Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. ★★★
Consider Phlebas was just not the right book for me. While I thought it was well written and appreciated some of the ideas, the end result left me cold.
Consider Phlebas is a long space opera set against the background of an epic war between two civilizations, one based around artificial intelligence and the other around biological organisms, both fighting because of their differing ideologies. Instead of being about the people running the war, the story focuses on a mercenary, Horza, who seems to be drifting through it.
A sentient AI, the Mind, becomes trapped on a planet of the dead. Both sides want it, and one hires Horza to go after it. This end goal is set up in the first two chapters, but it takes Horza three hundred pages to get to the planet.
I feel like some of this should have been cut. I particularly disliked chapter six, which was a very gross foray into cannibalism that I don’t think was at all necessary. The book also kept cutting to a woman who lived in the Culture, the AI based civilization. She was not at all related to the plot and never interacted with any of the other characters, so I guess her sole purpose was to illuminate the theme of the novel by reflecting on the war? I don’t think her chapters were necessary, and it would have made for a tighter novel if Banks had found some way to weave her observations into the main story thread.
A lot of Consider Phlebas deals with the idea of the war and the death and destruction being pointless and inane. Due to this, it’s no surprise that the characters drop like flies. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel anything or even care when these people died. I kept forgetting that some of them existed or who they were. Most of these characters felt like little more than names, and I never became attached to even the protagonist.
On the positive side, the prose was excellent and there were some imaginative ideas, even if they weren’t as explored as they could have been. The war and ideological conflict was fascinating. The game played in places about to be destroyed was very interesting. In general, the world building was quite good. The book also had enough drive to keep me reading it, which is worth something.
However, overall Consider Phlebas just felt dull. When I finished, I wondered why I’d read it. Plenty of people love this series, so there’s obviously something I’m missing. Still, I have no idea who I’d recommend this one to.