn't there something sort of wrong with a drone or ship mind, when the GSV determines upon its awakening that it would perhaps do a little better where it had more chances to be free and easy with the knife-missles? I was going to write about this connection and whether SC isn't just a safety valve for people and drone minds who might otherwise cause problems within mainstream culture society rather than an agency with coherent aims vis-a-vis other, less-developed cultures (surely there's no need to get involved in wars where theocrats are fighting with WWII-style weaponry, however much they may have a single craft capable of taking a few people to space.)


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:44 AM
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18: plausibly the minds let the humans have wars to entertain them.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:45 AM
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I notice that in Consider Plebas, we see that there are AIs that are not part of the Culture. The drone Unaha-Closp is explicitly not a member, although it wants to become a Culture citizen and does in the epilogue.

I'm forgetting the details of the other books, are there other places where we see AIs that are not Culture affiliated?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:45 AM
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23: Yeah, if Consider Phlebas was "OMG, what if AI is evil?" I would not have read it.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:46 AM
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25.1: Thanks.
18 last: Several things. First, the Idirans simply mobilized first; they're qualitatively outclassed from the beginning. Second, they do use AI, with limitations to prevent their becoming fully sentient or self-willing; this isn't detailed at all, but presumably it would allow the Idirans many of the benefits of AI. Third, it isn't obvious to me how the Idirans got to be near-Culture equivalent at all, but the best explanation seems to me to be tech transfer from the Homomdans, their much older patrons, who possibly are somewhat more advanced than the Culture at the time of the war.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:46 AM
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the amount of time he spends on it, versus on brutal violence at the fringes

Right. The events of Consider Phlebas mostly take place in sort of Star Wars-cantina space, where colorful people/aliens are doing picturesquely violent things for kind of inexplicable reasons.

Like, I'm not a careful reader, but the Eaters? That was taking place on a culture Orbital in the process of evacuation, right? Who were they supposed to be, loony Culture citizens or outsiders who showed up at the last minute because it was a place to be? And the local Minds had enough attention to spare to have an evacuation shuttle ready, but not enough to watch out for anyone who wasn't consensually into the whole being cannabilized thing? I will believe anyone who tells me that it made more sense than I thought it did, but I don't think it made any sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:50 AM
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26.2: In Use of Weapons there are certainly scenes suggesting that the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw is a bit more fond of violence than is considered healthy (for a drone).


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:50 AM
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Why isn't this called "Culture Club"?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:50 AM
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28: Excession has several Culture Penumbra AIs and an Homomdan Ship offstage; Matter mentions the AIs of an equiv-tech civilization whose name I forget.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:51 AM
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28: not in Player of Games or Use of Weapons, but some other books have non-Culture AIs. The Azadians don't seem to have AI very much at all, iirc.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:51 AM
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31: The geopolitics of Vavatch Orbital also mystified me. The Eaters are an infodump I'll be referencing, but the violence and horror I did think gratuitous.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:53 AM
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I think Vavatch was explicitly a non-Culture Orbital; someone else built it. It is described as being in neutral territory between the Idirans and the Culture so it surely cant be Culture itself.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:56 AM
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I didn't mind the violence and horror, exactly, but I found myself sort of systematically confused about the Culture's policy toward people hurting each other in situations where they could plausibly prevent it from happening.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:56 AM
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But the Culture has enough control? Influence? over it to be managing the evacuation?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:57 AM
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I understood it as being a Culture built Orbital (and I mean, the Megaships? How the fuck can it not be Culture?) that had voted to secede and become this kind of Vegas territory at some point. And if it's neutral why is the Culture blowing it up, again?


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:59 AM
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39: it more or less has to since it's planning to destroy it rather than let the Idirans capture it.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 11:59 AM
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On the nature of SC thing, and the OP generally, I noted this in CP:
Culture people had little stomach for being disliked by anybody, least of all their fellow citizens, and the woman's [Balveda's] task was difficult enough without the added burden of knowing she was even greater anathema to most of her own side than she was to the enemy
as being reminiscent of the attitudes of a lot of progressives toward their own security services.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:02 PM
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Here's what some fan-wiki has about Vavatch, not much. But it's weird, right? Whatever the political status of Vavatch is, the Culture has enough practical control over it to destroy it without bothering anyone whose objection matters to them, and to manage the evacuation unhindered. They control it completely de facto, if not de jure. How come things like the Eaters are fine with them?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:05 PM
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That's a quibble about Vavatch -- I figure the real answer is 'look, it was a picturesque idea, and Banks likes throwing in horror along those lines occasionally. Not everything has to make sense.'

