/ Iain M Banks
Having read and enjoyed quite a number of books by Iain Banks I thought that I would dip into the works of his doppleganger known to all James Bond fans simply as 'M' ;-)
Since they tend to be weighty tomes, could someone please recommend a good starting place ?
I love these.
I'd just say try starting at the beginning of the Culture series, with Consider Phlebas.
And the next one, The Player of Games, might well be his finest work.
I've read most of them, I'd say Look to Windward probably a good place to start, although most people start with Consider Phlebas. Both cracking and deal (in a roundabout way) with a galaxy spanning war that also crops up in other Culture novels.
Definitely read Use of Weapons and Player of Games, pretty dark going but utterly fantastic.
I also think his non Culture sci-fi is very good. Feersum Endjinn and Transition I particularly enjoyed. Also The Algebraist, if only for the gas giant inhabitants.
Enjoy. Such a shame he died so young. Away the Crow Road.
The Algebraist and Feersum Endjinn were going to be my suggestions.
But as others have said, the start of the Culture series is as good a place as any to start.
As others have said, Consider Phlebas, Player of Games and Use of Weapons, also Excession was brilliant (the Affront were hilarious; imagine Boris Johnson with tentacles!).
They are all good if you like intelligent, highly techy space opera genre (I do) with great characters (the AIs are the main protagonists, the humans are basically pets).
My personal favourite is Surface Detail but there isn't really a bad Culture story (unlike his non-SF canon, which has one or two duds among the great contemporary fiction).
And my favourite is Excession. They're all fantastic and not really that far from his 'literary' work, which goes - okay, went - a long way into fantasy territory on occasion.
Main difference is reading one I realised "hang on a minute, these people are space pirates!" Excellent. Fwiw I've not read any (other?) genre Sci-Fi since I was a kid. Editing just to say start anywhere, there's no real sequence as far as I can see.
Feersum Enjin, Against a Dark Background and maybe Excession...
> . . . unlike his non-SF canon, which has one or two duds among the great contemporary fiction
I always found some of his non-SF stuff to be very much of the time they were written and as a consequence, they dated quite quickly. That'll settle in time but reading Complicity shortly after it was released, I thought it fabulous; reading it ten years ago, I thought it very much a period piece. Belting storyline, but embedded in much that was of the time it was released. However, pretty much all of this can be forgiven for the first line of The Crow Road, which is hands-down the best first line of any novel.
Apologies for the diversion.
Probably best to start with Consider Phlebas. All the Culture novels are good, my favourite is Excession. I think I may have to brush off the dust and read them all again!
> And my favourite is Excession.
Mine too I think. But I would go along with the suggestion made several times already, to start with Consider Phlebas and do them in order. I re-read it not so long ago and it deed seem a little dated somehow, but still brilliant.
Regarding 'Feersum Enjinn' it's worth mentioning that many chapters are written in the first person by a character with very quirky phonetic spelling. (Hence the way the title spells 'fearsome engine'.) I found it really hard going for a while and was almost ready to give up when it suddenly 'clicked' and became easy to read after all.
> Fwiw I've not read any (other?) genre Sci-Fi since I was a kid.
As a fan of the 'Culture' books, I suspect you might really enjoy Alastair Reynolds, starting at the beginning with 'Revelation Space'.
> I always found some of his non-SF stuff to be very much of the time they were written and as a consequence, they dated quite quickly.
I think that some of them were a bit crap at the time as well. But the press got caught up in the hype and couldn’t bring themselves to say this…
For me, the Crow Road and Espedair Street stood out at the time and still do. Also it’s gone long enough that things have gone full circle, and some of his ranting social commentary is really quite relevant again….
Read them all, they're really good.
The Sci-Fi is very different to the fiction, quite unusual to have an author so good at two genres, personally I prefer the Sci-Fi -pure escapism.
> I think that some of them were a bit crap at the time as well.
It's all relative though innit. "Dead Air", a bit crap by Iain Banks's standards, would have been a perfectly worthy effort from Colin Bateman or James Hawes.
(Without really meaning to be rude to those two authors - I really enjoyed 'A White Merc With Fins' and Bateman's 'Dan Starkey' books.)
It's been a while, but I think the reason that came to mind is that "Dead Air" reminded me a bit of "Rancid Aluminium" at the time.
> As a fan of the 'Culture' books, I suspect you might really enjoy Alastair Reynolds, starting at the beginning with 'Revelation Space'.
