Well, it’s nice to be back to reading books of a level that I think I could emulate. Consider Phlebas is certainly a well-written book, but it’s no Swann’s Way.
That doesn’t mean it’s airport fiction. It’s classic science-fiction – don’t go in expecting a detailed description of the technology behind a Mark 7 Graviton Bomb, or painstakingly modeled battle tactics. It’s got its fair share of action scenes, but it is very much a “look at issues in our society through the lens of a sci-fi story.”
I have neither the inclination nor the space to go into a detailed look at the themes of the book. Suffice it to say that it’s an interesting take on religion, transhumanism, and cultural conflicts.
I’m more interested in the technical aspects of the book. It’s competently written, albeit relatively sparse on characterization. But it shines at worldbuilding. Consider Phlebas manages to create an especially interesting universe with comparatively little infodumping. Forget show-don’t-tell, Banks does a ton of work with imply-don’t-show. With a few ideas and a handful of lines of text, he conveys the incredibly diversity of cultures you’d find in a fully settled galaxy. And he manages to exposes the flaws of some of those cultures with a few extra paragraphs.
It’s not a book that I’d re-read for fun, but it’s one of those I’ll refer to if I ever need to create a galactic-sized setting. And for what it’s worth, it’s managed to get me to want to look at another Culture book, just to see where we go from there.