But I have a similar problem with Special Circumstances generally -- it's very hard to tell what's principled restraint about intervention and what's restraint due to lack of practical capacity, and when the restraint is principled I have no idea in detail where the principled lines are drawn.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:08 PM
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Banks obviously loves horrifying violence, as reading his non-sci-fi Wasp Factory makes clear, but I think there's something structural in science fiction that will tend to highlight violence. Basically, climbing a mountain and being in a orgy are better than reading about them, while reading about ultra-violence is better than experiencing it.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:26 PM
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Something structural in fiction/entertainment, not particularly SF? Violence isn't the only thing that's entertaining, but it's one of the few major topics that are.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:35 PM
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But I have a similar problem with Special Circumstances generally -- it's very hard to tell what's principled restraint about intervention and what's restraint due to lack of practical capacity, and when the restraint is principled I have no idea in detail where the principled lines are drawn.

That's kind of the point, re: liberal interventionism, no?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:35 PM
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Except that real world liberal interventionism is against a backdrop of international institutions and trade deals and explicit diplomatic pressure which doesn't seem to exist here. Culture contact with less powerful civilizations seems to be freakishly hands-off on any open level, with intervention reserved for the cloak-and-knife-missile stuff. It looks sort of like the Star Trek Prime Directive, but there's an identifiable principle of non-intervention there, and there's not a similarly clear rule in Banks' books.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:42 PM
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48: IIRC there are some galactic norms, if not institutions. They're mentioned IIRC in Surface Detail, but I don't remember any details.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:44 PM
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I originally said fiction in general, but it's true of science fiction in particular, while other genres are not as necessarily dependent on it. The vast majority of sci fi novels have violence as an important part of the plot.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:46 PM
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More of 48: Another way to put it is that the principled limits on liberal interventionism in the real world are based on respect for national sovereignty, as modified by the limited circumstances in which war is permissible. So humanitarian intervention has to be through negotiation with national governments. That's not to say that those principled limits are generally respected by real world governments, but that's roughly what the principles are.

I have not managed to pick up the Culture's principles in this regard by reading the books.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:48 PM
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51: In practice, it isn't respect for sovereigns but for sovereigns that count. If you want to intervene in Liberia, you don't discuss it with Liberia, you discuss it with the UNSC. Analogously, the Culture might discuss it not with the junior civilizations but with the other In-Play civilizations. I don't think that's ever discussed though.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:53 PM
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The Culture's principles are basically that you don't intervene in less advanced societies, except when you have to.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:57 PM
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With the books making clear that "have" means "want".


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 12:57 PM
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But the Culture seems significantly more restrained than that -- they won't even openly intervene in a power vacuum. Like, the Eaters thing again, not that it's all that important but it's a concrete example. My sense of internal law within the Culture is that one person non-consensually torturing and eating another would be prevented, right? That's pretty clear? And presumably if you had people torturing and eating each other by free agreement there'd be monitoring to make sure that anyone who wasn't into it could get out and get back to the mountain climbing orgies.

So what gives on Vavatch? There doesn't seem to be a local government worthy of respect in terms of not blowing the place up. And the Culture has enough practical resources to have an escape shuttle wherever anyone might be. How come they won't go as far as protecting people from each other? Is there a principle there I'm not getting, or is it supposed to be just a practical glitch?

More broadly, the Culture's intervention seems completely furtive even when they're dealing with much weaker civilizations. What's the principle?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:03 PM
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55 to 52. To 53, it's something along those lines, but I find it really hard to figure out the specifics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:04 PM
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55.1 would apply to human members of the Culture. It's not clear what responsibility, if any, the Culture feels for non-Culture humans.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:10 PM
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55 last: AFAICR, the Culture is actually only furtive when they're intervening in equiv-tech civilizations.* Everyone In-Play knows about the SC Zakalwe-type operators in general, if not specifics (though the targets of the intervention may or may not, as expedient).
*The best example here entails spoilers.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:10 PM
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I agree the eaters are a problem but I consider them a genuine weakness of the novel rather than something that needs to be puzzled out to make sense of culture norms. and I don't think vavatch was vegas until the end when the damage players came. for the destruction and evacuation I think the culture was saying, "enough for you now, let's be getting into the GSV and leaving." that the controllers of vavatch were letting the eaters operate for some reason is conceivable (maybe the hub mind is a weirdo libertarian crazy) but I agree that at the evacuation stage the culture should plausibly remove them. but they determine whether humans are sane, and then let them do idiotic things; they let zakalwe run around with several bullets in him once they decide he's sane enough to want that. and that's something obviously not sane.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:13 PM
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57: That is a giant, huge distinction between Culture morals and RW earth morals if it exists, and would be interesting to talk about specifically. Like, I'm not saying that if a naked, bleeding person ran up to the door of an American embassy saying that cannibals were trying to eat them, that it's impossible that the embassy guards would say "Sorry, you're French? Not our problem." That could happen here. But it'd be a scandal, not an obvious moral norm.

