Considering CONSIDER PHLEBAS

I just got around to reading Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. Like, yesterday. Yes, I’m late to the party.

I also have thoughts.

I liked it at the beginning, when I was getting introduced to shape-shifters and three-legged warrior-priest Klingons and a woman with a flying bullet for a pet. I loved quite a bit of the setting building, with thoughtful touches like not everyone being of companionable size.

I kind of started to hate it in the middle, because the main character is a jerk surrounded by jerks who all do jerky things in pursuit of morally murky goals.

I realized in the last fifth or so that I was SUPPOSED to feel that way, and indeed feeling that way was the entire point. This was a story with no heroes, and the villains of the piece weren’t the main antagonists.

I feel like the plot was not as cohesive as it could have been. I like a nice, tight plot where all the guns are nicely Chekovian. Here, Horza kind of stumbles along toward his goal in an episodic way. Very little carries forward.

But then again, that’s also the point. The book doesn’t even tell us if the good guys won the war because it won’t let us define the Culture as the good guys. Culture citizens certainly think so, but we see too much of the soulless calculation that lets them live with that illusion. The Idiri-Culture war is really realistic in the way it has no real inciting incident, no evil overlord who’s forcing his nation into war, and no clean end.

If I’d read it in the 80s, I wouldn’t have got it because I was a stupid kid. If I’d read it in the 90s, I wouldn’t have finished it because I had untreated depression. If I’d read it in the 2000, I probably really would have liked it. Reading it now, while my civilization is falling to pieces, I just don’t know. It’s really good, but it doesn’t sit well with me in my current mental space.