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Iain M. Banks's Culture series
2015-01-01 06:25 pm (UTC)
I discovered the Culture series last year, and the first book I read was "Surface Detail". It was an exciting romp, and it also got me hungry for more info on this Culture - my first impression was "Star Trek if someone was really committed to the socialist utopia aspect" and since I'm very far on the left of any political spectrum and love Star Trek, that was pretty great. I think the politics are quite possibly the most exciting thing for me about this series, the fact that it is a radical utopia in every sense and not a ashamed of it.
My other favourites are probably "Look to Windward", "Excession" and "Matter" - the latter seems to have a bad rep, with many people complaining about the "fantasy" sections, but I adore two things about it: Holse's character arc and The Liveware Problem. What I love about Holse is mainly that for most of the book he appears to be just the comedic relief, the hilariously uneducated servant and then in the end he's not only the only main character who survives - he basically inherits the kingdom and ushers in a new era in a way that is utterly true to the series's ideals. You think it's Ferbin who is learning how to be a good ruler throughout their arc, but it's actually Holse. The Culture series doesn't have many characters that you could classify as oppressed or working class or whatever (even the non-Culture protagonists like Ziller, Shayleze or Zakalwe tend to be academics, artists or upper class.) Holse is the rare exception. The "I see what you did there, Mr Banks" moment I had when I got to the end was just glorious.
The ending is also the reason I love the Liveware Problem, or rather, its avatars. I find the relationship between AI and humans in the Culture utterly fascinating, particularly because so much of it is never really explored in the series. Banks never tells us all that much about the Culture's early history (the hints we get in The Hydrogen Sonata were tantalizing, but I would have loved a novel set in the Culture's early days!) and how it happened that the Minds turned out to be so utterly benevolent and that the human part of the Culture is so AI-friendly compared to, say, the Idirans. In the later novels, the human part of the Culture is more or less obsolete, and still Minds and drones seem to love them enough to keep them around and indulge them wherever they can. Yet the biggest taboo among Minds concerns Mind-human contact. Why is that so? Is it about consent issues or the unavoidable power differential? Anyway, the Liveware Problem with it's too-human avatars (remember, it suggests actual sex to Djan and seems to be serious about it) ends up dying and leaving behind only that human avatar. What is the status of such an avatar? Would it be regarded as human, or as a crippled Mind?
I'd love to know what shaped this taboo, what happens when people break it. We hear quite a few opinions on the Minds from outsiders, often hostile, but not as much from the actual Culture protagonists.
These are just a few things that fascinate me about the Culture series. I want to write more fic to explore these issues. And also, crossovers! There's a whole bunch of sci-fi series that I love and that would make great crossovers. Like, what would the Culture do about a situation like that between Cylons and humans in Battlestar Galactica? Or how would a meeting between the Federation (the Star Trek one, not the evil Blake's 7 one - although a Blake's 7 crossover would be lovely, too) and the Culture go? At first you think they'd get along fabulously, but then you remember that the Starfleet has a /terrible/ track record when it comes to AI rights or genetic engineering and let's not even talk about the Culture gleeful breaking of the prime directive...
There's just so much to explore :D
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Iain M. Banks's Culture series
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