58: But Zakalwe-type operators are inherently furtive to the civilization being interfered with. The real world method of doing something about a tiny weak country that's abusing its own citizens is a whole lot of financial/foreign-aid/diplomatic pressure, right? Doesn't always work, but that's the go-to, rather than sending in hypercompetent mercenaries to fuck with their governments. What bars that mode of action for the Culture?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:17 PM
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60.2: We see SC and Contact agents doing non-military stuff in other books, like Matter and Inversions. And of course great powers intervene covertly in weaker countries all the time. Those interventions are seldom even ostensibly for the benefit of those interfered with; but foreign aid isn't an existential interest for any RW country as it is said to be for the Culture.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:23 PM
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60.last: it's possible that aid and trade just aren't very good levers against planetary societies. The Culture doesn't trade at all, obviously; how would it apply sanctions? And we learn later that most societies have patron-client relationships with other more advanced ones. Not clear how much o the aid they get.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:25 PM
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The galactic diplomatic norm about technology uplift, among other things. Explicit financial/foreign aid would be a pretty direct violation of that. And, for the Culture specifically, the general non-interference principle, however much that is breached in practice (again, see liberal interventionism's professed stance against military action).


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:29 PM
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Vaguely to the OP defense-in-depth strategy point: I haven't thought about this much, and don't want to make this the Red-Bearded Dog Debate, but I think Culture defense-in-depth as described is a profoundly maritime concept. Gurgeh's dispositions in his final Azad game are described as "a net, a grid of forces and relationships". One has networks on land, but networks at sea are far more flexible, and Banks makes the connection explicit with the GSVs, ships serving both as links and as the most important nodes.
Gurgeh's final game reflects "the ethos of the Culture militant, trashing and abandoning whole areas of the board where the switch would not work, pulling back and regrouping and restructuring where it would; sacrificing where necessary, razing and scorching the ground where he had to."
This is reminiscent of the strategy Thucydides attributes to Pericles: abandoning Attica to devastation, relying on the navy to keep Athens supplied from the colonies, attacking elsewhere by sea. Likewise Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, leaning on global commerce assured by naval superiority, and destroying any threats to it: burning the Danish fleet at Copenhagen, threatening the same for the Portuguese, unless they agreed to near-colonial status for Brazil. Likewise Britain again in WWII, walking away from falling France, sinking the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, shifting resources from front to front through a global network of suppliers and bases connected by ships.
Symbolically, this is also explicit in PoG: "He would drown Nicosar's attacks; the Emperor played with fire, and would be extinguished."; Zakalwe also compares the Culture to an ocean; the Mistake Not... makes its entire name an extended maritime metaphor.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:31 PM
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60.1: The Minds do clearly seem to deal differently with human Culture members - who receive all sorts of benevolent protection, opportunities for personal growth & etc. - and non-Culture humans, who apparently can just fuck off and eat each other. It's not clear how the Minds reconcile this difference, morally speaking.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:33 PM
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To stop with the 'just asking questions' thing, I think this is a fundamental weakness in the books. That is, Banks wants the Culture to be a utopia, and he wants his utopia to be powerful enough to defend itself against less utopian enemies -- the Culture is generally going to win because mutual support and respect for the rights of the individual and and and and will overcome evil.

But he really wants this Star Wars cantina universe for a backdrop, with a lot of power-vacuum anarchic piracy and weird violent shit. At which point the Culture has to be either incapable of interfering in, deliberately indifferent to, or having some clear principled objection to policing all that sort of thing. And I don't think the principles are defined in any coherent way at all -- I know SC is supposed to be playing around the edges of what's okay and what's not okay, but I don't think Banks did the work to lay out what rules SC is playing fast and loose with and why those are the rules.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:34 PM
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65: Again, non-interference. People are free to join the Culture and receive the same benevolent humouring.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:36 PM
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The Culture doesn't trade at all, obviously;

Spell this out?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:37 PM
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On a blog, everything is already spelled.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:42 PM
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68: the Culture doesn't trade because it can produce everything it needs in practically unlimited quantities and it doesn't use money.
Why would any Culture citizen want to trade?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:47 PM
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Could it make extra stuff and provide it to other groups as a way to influence them?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:50 PM
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There was a mention that the Culture had hoped if they made Vavatch politically neutral the Idirans would take the system but refrain from using it militarily, but when the Idirans indicated they would use it any way they could the Culture resolved to destroy it instead. So all the non-Culture apparatus I read as a jury-rigged nonce system for that purpose.

