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Culture Fans? [Beware of spoilers]

  1. Nov 1, 2012 #1

    Ryan_m_b

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    Anyone here a fan of Iain M Banks Culture series? Since I was young I've loved the books and the universe they are setting but I'm halfway through the latest book, The Hydrogen Sonata, and I'm just bored. It seems that for the last three, maybe four, books Banks is just going through the motions. Having set up the Culture as a near omnipotent society it feels to me like there's no challenge which takes out all the tension in the plot.

    For the last few books it seems to follow the same nefarious plot from a less advanced society, a number of characters from all over going about different personal quests often tangential to the nefarious plot, a few in-the-know culture ships/Minds and it all eventually comes together with the bad guys foiled by the Minds and the human characters left bewildered but satisfied with a conclusion to their storyline.

    Unless Banks starts to write more varied stories, perhaps outside the culture with no galactic scale threat like Player of Games (my favourite of the novels) I can't help but feel the series will die a slow, undignified death.

    Any fans with other thoughts?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2012 #2
    I have only read Player of Games, which I absolutely loved. One of the better sci fi novels I have read in my opinion.

    I noticed something similar as yourself as I progressively read numerous books by a single author. I've read perhaps 15 - 20 Larry Niven books, most of Robert Heinlein's, Orson Scott Card, and now Stephenson.

    I think its hard to avoid seeing the similar patterns again and again. Perhaps the quality of Banks is actually declining, but I found I just became too accustomed to the style and flow of one author after reading numerous pieces sequentially. Especially Larry Niven. Near the end it was just another "Puppeteer tricks some human into dangerous space mission involving a GP hull"

    By the way, if I was to pick up say 3 or 4 Banks novels, which would you recommend? Keep in mind I'm a fan of the sweeping breadth style story
     
  4. Nov 6, 2012 #3

    Ryan_m_b

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    I think part of the problem may be that unlike most series the Culture has no overall story arc. Each book is just another one in the setting. It's interesting you bought Niven up because whilst I haven't read too many of his works I think he and Banks suffer from a similar problem: literary power creep. With Niven he introduced invincible hulls, ultra-rapid-FTL, immortality medicine and inheritable luck. I've read that it became difficult for him as his career progressed to come up with credible and meaningful problems for protagonists to overcome whilst avoiding hugely contrived circumstances.

    Banks seems to have the same problem in that there's no real problem that won't be solved by infinitely more intelligent and technologically advanced culture ships. Perhaps that's feeding into the lack of originality that the last few books seem to have.
    Probably:
    • Consider Phlebus: the first culture novel that interestingly isn't set in the culture but rather at the fringes of it with independant protagonists
    • The Use of Weapons: an interesting story about a mercenary who was raised outside of the Culture and then grew up to work in Culture Special Circumstances. The story mainly looks at Culture intervention and the trauma he's faced through his life
    • Excession: this one has a lot of the themes that the last few books have had with regards to avoiding epic catastrophes and super-powerful Minds but as it was the first it feels fresher and more original
    That list ties in with what I mentioned in the first post about mixing it up a bit. It seems that some of the best Culture stories (the first two here and Player of Games) are the ones that either feature characters that are outsiders or aren't set in the Culture and simply have it as a backdrop.
     
  5. Nov 6, 2012 #4
    Whats neat to think about is how sci fi novels can sometimes show that utopian societies actually get pretty boring, repetitive, after a while. No conflict or worries and people just shrug their shoulders. Funny how writing about such societies can get dull, as well.

    Have you tried reading Vernor Vinge? He is actually a professor of CS somewhere. His novels are really, really good, especially Fire upon the Deep and the prequel, Deepness in the Sky. A lot of great concepts are hashed out, great characterization, and huge sweep.
     
  6. Nov 6, 2012 #5

    Ryan_m_b

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    I think it's more that a lot of utopian sci-fi creates an amazing dream society with fantastic capabilities and then as a story line runs it through a generic "galactic alien threat" story line. Also I think the "it would be boring" story lines stem from a lack of imagination more than anything.
    I really couldn't get into Vinge. I've tried and just can't for some reason.
     
  7. Nov 11, 2012 #6
    I've just started reading Accelerando by Stross, and its really quite good. Fast paced but a lot more coherent than I found Neuromancer to be.
     
  8. Nov 12, 2012 #7

    Ryan_m_b

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    Stross is definitely one of my favourite authors. I'm definitely not in the technological singularity camp but I do enjoy accelerando, especially how it portrays the fact that were a singularity to occur it wouldn't be nice to live through.
     
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