I really enjoyed Reynolds earlier stuff but Revenger was just god awful crap. Neal Asher's Cormac novels and Spatterjay series were good, other stuff patchy. Banks sci-fi was almost uniformly superb. Who wouldn't want to live in the Culture?
Second what others have said, the Culture is a fun series about what is essentially a communist utopia, and especially about how that utopia fails at ist moral limits. Consider Phlebas, Look to Windward, Excession, and Use of Weapons are absolutely brilliant (and also the last one with the confusing different US/UK titles, I actually bought it twice by accident, once as "Hydrogen Sonata"...). My main tip would be to start with CP, and end with Excession. The Player of Games didn't really do it for me, it just felt too contrived (weird thing to say about epic SF, but it felt as if IMB tried to force the genre onto a topic...)
I found some of the non-Culture SF even better, especially Against a Dark Background.
The no-SF is of varying quality, at least for my tastes, but I did like Complicity.
> I really enjoyed Reynolds earlier stuff but Revenger was just god awful crap.
Yes, I was disappointed by that one too.
I've never read any Neal Asher, ta for the tip.
> Regarding 'Feersum Enjinn' it's worth mentioning that many chapters are written in the first person by a character with very quirky phonetic spelling. (Hence the way the title spells 'fearsome engine'.) I found it really hard going for a while and was almost ready to give up when it suddenly 'clicked' and became easy to read after all.
Yep. I found it really tough to start with, but by the end I had decided it was one of his best!
After a little reflection, I think my favourite is actually Use of Weapons. It's very, very dark, but wonderfully written with a devastating climax.
The Culture novels don't really need to be read in order, but I think they do benefit a little from it - there are occasional references back, and the odd 'Easter Egg', such as the reappearance of Zakalwe in a much later novel (I'll say no more on that here).
Read them all - but as recommended below, probably best not to start with Feersum Enjin.
The only other writer I've found approaching his wit is Primo Levi (The Sixth Day and Other Tales) - odd considering his life story (also fantastic reads but quite different.....)
I agree with the majority of the responses so far, you get most enjoyment from reading the culture novels in order for the recurring characters and the references to past events. Of course you could read the non culture sf novels in any order you want. My first Iain M Banks was the Algerbraist. My personal favourite of the culture series is perhaps Look to Windward, I enjoy downbeat endings and it’s theme about the consequences and scars of war. In a close joint second place would be Use of Weapons or Excession. Arguably The Bridge is a quasi Culture novel, with its references to Culture tech in the Barbarian chapters.
> Read them all - but as recommended below, probably best not to start with Feersum Enjin.
I’m notoriously crap at spelling, and especially at getting the appropriate version of a same-sounding word with many different spellings depending on context and meaning.
Not I think coincidentally, I read the phonetic chapters of Feersum Enjin as easily as the others. With it presenting no barrier to me I found I really enjoyed “tuning in” to the mindset of young Bascule. It’s akin to when I play a piece of music on the piano and find myself a bit trance-like glimpsing the intent and emotion of the composer. Or what I imagine to be. Perhaps it’s because it involves more of the audio processing part sof my brain in the reading excercise not unlike audio.
I know a couple of other people with wonky spelling who took to it like ducks to water as well.
I also know people who just couldn’t read it or wouldn’t make the effort to adapt.
Conversly I found the stream of consciousness writing in Narrow Dog to Carcasonne incredibly grating and hard work.
> Arguably The Bridge is a quasi Culture novel, with its references to Culture tech in the Barbarian chapters.
Inversions, do you mean? The Algebraist is the earliest one chronologically, with its pre-Culture suppression of AIs and wormhole-restricted FTL travel.
I read The Algebraist as not being a Culture novel at all, being set either out of reach somewhere in the same universe, or in a different continuity entirely.
I suppose it could be pre-culture, but I can't think of anything in it which points to that.
Algebraist is set in the future of Earth. This is explicit in the book.
Culture spans the history of Earth from around the Roman Empire (Edit: or the dark ages?) to at least contemporary times. This is made explicit in the short story featuring the psychopathic drone from Use of Weapons and it’s place in the culture timeline.
They are clearly not set in a shared universe.
It depends on what kind of reader you are. Starting with Consider Phlebas and munching through roughly in publication order is a good bet if you are particularly particular about doing things in the 'right order' and want to understand as many tangential references as you can.
However, each novel is essentially a stand-alone with a (mostly) separate cast; the link between novels is the broad setting of The Culture itself so there's very little to lose in diving in wherever you please.
