The Culture and the Idiran Empire are at war in a galaxy-spanning conflict. Horza, a mercenary capable of altering his appearance at will (a Changer), is assigned the task of retrieving a dispossessed Culture Mind by his Idiran handlers. The Mind, while fleeing attacking Idirans who consider its existence an abomination, has taken refuge on Schar’s World, a Planet of the Dead. Planets of the Dead are nominally forbidden to both the Culture and the Idirans, being under the control of god-like incorporeal beings called “Dra’Azon”.
Horza, however, was one of a group of Changers allowed to be on the planet as stewards and witnesses to its devastation. He may be the only person in the Galaxy, and certainly the only one known to the Idirans, who would be allowed to return. On the way to Schar’s World he encounters, and joins, a band of mercenaries and pirates, led by Kraiklyn, on their ship, the Clear Air Turbulence.
All the while he is doggedly pursued by a Culture Special Circumstances agent, Perosteck Balveda. The Culture also realizes that Horza is the key to getting to Schar’s World and retrieving the Mind. Their plan is to place an undercover agent with him and hope that the agent can get to the Mind first and somehow leave with it.
Consider Phlebas – Why It would make a Great Movie:
Its entrance into the science fiction genre in 1987 immediately established Banks as a master of that genre. With 2013 becoming a deluge of science fiction-inspired movies, who better to translate from book to film than Banks? The current space opera King. His ‘Culture’ novels have a huge following and Banks manages to inject them with wit, epic action sequences, thrills, horror and, above all, great ideas.
The Culture are a technologically advanced benevolent society that spans most of the galaxy, it is run by Artificial Intelligence (or minds) and is home to trillions of humans. Who, for the most part, are free to live a life of hedonistic pleasure. Death can be circumnavigated, and you can live as long as want to. It is a utopian vision of a possible future. They also help out civilisations that need it and are a peaceful, all-powerful society.
The Idiran’s on the other hand, are an intelligent warrior-state, suspicious of technology and whose religious beliefs force them into a permanent aggressive expansionist regime. Suspicious of one another, this mutual distrust eventually turns into all out war.
What makes the main character of Consider Phlebas so interesting, is that he is effectively a good guy on the side of the bad guys. Horza, is a shape-shifting assassin hired by the Idiran’s complete with an array of cunning weaponry, but he is also introspective, and by no means indestructible. With an indiana Jones style ability to get himself into one bad situation after another.
The undercover assassin hunting him (Perosteck Balveda) is a Culture Special Circumstances agent, who cause fear and panic wherever they go, because they are effectively the secret military special operatives of the all-powerful culture. They are a little like an adapted, hugely-modified, completely kick-ass James Bond…in space.
The book keeps you engrossed as the hunt for the hidden Culture mind progresses. Horza and his team, the undercover Balveda and the Idirans all converge upon the dreaded Planet of the Dead, and considering Banks’ trademark signature of killing off main characters, it only adds to the suspense.
Violent, grim, quirky and full of interesting characters, it is science fiction at its most dazzling and interesting. A book with stunning power. It also has various layers of complexity and makes you question just who is right and who is wrong.
What’s Happening With This In Hollywood?
No Culture novels have ever been filmed. This is a travesty. Only Banks’ Culture novel ‘Player of Games’ has been optioned (by Pathé).
Interestingly, Banks has said that the book he would most like to see on the big screen would be Consider Phlebas, but admits that it would almost certainly have to be a very big budget project.
Considering his position of science fiction Grandmaster, isn’t it time that Hollywood started to take notice? What with reboots, prequels, sequels and painfully thin blockbusters saturating the marketplace, Banks entire Culture back catalogue should be snapped up immediately. If Prometheus is your thing, then Consider Phlebas would blow you away.
“They could cast Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis as Horza… I wouldn’t mind as long as they just did it… I want to see the big action sequences! I want to see the gigantic ship hitting the even more gigantic iceberg! I want to see the fight underneath the hovercraft, which I’ve always imagined being lit by strobes! I want to see the big train- wreck stuff at the end and the firefights!” Iain M. Banks.
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