In a virgin.net
organized chat with the author (the transcript of which may be found at http://www.virgin.net/chat/archive/archive_47.htm), Iain M. Banks
had this to say about his book:
I used up a lot of ideas in Consider Phlebas, a lot of my best ideas. I don't regret it though. Because you can always come up with new ideas. Though I think as you get older you don't come up with as many good ideas. You're better at using the ones you've got though. I'd love to write another Consider Phlebas, because I had so much fun doing it. In a way the "design brief" for Phlebas was to out-Star Wars Star Wars. I'd seen Star Wars and really liked it, like most of us, even if some bits were daft. I thought "Hey, I can write a novel that's just as spectacular" so I went back and found all these ideas that I'd previously dismissed as too outlandish to actually work in a science fiction novel and just threw them all at it. You know, the big fight beneath hovercraft and the massive train wreck and the megaship crash - which I think was the thing that put off Hollywood at the time. But of course you can do anything now.
This novel introduced sci-fi
readers to The Culture
, Banks' far future utopia
. Banks himself has described The Culture as his ideal society, and the place he would most like to live; and yet, in Phlebas we view the Culture through the eyes of one of its most ardant enemies
. In this way, the reader is introduced to The Culture with doubts and criticisms already in place.
Also in this novel, readers are introduced to Orbitals, one of the main habitats of members of The Culture. In his essay A Few Notes on The Culture Banks describes orbitals:
Perhaps the easiest way to envisage an Orbital is to compare it to the idea that inspired it (this sounds better than saying; Here's where I stole it from). If you know what a Ringworld is - invented by Larry Niven; a segment of a Dyson Sphere - then just discard the shadow-squares, shrink the whole thing till it's about three million kilometres across, and place in orbit around a suitable star, tilted just off the ecliptic; spin it to produce one gravity and that gives you an automatic 24-hour day-night cycle (roughly; the Culture's day is actually a bit longer). An elliptical orbit provides seasons.
These creations make appearences in later Culture novels, and are direct inspiration for the setting of Bungie
's game Halo
- currently only available on the X-Box
, but coming to PC
Although the book has been out of print in North America for quite some time (a fate suffered by most great science fiction writers at one time or another), it has recently been republished in the U.K., and shouldn't be impossible to find. It is certainly the best way to introduce oneself to The Culture.