Personally I'd recommend starting with Use of Weapons, The Player of Games or Look to Windward. These are my personal favourites and are good gateway drugs to ease you into the series before you fire up your crack pipe with Consider Phlebas or Excession.
Bottom-line: if you do start with CP and don't like it, don't write the rest of the series off!
> the short story featuring the psychopathic drone from Use of Weapons
The State of the Art?
I had forgotten that one, I've never really wanted to accept it as canon! It's his weakest Culture piece, I think.
I first read CP around 91 and if been hooked on Ian M Banks smart sci fi ever since. Really genuinely gutted when he died.
There isn’t much out there that has the light but smart touch he applied to the genre, lots of glunky dialogue, overly complicated plots and overreach in sci fi not to mention a sometimes slightly regressive attitude to gender out there.
i would recommend starting with CB
also consider Neal Asher, the technician series
Alistair Reynolds can be hit and miss try House of Suns
Peter F Hamilton is also worth considering
nothing beats the Culture, literally
The people have spoken and have chosen 'Consider Phlebas' and therefore I cannot disrespect the 'will of the people' and democracy, so I will be taking a leap off the cliff edge and reading this first, who knows what the future may hold.
* Unless there is a second vote.
Ken MacLeod might be another good shout for bereft Iain Banks fans. (With or without the 'M'.)
I haven't found a replacement for the Culture novels yet. Have read Peter F Hamilton (The Night's Dawn Trilogy) etc. but IMB set the bar too high.
For something a bit different I really liked The Vagrant and The Malice by Peter Newman.
> with or without the M
I think I've read everything published bar the distilleries book which I bought for my dad. I remember reading somewhere that after the wasp factory (fantasy really, with slight tinges of dreaded magical realism) his next book just happened to be sci-fi, and the M was included randomly, but then seemed to be a helpful delineation.
But yeah, the Bridge, Walking On Glass, and Transitions are very sci-fi. The latter seemed to be cueing up a new series in that direction. Hey ho.
I'll follow up some of these recs - could do with some clever escapism.
> I haven't found a replacement for the Culture novels
You could try the co-written sequels to Arthur C Clark’s “Rendevouz With Rama”.
I kid, I kid!
If you haven’t read Eon and then Eternity from Greg Bear you might enjoy those, not as epic or as characteristic but some similar themes.
Yes Player of Games. Which I thought would be the obviously one to turn into film
> I had forgotten that one, I've never really wanted to accept it as canon!
I was going to say “you can’t do that” but then I remembered Red Dwarf season 7 and beyond.
Its simply the best space opera Sci-Fi I've ever read in terms of scope, intelligence and especially wit. I read them in a weird order and it didn't seem to Matter. He is A Player of Games in fiction terms and obsessed with the Use of Weapons, which works, as although his 'culture' epitomises the expected positive spin on the future of civilisation, the stories he writes within it are very much set Against a Dark Background. Enjoy.. I'm half way through The Hydrogen Sonata and reluctant to read it too quickly as there will be no more.
> The people have spoken and have chosen 'Consider Phlebas' and therefore I cannot disrespect the 'will of the people' and democracy, so I will be taking a leap off the cliff edge and reading this first, who knows what the future may hold.
Presumably those who have continued to contribute their ideas to the thread following this post are now enemies of the people!
Damn straight, we've gotta make books great again, some of these books have the biggliest words, great books, very good books.
Do we really need a second referendum before GS commits to Consider Phlebas, even knowing it will be an Excession whatever the choice?
Not much to add that hasn't been said, except that I always loved Against a Dark Background, another non-culture novel. I managed to miss Hydrogen Sonata until after his death, and though it one of his best.
On his name, and the sequence of novels, I had the pleasure of seeing him read once (from Feersum Enjinn) and he put it like this. He had always want to be a sci-fi writer and had poured heart and soul into a much rejected novel called Player of Games. he decided to switch genres, and wrote what he considered a nasty horror novel called the Wasp Factory while trying to develop his Culture galaxy with what became Consider Phlebas. The Wasp factory was of course published, and then when he submitted CP, he was told he had to differentiate; that he couldn't do both genres under the same name. The M stands for Menzies, not his middle name but taken from his mother, or a grandparent, I forget which.
All that of course means there is an argument for starting with Payer of Games, as that is the genuine first Culture novel.
>All that of course means there is an argument
Of course there is (though that does sound like what I half remembered. Googling is cheating on these kinds of threads.)
