Thought it was time to try out some classic Sci-Fi series, I was deliberating over which series to try, Enders saga especially with the up coming film release, the Dune trilogy, The Foundation Trilogy or the Culture series by Iain M Banks. Eventually decided on the Culture Series after seeing some excellent reviews, not so much on Consider Phlebas but more so for The Player of Games and Use of Weapons.
I’ve read several reviews of people starting with books later in the series and being disappointed by Consider Phlebas, but what better place to start than the beginning.
Bora Horza Gobuchal is the chief POV character and the plot very much revolves around him amidst the war between the Idirans, a military race fighting for their faith and the Culture, a mix of human and artificial intelligence life forms fighting for its moral right to exist.
Horza is a Changer, a shapeshifting sub-species of human with the ability to transform his body to perfectly mimic others and with a few other tricks up his sleeve such as poisonous venom in saliva, nails and teeth. Horza works as a spy and assassin for the Idirans, with a deep, unwarranted hatred for the Culture based on his dislike for their love of technology, which he deems unnatural.
The main focus of the story revolves around a Mind, a highly developed but untrained artificial intelligence, a consciousness that controls a ship. Escaping an interstellar battle by taking refuge on Schar's world, a forbidden Planet of the Dead, an almost deserted world controlled by the Dra'azon and off-limits to both sides of the war.
Both the Culture and the Idirans seek the Mind for its power, Horza is commanded by his Idiran leader, Xoralundra, to recover the Mind for the Idirans but first Horza must get through several ordeals to even get to the planet.
Consider Phlebas is an action adventure, come space opera and fairly enjoyable, well written and paced well, although there were parts that didn't hold my attention and were quickly skipped through. However the finale set on Schar's world under the surface where there is an underground train system is very entertaining and the author certainly has no reservations about killing off major characters.
I liked that you are not over burdened with to much detail about the warring factions and technological descriptions, just the right amount of universe building and occasional mentions of other events and history. The appendices give a little more history of the Culture and the Idirans, this was a decent idea and a lot better than placing these facts in the story.
All the characters are interesting but the protagonist Horza is excellent, sometimes a killer with a cold personality and other times you can't help but root for him and the disturbing challenges he faces.
Overall a good introduction into the Culture series and I will definitely continue with this especially as the following two books are rated very highly by many.