The first published book in The Culture series was also my first read in the Culture Series. It did not disappoint. I loved the backdrop of war between these two super civilizations. I really enjoyed how our protagonist, Horza, was not particularly fond of either civilization but fought with the Idirans. In his great exchange with Balveda at the beginning of the book Horza explains that despite all the civilizations the Idirans have either throttled or destroyed because of their religion he is fighting for them because “they are on the side of life… boring, old-fashioned, biological life; small, fallible and short-sighted, God knows, but REAL life.” He described the Culture as “an evolutionary dead end”.
At once we see Banks anticipating the hostility that a reader could feel for a civilization run by machines…one where people are happy, they live great lives, there is no crime, no poverty, everyone is safe, but that is run by machines. I could easily emphasize with that viewpoint and yet it is easy to hate the Idirans. The story then is almost morally ambiguous at times, which is an interesting entry point for the Culture series. I thought this was a perfect way to introduce the idea of the culture to the reader.
Consider Phelbas had its flaws. Some scenes dragged and the resolution wasn’t particularly satisfying (which was kind of the point). However, at its core this novel was just plain fun. The escape flight through the Giant Orbital was one of the most exciting, well written sequences I have ever read in science fiction. Just brilliant visuals. I could see it in my mind like it was on the big screen. This is a perfect entrance into the work of my all-time favorite author, in an all-time great series.