Iain M. Banks has written six novels explicitly about the Culture, as well as one novel that may involve the Culture. In addition, a book of his short stories includes a handful about the Culture, plus an essay called “A Few Notes on the Culture.” All the editions listed below are in paperback.
In 2012, Scottish novelist Iain M. Banks made a startling announcement: A routine doctor’s appointment had uncovered advanced cancer in his body and that he had less than a year to live. The post sent out shock waves through the science fiction community: Banks was the author of the immensely popular Culture novels, a series of loosely connected novels detailing the workings of a galaxy-spanning civilization. Banks died in June 2013, just days before his final, non-science-fiction novel, The Quarry was released.
Perhaps more important even than these forces is the power of Marain. Marain is the language of the Culture, a synthetic language invented by Minds to shape the consciousness of its users in appropriate ways. In The Player of Games a drone notices significant changes in Gurgeh’s personality when, instead of speaking Marain, he spends almost all his time speaking the language of a less sophisticated and morally upright people, the Azad. A little later in the book Gurgeh realizes that he is playing the favored game of that people, also called Azad — an almost unimaginably complex game of quasi-militaristic strategy, sort of like Risk in several dimensions — “as the Culture,” that is, by setting up his game board according to a model of non-hierarchical and highly distributed authority. But he begins to play this way only after he spends some time speaking Marain. (Banks has worked out some of the key features of Marain, especially its orthography, which gives people who like making Wikipedia pages still more to do.)
Rather, Banks allows the politics to be a kind of emergent phenomenon, something that is created from the narrative, the moral questions and exigencies of character and plot, the observation of societies and the multifarious nature of the sentient conscious beings that populate the Culture universe.
Banks acknowledges that — among people, drones, and even Minds — there will occasionally be resistance to the Culture’s way of doing things, but he emphasizes that these cases will be extremely rare. The Culture offers every possible distraction to the troubled mind, and of course everyone’s glands secrete the proper mood at will. It’s difficult under such circumstances for rage and resentment to become habitual.
This morning, . In 2008, I was commissioned to read all of Banks’s Culture novels, which had been reissued by Orbit in the United States, and I wrote the following essay for another outlet. The publication rights have reverted back to me. I am reprinting the essay here. My condolences to the Banks family.
The Culture is a fictional interstellar anarchist utopian society created by the Scottish writer Iain Both the Culture and the author (in his Notes on the Culture) find this behavior quixotic andThe Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximatelyIntroduction.
In an Iain M. Banks novel, you will find sour antiheroes sweet-talking corpulent cannibal kings, erratic robot drones so caught up in lending a helping hand that they overlook the telltale traces of emotional breakdown within those they serve, and a febrile zeal for blowing things up which suggests that Banks isn’t so much an author of bawdy and exciting adventures as he is a giddy eight-year-old with an elaborate train set scattered across a football field.
When not committing his considerable energies to such intense Bildungsromans as or bleak-humored narratives like , Banks inserts an M into “Iain Banks” and writes science fiction novels. Most of these speculative volumes concern the Culture, a utopian-anarchist society that extends across a sizable cluster of the universe. These Culture vultures gambol across the galaxy in ships with such eccentric names as and . Culture citizens live for centuries, and can even change their appearances if they grow discontent with their corpora. These conditions encourage these civilized sybarites to have more fun than a flighty Dalmatian discovering a chiaroscuro sea of spotty companions. Never mind that there’s always an intergalactic war going on.
Banks’ new novel centers on the Gzilt civilization, a military society preparing to transfer its collective consciousness to another plane of existence, a process known in the Culture as “subliming.” But a curious volume dubbed the may hold secrets about the establishment of the Culture some ten millennia ago.
In his youth, Banks was attracted to science fiction: he was nine years old when the BBC premiered a new science fiction television show, Doctor Who, and over the years, he watched shows such as Star Trek and Thunderbirds, all the while borrowing out books from his local library: “Like every British SF writer of our generation,” MacLeod recalled, “he'd mention seeking out the yellow-jacketed Gollancz SF books on library shelves.” Quickly, he worked his way through the genre’s popular authors, such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, before discovering a new movement that had just arisen: the New Wave, and reading through works by Norman Spinrad, Ballard, Keith Roberts, M. John Harrison and others.
By 1986 Iain Banks had established a reputation as one of the best youngwriters in Britain. He was controversial, challenging, unafraid to try newstructures, new approaches. His books were guaranteed to receive substantialreviews and high sales. Yet despite the interest in and engagement with genre...
Over Easter 1990, Iain Banks was a guest of honor at Eastcon, the BritishNational Science Fiction Convention, held that year in Liverpool. Readingit today, his guest-of-honour speech is rambling and barely coherent, butone thing comes across clearly: writing “is actually quite good fun—I keep...