Iain Banks
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A Few Notes on the Culture

Reader's Thoughts:

The Culture novels - show a number of parallels, connections, and inspirations for Orion's Arm. Look to Windward, his latest Culture novel, is perhaps not of the standard of Use of Weapons or The Player of Games, but a good book that shows you quite a bit of daily life in supertechnology utopia. It really felt a bit more like Orion's Arm than the others, showing a bit more how a society like the Utopia Sphere might work in practice, that even supertechnology can be fooled and of course, Banks' marvellous imagination.

Consider Phlebas - might give a hint of the vastness of an interstellar war like the second consolidation war or the version war.

Use of Weapons - IMHO his best Culture novel. Very complex, very dark humor. Deals with a man who in Orion's Arm might be an operative from one of the empires dealing with the Outer Volumes systems. His tactical talent might show just how clever even the average superior is in everyday life.

The Player of Games - Expresses Banks' philosophy about the Culture fairly well. Some wonderful locations like the planet Echronendal with its perpetual forest fire.

Excession - What happens when something appears that is beyond the ken of the Culture? Shows the kind of advanced warfare the empires might use, as well as how an eager species can exploit the plots of the AIs. Explains a bit about how the Culture holds together and why it has not transcended.

Look to Windward - Describes the kinds of things Culture citizens do for recreation (I really want to render a picture of Pylon Country or lava rafting). Gives some hints on how devious AI god-like intrigue can be.

Against a Dark Background - Has a great setting for OA: a system that has been inhabited many thousands of years, crammed with history and odd scenery (everything from planet-spanning plants to monks attached to rails in the walls to a clarketech weapon).

Inversions - a very subtle novel. Not at all like the others, but with some very subtle ties.

In my opinion, Use of Weapons and Excession would be the primary targets to read for OA.

Anders Sandberg

Iain Banks died in 2013, having completed several more novels including Surface Detail, Matter and The Hydrogen Sonata. He also wrote mainstream fiction, and a useful guide to the whiskies of his native land.