No real world building even though the world we get a glimpse of is fascinating. We are left wanting and not in a good way. A lot of it was, well, meaningless. We want this book to be more. We actually need it to be more. That it doesn't even com close is what is so depressing. That said, we are eager to read the next recommended book in the series to hopefully see if he does give us more, in a good way.
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It was a slow read as it never really captivated me.
The one reason I wanted to read it was to explore an iteration of humanity that came close to what I am imagining for a world creation in a SciFi book I am trying to write. In that, this book failed as others have commented. We are given numerous objective and not always reliable snapshots of the society, but we don't really get into it.
We wonder if Banks was intentionally trying to go against what makes good scifi, and exploiting what makes poor scifi. We are going to give it 3 stars though which we cannot really defend except we are eager to turn to the next recommended book in the series.
Content warning Analysis of a character
In fact, it could still access all that stored memory (though the process was complicated, and so slow), so all was not lost there…. But as for thinking, as for being itself—another matter entirely. It wasn’t its real self. It was a crude, abstracted copy of itself, the mere ground plan for the full labyrinthine complexity of its true personality. It was the truest possible copy its limited scale was theoretically capable of providing, and it was still sentient; conscious by even the most rigorous of standards. Yet an index was not the text, a street plan was not the city, a map not the land. So who was it?
Banks, Iain M.. Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1) (p. 195). Orbit. Kindle Edition.
Simulacra and Simulation. We, humans are machines, biological machines determined and phenotyped to a significant degree by our genes. But unless we are religious or spiritual, at some point we must wrestle with the truth that there is no divine or profound meaning to life. We of course can create meaning and even profundity which does not have to religion or spirituality. Read Carl Sagan and others. But imagine if you are a sentient machine, a machine that can copy itself, how much more existential is that? An advantage a machine will probably have is that it doesn't have to contend with all hidden and secret drives evolution has burdened us with. It probably wouldn't need to practice mindfulness or meditation to become less of a reactionary being. This quote shows that while the machine has feelings about the state of its minimal fidelity replication, it was not stymied by the disappointment. I think that is really cool and enviable.
This is a book about arrogance. The arrogance of going up against a culture (indeed, THE Culture) that can do anything, of going up against the certainty of faith, of going it alone, of reliance on technology or the rejection of it. I spent a while thinking about what this book is "about" after its unusual conclusion. I think it's ultimately about how very important it is to work together, to be together. A culture that destroys individualism so thoroughly that each person is ultimately disconnected from every other is as bad as a religious community that rejects common ground with other communities, which is itself as bad as a man who is driven only to accomplish his own ends. Every bad thing that happens to an individual is either the result of working alone--even with the best intentions--or of an uncaring, random universe inflicting itself on people left unprotected. …
This is a book about arrogance. The arrogance of going up against a culture (indeed, THE Culture) that can do anything, of going up against the certainty of faith, of going it alone, of reliance on technology or the rejection of it. I spent a while thinking about what this book is "about" after its unusual conclusion. I think it's ultimately about how very important it is to work together, to be together. A culture that destroys individualism so thoroughly that each person is ultimately disconnected from every other is as bad as a religious community that rejects common ground with other communities, which is itself as bad as a man who is driven only to accomplish his own ends. Every bad thing that happens to an individual is either the result of working alone--even with the best intentions--or of an uncaring, random universe inflicting itself on people left unprotected.
This is not a happy story. But it's not nihilistic either. Ultimately it's irritated, as if to say "come on, you have everything you need to do anything if you can just get it together!" Banks has chosen some fairly pulpy science fiction to convey this message. The tropes and images Banks uses in most of the story are not complex, literary science fiction. But there are moments, among which the most obvious is the brief aside when the Culture erases a structure from reality, when you glimpse the raw, profound power that is available to these people, power to shape reality, to do incredible things, if they'd get out of their own heads and stop having pulp fiction gunfights with three-legged aliens.
Of course, that leaves me wondering if Consider Phlebas is a talented writer's criticism of a genre that lets you explore literally anything under the stars but spends its time on gunfights with beasties. It seems like something Banks would do. Because, again, this is a book about arrogance, and maybe he's aware that his own might result in a difficult book that doesn't please people as much as it might.
Anyway, this is my second run through Banks' SF books, this time in order. I'm one story in and already sad that he's gone all over again.
Content warning Social world building and psychology of the Culture
The Culture was every single individual human and machine in it, not one thing. Just as it could not imprison itself with laws, impoverish itself with money or misguide itself with leaders, so it would not misrepresent itself with signs.
Banks, Iain M.. Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1) (p. 161). Orbit. Kindle Edition.
It would be amazing if we could let go of so much of our inherent drive to signal. We signal for status, we signal for mating, we signal for tribal affiliations and loyalty. Of course even when we signal benignly it triggers a lens that reduces the field of all that we are. It would be amazing to see a person or group of people for all that they are and not limit our perception of them.
Solitude and silence are positive gestures. This is why Buddhists say we can learn what we need to know sitting on the cushion. This is why I say you can learn what you need to know from the silent, solitary disciplines of reading and writing, the consciously chosen, deliberately inhabited discipline of silence.
Johnson, Fenton. At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life (p. 7). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
We can no longer live sanely without space for silence and solitude. Silence and solitude are vital to our flourishing. They are positive environments. In that solitude, we often read or write, or we just sit. In this manner we come to know.
Content warning Plots disclosed long analysis via lens of #mindfulness, #EvolutionaryPsychology, and #Zizek.
The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem--the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say--exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious.
Asterisks imply text italics. Despite the field day for cognitive, neuro, and brain scientists (mysterious unmapped part of the brain), the idea that true poetry, good poetry, emerges from a mystical aspect of consciousness is enchanting, and poetic. One wonders though how actual it is? Can an atheist, say, be a poet? Interesting.