If the system was designed for economic scarcity after the removal of Minds and other higher Culture tech, that might also explain why the port charged rent and had police, and why the society assigned drones debt for their own assembly. Some aspects of that design could also have led to it being a good climate for gamblers, drifters, and cults. But not adequately explained if so.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:54 PM
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71: yes, but that's aid, not trade.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:57 PM
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You don't have to tell them that you throw away the shit you ask them to give you in exchange.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:58 PM
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66: I don't think there are actual rules. Culture has shared values, but no shared rules. Anarchists can't have rules -- everything has to be done through volunteerism.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 1:58 PM
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18.2: Remember the "perfect AIs always Sublime" discussion. The Culture does certainly imbue some kind of moral or perspectival principles into its Minds from creation.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:02 PM
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Here's a thought on the Culture's approach to intervention in other civilizations: it's implied (or maybe just stated outright, I can't remember) in several places that the Culture is not the only big kid on the block. In fact maybe not the biggest kid. The "even more awesomely advanced than the Culture" civilizations seem to be mostly indifferent to what everyone else is doing.

Maybe the Culture mostly limits its interventions in less advanced societies to low key covert stuff because the Even Bigger Kids would have something to say about it if they did otherwise?

Just a suggestion, I can't back it up with passages from the books.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:03 PM
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70: Generally, art, local products, things where authenticity is an issue? They can produce lots internally, but they can't produce an opera written by someone outside the Culture.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:11 PM
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75: At which point the non-intervention gets really inexplicable -- wouldn't you expect some humanitarian GSV to be charging around the galaxy reducing human suffering by being a hero? Not all of them would have to think it was a good idea, but you'd think one or two would.

77: That's a possible explanation, but again, it's not explicitly present in the books in a way that I think makes the books weaker.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:14 PM
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79.1: We have at least two Culture elements - Zakalwe in UoW, GCU Grey Zone in Excession - charging around the galaxy pursuing their own retributive policies; in Excession we have the ex-culture Elencher pursuing some kind of evangelical mission, and rogue SC elements pursuing their own interventionist policy.
79.2: It is explicitly present in the books, in terms of balance-of-power politics, forming a major theme of CP, and IIRC mentioned explicitly at least in Surface Detail, Excession, and The Hydrogen Sonata.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:26 PM
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80.1: Zakalwe is not Culture -- he's an outside mercenary who never joined up -- and the Culture wants to stop him when they find out what he's doing. The other book I haven't read recently, and maybe I haven't at all? I don't remember it.

That balance of power politics are an issue generally, sure, that comes up vaguely. In terms of "How come we're hiring this mercenary weirdo to internally fuck with governments rather than pressuring them more openly" it never seems to get explained along the lines of "This isn't a principled thing, it's just that we're in, e.g., the Idran zone of influence and if they catch us interfering there'll be trouble." You can write books about stealthy proxy battles in undeveloped areas between great powers (something like Kim), but Banks didn't seem to be doing that.

They just feel very sloppy to read -- great fun scene by scene, but any time I think about why, in a larger sense, anything is happening, I don't get it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:34 PM
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Or, let me poke at the sort of thing that bothers me another way. We're in the middle of talking about immigration here in the US. You've got a rich country, people want to come there.

Banks' galaxy has a whole lot of scary poor violent civilizations that have space travel and are aware of the Culture. Some of them are totalitarian enough to keep their citizens from emigrating. For all the rest, why does anyone poor stay there? I'm not saying everyone would emigrate, people like living in their homes. But wouldn't you expect there'd be a steady flow of people to the Culture embassy or equivalent, asking for asylum? Like, Zakalwe has the option of joining the Culture because they identify him as a useful mercenary -- is there a discussion anywhere of why anyone can't just say please may I come in?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 2:57 PM
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(And I really am a sloppy reader -- if anyone points me to chapter and verse that explains the things I'm not getting, I'm perfectly ready to believe that I just missed some background worldgalaxy building.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 3:10 PM
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82: The books are indeed vague about how you join the Culture. And there are at least a few passages I can't be bothered to look up that clearly show non-Culture humans being envious. So it's not clear why there isn't mass immigration.

