The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.
Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.
.............................................................. from Iain-Banks.net
Iain Banks first novel Wasp Factory knocked me out when it first came out in 1984. Dark, poetic and sharp-edged prose made the book so powerful it lingered for years (literally). Read it and you'll see what I mean as it's one of my favorite first novels. Hell, it's one of my favorite novels.
What I can't explain is why I never read any more of his novels. Certainly, I had many of them in my library and even on my bedside table, but just never started them. Even when Mr. Banks began a series of SciFi novels that received thundering reviews, I still waited and waited. "What for", I ask myself. Just too many other books that demanded my attention.
Well, all of that's changed with Consider Phlebas, the first of Mr. Banks "Culture" novels. Determined to get back to reading Mr. Banks, I spent last week enthralled by his imagination and ideas. Described as "space opera" in the blurbs on the back of the book (it's not), this intelligent novel follow an unusual man, Horza, who comes from a race of "changers" and can adjust their bodies to look like other races. He is a perfect spy and the bulk of the novel follows his efforts to retrieve a "Mind" (sentient AI) who has isolated itself on a "Planet of the Dead" (world where all life has been destroyed due to war).
Horza is in competition with Balveda, an agent from the Culture, a race dominated by technology and artificial life. There is a strange respect and attraction between these two diametrically opposed characters. The story that Mr. Banks weaves with them is the real heart of the book. The climax of the story is the last line of the book (sans the brilliant Appendices).
The book is filled with striking visual imagery and fascinating (and at times horrifying) situations that keep you glued to page. It's one of those books where everything goes silent around you and your mind is filled with the world of the book. Mr. Banks take on traditional SciFi themes like war, race and nationalism is fresh and, at times, moving.
This is first of the Culture novels. I've got all of the others coming in the mail. I'll be writing more as I progress in the series.
Be sure to check out Iain-Banks.net for lots of interesting info. Here is the first part of a recent interview with Iain Banks (it's a radio interview)