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The Culture

Posted by on 2016-07-07 09:45:16
The disputable rankings of the novels in the Culture by Iain M Banks:

Use of Weapons - I consider this to be an absolute masterpiece. The construction of this novel is genius. We see the alternating creation and deployment of an advanced culture agent.

The Player of Games - Excellent novel about the lengths the Culture will go to in order to protect and promote itself, with some genuine twists and a fun depiction of an alien game.

Consider Phlebas - memorable intro and a fascinating intro into the Culture universe, from the viewpoint of an agent of an enemy of the Culture who’s trying to destroy it.

Look to Windward - one of only two (I believe) Culture novels to reference an event from a different novel, showing the consequences of what happens when the Culture ##### up, but also the consequences of going against the Culture.

Inversions - It’s easy to miss that this is a Culture novel, as I believe the hints aren’t confirmed until the epilogue, but a solid story about love and loss, set on an alien world with medieval Europe level tech.

Surface Detail - a story about the battle for various alien Hells, alongside a slave woman seeking revenge on the man who murdered here. This is probably the cutoff for good to great Culture novels.
(And that epilogue!)

Matter - this and the next novel are basically tied, as they’re pretty inessential, and in some cases basically end up where they started. Not much to say.

The Hydrogen Sonata - there’s a lot of interesting setup for this one, but there’s no payoff. None of the actions of the characters in this novel actually matter.

Excession - a bit of a confusing mess about AIs righting AIs.

Not ranked:
The State of the Art - two, and possibly 3, of the stories in this collection are explicitly set in the Culture. Banks’ strength is novel-length, not short story though.

Against a Dark Background - I’ve read that Banks once said that there’s a hint that this is in a far-flung part of the Culture universe, but I don’t know that anyone’s ever found it, and I wonder if Banks was thinking of Inversions.