The drone I mentioned up thread had to "apply" somehow to become a Culture citizen, but nothing was explained about what the criteria were. It's made pretty clear that, excepting some of the SC types, culture members both human and AI are not violent assholes. So maybe being an incorrigibly violent asshole disqualifies you. That criterion alone would probably disqualify a lot of people.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 3:10 PM
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81.1: Culture citizenship isn't formally defined, a point that is made repeatedly. Zakalwe has served them for decades, has been given their genes and their language, absorbed enough of their values to start his own contact section. He is absolutely a Culture element. Zakalwe aside, there are in Excession numerous Culture elements, going up to Minds and GSVs, pursuing non-consensus policies.
81.2:

The Culture was different.  Horza could see no end to its policy of continual and escalating interference.  It could easily grow forever, because it was not governed by natural limitations.  Like a rogue cell, a cancer with no 'off' switch in its genetic composition, the Culture would go on expanding for as long as it was allowed to.  It would not stop of its own accord, so it had to be stopped.
[...]
The Homomda joined with the Idirans because they distrusted the growing power of the Culture (they were far from alone in having this feeling, though unique in acting on it overtly).  While having relatively few disagreements with the humans, and none of them serious, it had been Homomdan policy for many tens of thousands of years to attempt to prevent any one group in the galaxy (on their technological level) from becoming over-strong, a point they decided the Culture was then approaching.
That isn't even subtext, that's text, in the first book of the series. By [SPOILERS] Surface Detail the Culture is concealing its interventions in equiv-tech civilizational disputes because the knowledge of such involvement would provoke opposing coalitions and possibly lead to the outbreak of war. The Culture is not infinitely powerful, and isn't free to assimilate anyone and everything it might ideally like to.


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 5:59 PM
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I suspect that the tension was starting to build up between his love of the Culture as a benevolent utopia to its citizens, and his suspicion of the Culture as the interfering liberal superpower with a responsibility to protect - not concepts that Banks himself felt warmly about after 2003.

I've only read the first three books but I definitely read this tension into them. It was always unclear to me what underlying power might be putting a lot of these plots in motion and whether we'd learn more about it. It kept me suspicious of all the characters.

There's also a joy to the spacefaring piece that I haven't run across in what little equivalent sea literature I've read. Even the ship of misfits in Consider Phlebas has downtime and a certain relaxation that I guess comes of having a Mind to do enough of the work that the people are actually fairly free. Scale that up to orgies and costume parties (so many costume parties! Whyyyy?) by Use of Weapons and it all still seems plausible and yet so odd. Maybe I am just having a hard time imagining a future in which I would not have to be the one dealing with all this laundry, but that bit is a stretch.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 7:49 PM
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so many costume parties! Whyyyy?

To hide their identities. If you live long enough, everybody is your ex.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 7:53 PM
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Oh, Moby. The truth about lesbians is that there don't seem to be any in the Culture (at least in these books) and that everybody is always already your ex or your ex's ex or something. The church we went to was super amazing on that front. (Lee isn't going because it starts later in the day and so conflicts even more with football, which is why she didn't feel a need to alternate Easters when we were hashing out holidays for the millionth yet allegedly final time today, since she's not raising them meaningfully Christian anyway. I'm probably doing a good enough job preparing them for the Culture and a life of ease/intrigue.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 8:05 PM
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I've read all of 4 pages of Consider Phlebas. That would be the Prologue. I suck and I appear to have lost the ability to read fiction (something I've been worried about for awhile now). No longer having long subway/train rides is probably a contributor to this but I suspect it is far from the only one.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 8:10 PM
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Use of Weapons is the only book I've managed to read this year, which is pitiful and all the more pitiful given I began it in November before my surgery.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 8:13 PM
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They probably told you not to read until your ankle was stronger.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 8:48 PM
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My ankle is now strong enough that I should be able to do about 80% of what I'm supposed to do in a day, apparently! I don't quite want to do any of the math on how long it will take to get caught up on all the percentages of what I was supposed to be able to do but couldn't over the 17 months where my ability level was far lower. I do need a knife-missile to help me around the house, I guess.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-22-18 8:53 PM
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"There are in Excession numerous Culture elements, going up to Minds and GSVs, pursuing non-consensus policies."

Specific note about Excession: part of the point of that book is that almost all of the characters are (by Culture standards) extreme eccentrics who are behaving badly. The human characters include the extreme misanthrope, the guy who likes the Affront, and the murderous-jealousy woman. The Minds in that are mostly (by Culture standards) bizarre as well.

General note about the Culture: Banks managed to stay very deliberately vague about a lot of things. (For instance, childrearing practices, which you'd think would be pretty central, get exactly one line in ten books.) So, you may not want to overthink some of this stuff.


Doug M.


