Short Book Review: Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas is the first book in Iain Banks’s well-known “Culture” series of novels. It stars a man carrying out acts of espionage for aliens in a war against a human society of touchy-feely, liberal hedonists. I came upon this book through some combination of Amazon recommendations and io9’s list of sci-fi novels that will change your life. By the standards of the former mode of recommendation, it was okay, if a bit slow and predictable starting about midway through. By the standards of the latter, it was hugely disappointing.

People talk of this book as some deep meditation on morality, but frankly, I thought the philosophizing was facile. It certainly didn’t help that I’d read an interview with Banks in which he exclaims that the Culture really is his idea of utopia, which kind of hurts my ability to read any complexity into authorial intent. I’m not sure whether the moral here is to declare the Death of the Author, avoid interviews with authors, or avoid top-20 lists that promise to change my life. The next book in my queue is another book from that list, though, so I’m going to try reading it without knowing anything about the author, and we’ll see what happens.

The top 20 list is not so great. Points for including Pattern Recognition and Sarah Canary but don’t expect either of them to be as sci-fi as the descriptions there sound. Both are literary novels that borrow just enough science fiction mannerisms to allow for a genre-centric reading.

I think I am okay with literary novels (and fun adventure novels) just borrowing sci-fi mannerisms. “Speculative,” “hard” science-fiction doesn’t really interest me enough now that I go to novels for stories about people and the news for stories about the world.

I’d hesitate whenever anyone tells you that X-Media will change your life. I’m not quite sure that I believe a book, movie, song, etc’s job is to change my life. Or maybe I should say, I’m not sure that a book, movie, song should try to be something that will change EVERYONE who reads, watches, listens to it. I’d also avoid author interviews for fiction. If the writer wanted to say something, he/she has the ENTIRE book they wrote to say it, an interview should be a let down compared to a work of literary merit.

[…] pleased to say that io9’s list of recommended sci-fi novels didn’t steer me wrong. Some Amazon reviewers characterized Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Under the Deep as terrific for […]