Consider Phlebas


I’ve been meaning to read some of Banks’ work for a while. Jumping into a series is tough, so I tried to find a good place to start, or at least a representative example, but I never found the descriptions engaging enough for me to take the plunge.

I finally forced myself to start at the beginning, which was first published back in 1987. The age doesn’t particularly show, with so many of the ideas far flung even today. The storytelling has a bit of a hard sci-fi leaning, but isn’t too wrapped up in the science that it gets in the way.

Following a single protagonist and a (literal) band of others, the story takes place in the middle of a war between the Culture (a society where humans and machines live together) and the Idirans, a warrior race keen on expansion.

The characters were interesting enough, if a little under-explored, but my main gripe was the winding way the story progressed. The goal is set up near the start and the main man has to endure multiple obstacles to reach it. Many of these simply felt tossed in and ended up as wayward ramblings that added nothing to the story or character development.

Whole tranches of the book could have been deleted and you wouldn’t have lost anything except some length, plus some disdain for organised religion.

Peter Kenny’s reading is good, clear and appropriate, giving nice depth to the characters.

Not a bad book, just not one that particularly grabbed, inspired or hooked me.

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Reviewed: 17th February 2015