Consider Phelbas (1987) – Iain M. Banks

 

I’d heard lots of things about the Culture series, a collection of Sci-Fi novels by Scot author Iain M. Banks, and as June and the next Expanse novel still seems a ways away, I decided to dive into the first book and see what the hoopla was about.

At the center of the tale is a Changer named Horza, he has the ability to take on the appearance and aspects of the personality of whomever he wishes, after some preparation. He has been tasked by the Iridans, a large tripod species that is caught up in a galactic war with the Culture, to travel to a dead planet, Schar’s World and recover a Mind – a technological marvel, a sentient machine, many of which control ships in the Culture’s fleet.

Assuming the identity of a mercenary captain, Kraiklyn, he takes command of his ship, the Clear Air Turbulence, and begins a huge adventure in the finest tradition of the space opera.

There is lots going on in this book, and there are a number of great sequences and moments. The cast of characters is huge, but so is the body count by book’s end, and the plot keeps rolling, as Horza tumbles from one adventure to another… being staked out on a beach on an orbital ring to be used as food, flying a starship in a panicked escape through the holds of a monstrous cruiser, gun battles, card games, strange planets and cultures…

I was a little upset when the story played out the way it did, I don’t do spoilers, but I was hoping for something… different.

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The Idirans prove to be a fascinating alien to be added to the sci-fi world, and everything Banks has created in this novel is well-imagined much as his story and moments are carefully plotted out.

I like, very much, Horza’s interaction with the Culture agent he finds tied up in his life, and his mission, Balveda, as well as his love interest, Yalson. With the crew he’s saddled with, it would be easy to draw comparisons with Firefly or the Expanse novels, but these characters exist wholly on their own, and don’t even bare a passing resemblance to these other crews.

The first novel seems to jump from one action sequence, cliffhanger type scenario to the next, as Horza tries to get his feet under him, take control of the Clear Air Turbulence (CAT for short) and take on his mission. Once that gets underway, and we arrive on Shar’s World, things begin to happen more quickly, but are also more engaging. As much as I liked the misadventures Horza found himself in, the body counts, and the way he tumbled from one death-defying moment to the next with barely a breather even had my eyebrows climbing. That being said, Banks’ storytelling ability kept me hooked, and I had to find out what happens to our hero.

It was a very enjoyable read, and I think I will be continuing my journey into the realm of the Culture in short order…

Have you read them?

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