PoG, how boring. Let's watch some nerd in a cheap leather jacket playing 3D chess.
I want to see Use of Weapons turned into a film, but will not tell which actress I would like to see as Sma!
> I want to see Use of Weapons turned into a film, but will not tell which actress I would like to see as Sma!
Consider Phlebas is supposedly in development with Amazon as a series. I'd love to see a Culture novel on screen, but the best of them are too sprawling to do them justice in couple of hours.
If Use of Weapons were to be made into a film though; Cohen brothers script (gritty action/ blackly comic), directed by JJ Abrahams (seems to have cornered the market for big budget sci-fi) with Alexander Skarsgård as Zakelwe (he looks like he could play a highly competent, slightly daft, reformed sociopath). Go on then...who's Sma going to be?
> Go on then...who's Sma going to be?
Sticking with your nordic theme, Naoomi Rapace?
I also think Micheal Shannon would make a good Zakelwe.
Interesting to hear about the CP project.
As for the UoW film I agree with your suggestions, but was mainly teasing and have no ready made idea about Sma.
So who could play a plausible action heroine who could also do justice to the rather pornographic bits should they, as I absolutely demand, be included in the film?
> I also think Micheal Shannon would make a good Zakelwe.
Do you think he's pretty enough? Zakelwe was a bit of a lady killer.
> Jessica Chastain?
I like Chastain, but I reckon she's a bit too pretty and not enough gritty. Did you see Rachel Mcadams in True Detective?
Zakelwe is basically Bond for the culture. A younger Danial Graig type character
Pretty is essential, though! JC was "gritty" enough for me in Zero Dark Thirty.
Light trilogy by M John Harrison
Quantum Thief trilogy by Hannu Rajaniemi
Illiad & Olympus - Dan Simmonds (lot of work to get into but worthwhile)
Yes Dan Simmonds recommended though I prefer the Hyperion cantos
I thought the quantum thief tried too hard, might give it another go might not have been in the right frame of mind.
I also preferred the Hyperion cantos but Illiad/Olympus are mighty fine sci-fi and less well known than Hyperion so thought I'd suggest them.
I know what you mean regards the Quantum Thief but found it enjoyable nonetheless. Might be worth another go.
Too cerebral for you?
There's little actual gameplay in it . Social mores, degenerate societies and a planet-wide ring of fire + a little love interest - it has it all!
> They are all good if you like intelligent, highly techy space opera genre (I do) with great characters (the AIs are the main protagonists, the humans are basically pets).
> My personal favourite is Surface Detail but there isn't really a bad Culture story (unlike his non-SF canon, which has one or two duds among the great contemporary fiction).
Pets - I like it. I can't remember which culture book it's in, but there's a description of a fight lasting, oh, milliseconds, between two AIs that goes on for pages and is really intense.
I seem to recall to have read an interview once where IAB stated that, for while, he was heavily into D&D type role playing, and therefore wrote a book about the maximum level of importance game playing could reach within a society.
This was exactly my first impression back when I first read it. Not a bad book, but for me it felt more clunky and heavy handed than his other works.
> Pets - I like it. I can't remember which culture book it's in, but there's a description of a fight lasting, oh, milliseconds, between two AIs that goes on for pages and is really intense.
Excession, I think. There's also a brilliant bit in Surface Detail where the ship replays the encounter where it destroys an entire fleet in slo-mo for the benefit of the human present.
Read Hyperion ages ago.
Interested in your suggestions. Thanks
The is a short story by Greg Bear (IIRC) called judgement engine that goes on for about 20 pages. Only at the end do you realize that the entire story takes place in a few microseconds towards the very end of this universe.
This is from an anthology of SF stories originally written from the 19th century to 2000ish called Extreme Science Fiction, and is precisely that. SF with an extreme scope and inventiveness.
Recommended reading for people who liked the Culture novels,
Fascinating, thank you!
Everything by Greg Egan is pretty decent in comparison to the culture novels (which for me are a genre unto themselves being so superior to every other sci-fi book I've ever read).
I find myself just giving up with other sci fi books after a few pages if they have faster than light travel and omniscient ship AI's but they still have things like buttons and joysticks for someone to fly the ship.
I've not come across Greg Egan before but you've got me intrigued. Would you recommend any particular starting point?
Not space opera but Robert Charles Wilson's sci-fi is usually intelligent and original - the Spin series or the Chronoliths for example.
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