Posted by: Doug M. | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 1:07 AM
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The truth about lesbians is that there don't seem to be any in the Culture (at least in these books)

There aren't many, at least on screen - the previous Culture ambassador to Azad was female and got declared persona non grata for having an affair with IIRC a cabinet minister's wife. And I think two of the crew on the Clear Air Turbulence are a same-sex couple. There are some in other novels, notably "Excession", though the whole change-sex-at-will thing makes definitions a bit hazy.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 2:33 AM
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On the immigration point: since the Culture isn't really a state, what would immigrating to it actually mean? You can come and live on a Culture Orbital or a GSV, if the Mind will let you in, and if you can find a ship to take you there, and presumably if the Mind's happy to accommodate you then you more or less count as a Culture citizen. There's mention in the other books of an "integration score" for ships at least, expressed as a percentage; how Culture-y they are. I suppose the same would apply to people. But there's no such thing as a Culture passport or naturalisation papers.
My guess would be that it's up to the Mind involved - if you're on a GSV and the Mind decides that you are an OK person, then you can stay, and that probably makes you a de facto Culture citizen. But if a huge ship full of a hundred million foreigners turns up at an Orbital and says we'd like to live here, and there are another 99 ships just like this one following along behind, then the Hub would be at liberty to say no and turn them away.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 2:41 AM
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so many costume parties! Whyyyy?

Because Banks was British.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 3:41 AM
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10: see also, minimal-deterrent nuclear doctrine.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 3:49 AM
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My ankle is now strong enough that I should be able to do about 80% of what I'm supposed to do in a day, apparently!

Then you're doing better than I have been doing for the last ten years or so, though I hadn't realised until now that the problem was with my ankle.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 4:08 AM
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||
Tsunami watch/warning on the West Coast (and presumably eastern Asia) after a ca. 7.9 magnitude quake off the coast of Alaska.
|>


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 4:31 AM
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I know the OP also gets this but there was never a moment in the Culture novels where Banks was wholeheartedly defending the Culture as utopian. Right from page 1 of Consider Phlebas, in which we follow the rational and emotional perspective of an enemy of the Culture, ISTM he was always exploring the inherent contradictions and paradoxes of a relentlessly liberal, decentralized yet organized society.

For example, the picture of the Culture quoted from Consider Phlebas in 85 is pretty sinister. That the Eaters show up in CP is another example and the way that section brings the reader up short, questioning how the Culture could tolerate that cult even at the margins, is probably intentional. The sometimes damaging and alienating effect of all that unfettered opportunity and freedom on the individual is another important theme.

*SLIGHT SPOILER*

Also in terms of the trajectory of the series, it's interesting the way that the moral stakes keep getting raised and the justifications for intervention become more pressing. In Consider Phlebas it's a bleak strategic calculation to go to war, in Look to Windward it's a response to another society's oppressive caste system, and by Surface Detail the bad guys are responsible for building and hosting actual hells. The Culture has to get more and more comfortable with wars of choice and the ethical dilemmas they pose.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 4:49 AM
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That was me FWIW


Posted by: Ignatz | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 4:50 AM
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95 fits with my thoughts about becoming Culture but also while Zakalwe is explicit about the idea, I had already believed from prior books that being Culture meant accepting the idea of the pleasure focus, if that's a fair way to put it. He rejects drug glands and whatever is done to sex organs and sexual response, therefore he rejects Culture even as he lets Culture technology keep him young-seeming.

94 also seems totally fair and a lack of lesbians wasn't a complaint, though it's also something I'll pick up if I get my act together and write my post today. Thanks for reminding me about the CAT couple. My memory of the details has already gotten hazier than I'd like.

96 is also fair but still terrifying.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 4:59 AM
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My left ankle has been causing me a lot of pain lately but I haven't injured it that I can recall. It's really weird. Given my brother's recent diagnosiss, Hodgkins stage IV which has migrated to his bone, I keep thinking it must be bone cancer.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 6:44 AM
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It may not quite avoid the Bury Your Gays trope, but it's from 1987.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 8:30 AM
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103: Don't worry, it's not until Stage VI that it migrates to other people's bones.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 8:34 AM
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Banks does do something -- most clearly in The Player Of Games but throughout the three books I read to a lesser extent -- that annoys me a bit on the gender/sexuality stuff. There's background worldbuilding about how your basic standard Culture member changes sex/gender (not really using modern vocab to distinguish the concepts) and implying that everyone's pretty much bi/pansexual. But the protagonist in PoG is, unusually, committed to being (in modern vocabulary) cis and straight. So anything that a straight cis reader would be uncomfortable with happens off-screen, in the periphery, and sex at the center of the book is the male protagonist relating to younger women.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 8:47 AM
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I agree with 106. In fact all the main characters in all three books are (at least on-stage) straight, and all three lead characters are male at all times. But, then, 104 - these books are from a long time ago.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:24 AM
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And later books, Culture and otherwise, have female, queer and trans protagonists.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:25 AM
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Yeah, I think of it as a Star Trek problem -- where the 24th Century as described in canon is much less sexist/racist than network TV in the 60s, so there's a big gap between what you hear about and what you actually get to see on the screen. The difference between Starfleet having black women as officers, and Uhura's actual role being pretty much answering the phone.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:35 AM
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Also, tbh, that Banks was wary, at least early on, of writing protagonists that weren't straight cis men, because he wasn't very confident about getting them right; he said (to me, in 1997) that he had tried in "Canal Dreams", which has a female narrator, and the result was the worst book he'd ever published, so that might explain why he didn't write very many others.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:41 AM
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Okay, spoilers, but The Wasp Factory?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:42 AM
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Unless I am somehow completely and horrifically misremembering it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:43 AM
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(As the voice of griping, I should say that I don't think the Culture books are terrible, I enjoyed them when I read them first, and I still enjoyed them rereading them. The reread just opened up a whole lot of areas that had me wanting to complain about specifics.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 9:56 AM
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111: Oh, good point.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:08 AM
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The Wasp Factory would be a good name for a Connecticut prom after Mike Pence disallows birth control.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:13 AM
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111: unless you remember it as containing truly terrifying violence, you are misremembering on an epic scale. like, there's nothing much else in the novel. going to the pub a few times, I guess.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:16 AM
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Creative art projects, or however you'd describe the titular factory?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:24 AM
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oh wait I see your point re: narrator; never mind.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:31 AM
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protagonist, anyway


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:32 AM
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Tsunami watch/warning on the West Coast (and presumably eastern Asia) after a ca. 7.9 magnitude quake off the coast of Alaska.

Canceled a few hours later, in case anyone was concerned, and there have been no reports of damage from the earthquake. I sure did feel it though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 10:55 AM
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Emotionally?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 11:00 AM
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I don't think most earthquake insurance policies cover emotional damage.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 11:06 AM
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I was certainly shaken up, IYKWIM.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 11:19 AM
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We were in a place best known as an arena in which to go loco over Christmas (shortly afterwards given as US govt "do not travel" advisory), and facetimed my folks on the 25th from the beach, at which point there was quite a loud and shakey earthquake.

I was quite scared about a possible tsunami. Also I think my parents were quite alarmed at our suddenly ringing off due to an earthquake, although this is now something of a festive tradition - I abruptly ended an xmas day skype conversation while living in Mada because some less-than-professional tree surgeons dropped the better part of a eucalyptus on / through my house while I was inside it.


Posted by: Seeds | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 1:37 PM
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Remind me not to be where ever you are if you are in an earthquake zone.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01-23-18 1:48 PM
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106. My main impression of the lead character in PoG on re-reading was that he was an asshole. I'm not sure how much of that impression was due to his constant hitting on young women, but it certainly didn't help.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 6:34 AM
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126: Yeah, I picked up some of that impression for the same reason, and was genuinely unsure of how much it was intended. If we take Banks' totally sexually free utopia with no economic or social pressuring and so on at face value, the fact that we see him sexually involved with much younger students (I have no memory for details, I'm thinking it was a pattern but I'm only clearly sure of one) shouldn't be meant to convey a character flaw. Importing anything from the real world into the book, it does. Hard to tell what Banks meant to be doing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:08 AM
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He's definitely an asshole. Does he get involved with younger students, though? Or students of any age?
As far as I remember he has two sexual relationships: with Ren Myglan, near the start of the book, and with Yay Meristinoux right at the end. Neither of them are students; Ren is described as "young" but it's never made clear how old Gurgeh is. Yay isn't described as young and she's contrasted with people who are.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:21 AM
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I think it's a reasonable reading that Banks intended us to think that he's kind of an asshole.

I also agree with 128 in that I don't recall that either of the relationships dealt with in the books were with students, but I read it a while ago so I might be misremembering.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:25 AM
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Sorry, three: after his farewell party, he wakes up in the bed of Boruelal, who is an older (in fact twice his age, "well into her second century") academic - but we know Gurgeh isn't on the faculty, because earlier on she offers him a post and he says no.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:27 AM
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128: Ren isn't a student? I don't have the book in front of me (and I have a lousy memory for details as I've said), but I could have sworn there was some kind of organizational relationship there? Not that she was specifically his student, but something?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:29 AM
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Gurgeh left Yay arguing about the place of geology in Culture education policy, and went to talk to Ren Myglan, a young woman he'd been hoping would call in that evening.
She subsequently becomes a man. That's all we get.
Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:43 AM
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128: she isn't described as such. Gurgeh has a party, which starts off with just him, Yay and the drone Chamlis; then "friends of Yay's and Gurgeh's arrived", and (possibly with them, possibly separately) "Ren Myglan, a young woman he'd been hoping would call in that evening". Yay seems to know her, to an extent. But we really never learn anything more about her than that.

(Gurgeh's in his late fifties at this point, because at the end of the book he says that "all my life" is sixty years and he spent two years in transit to Azad.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:43 AM
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One thing that strikes me about Gurgeh's character is that he's by nature something of an asshole, but his environment makes it relatively difficult for this aspect of him to come out.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:45 AM
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So, "sexually involved with several much younger students" s/b "sexually involved with one senior faculty member twice his age".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:46 AM
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134: yes, definitely. Or at least difficult for it to come out in any but the most harmless way (being a dick to people at parties).


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:48 AM
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135: When I get home, I'll flip through and see if I can pin down what I was reacting to specifically. Am I correctly remembering an sexualized response, albeit not acted on, to the gaming prodigy who he cheats against?

Again, I've got only a vague memory of the details, I just remember thinking that given how long ago the book was written, I was unsure to what extent some of the stuff I was picking up was "Banks intends us to think of Gurgeh as kind of an asshole" as opposed to "Banks' idea of a utopia of sexual freedom is maybe a little questionable."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:54 AM
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(I think it's unquestionable that Banks does intend us to think of Gurgeh as kind of an asshole, what I'm a bit unsure about is which things about him are supposed to support that.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:57 AM
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I got a strong sense - and as something authorially-intended - that Gurgeh feels Yay basically owes him sex after their long association but has internalized norms keeping him even from passive-aggressively expressing it.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 9:58 AM
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Am I correctly remembering an sexualized response, albeit not acted on, to the gaming prodigy who he cheats against?

There isn't one - that would be very wrong, even by Culture standards, as she's apparently "in her early teens, at most".
I think you may be thinking of his reaction to being caught apparently (but not really) cheating against Mr Dreltram a few pages earlier, which is described in definitely sexual terms as a rush of "between terror and ecstasy".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 10:00 AM
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Again, I'll go back to the book when I'm home and see if I can pin down specifics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 10:02 AM
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139:

'I don't understand you,' he told her.
'Because I turn you down?'
'Because you don't turn anybody else down.'
'Not so consistently.' Yay nodded, frowning at her drink.
'So; why not?' There.  He'd finally said it.
Yay pursed her lips.  'Because,' she said, looking up at him, 'it matters to you.'


Posted by: Mossy Character | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 10:04 AM
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Aha! It does go there. Thanks.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-25-18 10:40 AM
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1. Burger is absolutely kind of an assailed.

2. Note that Burger is about 60 years old... Which is to say he was born right after the Culture met the Azad.

I've always assumed he was literally born and bred to fight and beat them.

Doug M.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 8:54 AM
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One thing that strikes me about Gurgeh's character is that he's by nature something of an asshole

I do actually wonder how much of this is due to him hanging around all the time with "Mawhrin-Skel", and whether it's deliberate; it denies that SC has been moulding him all his life into the perfect Player of Games in order to take down Azad, but do we think it's telling the truth? And do we in that case think that the perfect anti-Azad operator might be someone who is not only an expert at games, but also a bit of a pitiless and self-serving asshole?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 8:56 AM
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144. So the young games prodigy he has to cheat to beat is the next generation in that scheme, if the Azad are still around in a few years?


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 8:57 AM
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144 is a fascinating reading of the Perry Mason character.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 8:58 AM
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semi-pwned by Doug M but with less autocorrect.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 8:58 AM
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I should note that Jernau Morat Gurgeh autocorrects on my phone to Hernia Meat Burger which is fairly striking.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:00 AM
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The other two novels' protagonists are Threatening Malaise and Nora Horse Conundrum.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:02 AM
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Finally, maybe: it all feels a little pointless in the end because whatever the scale of manipulation the Culture/SC engaged in, it was in service of its chosen path of maximum subtlety/cleverness, to make Azad collapse in on itself, but if it came down to it they could have crushed it militarily without breaking a sweat, so...? Is that uh-ok-ness intentional?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:02 AM
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They could have crushed Azad militarily, but a) at a huge cost in lives and b) see above for discussion of how other powers get worried by the Culture enough as it is, so think how they'd react if it was going round engaging in unprovoked wars of aggression and conquest.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:05 AM
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Flipped through the first couple of chapters to figure out what I was talking about with 'students' -- I was wildly inaccurate, but I think I found what I was reacting to. In the first scene with Yay she's described as having a face like a "beautiful child" and he proposes that she should be his "protegee" in learning about games -- she may not formally be a student, but the implication is of youth and discipleship. Then with Ren, you're right that nothing is clear, but the party has some middle-aged academics at it and then some unspecified young people, it's not hard to read them as students.

Obviously, we're not litigating whether Gurgeh violated an academic code of conduct. But there's something present in the book about his sexuality reacting to youth that rang uncomfortably to me, and in a way that I'm not clear what Banks intended to be doing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:34 AM
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Isn't Azad off in one of the Magellanic Clouds? That's pretty far away; maybe the "other powers" won't notice Culture meddling at that distance.


Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 01-26-18 9:35 AM
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