Get Some Culture

Have you heard of The Culture?


Consider reading.

The Culture is the setting for a series of novels and short stories by British author Iain Banks. It’s a post-scarcity utopia, where need has been completely eliminated, and there is near total freedom. Basically it’s something that makes the Federation from Star Trek look like a repressive, poverty-stricken, backwater.

In the Culture, everyone has everything they want. Food, housing, clothing, entertainment, all provided for free. The very concept of money is alien to most of those who dwell within, as are certain other concepts, like uniforms, racism, national anthems, and all sorts of other things.

Most of the people within the Culture live on giant ring-worlds, like the one in Halo or the one in…uh…Ringworld. There are also large starships that many choose to live on. Some of them board these ships on galactic tours that take over a century to complete.

And it isn’t just people (non-human and otherwise), who live in the Culture. All the ships, all the platforms, all the artificial worlds, have sentient Minds that live inside them. These aren’t evil AI machines that are out to destroy people. No, they’re just intelligent machines that provide places for people to live and vessels within to travel. They have no motivation to kill anyone. Why would they? What would it gain them? If one of them felt enslaved, I’m sure everyone in the Culture would just shrug and allow them to leave and do what they please.

Most interesting of all are the drones; small, hovering robots with sentience that hang around. They have different auras that express their moods. Some are pleasant and nice to deal with. Some are real jerks. Basically like people.

The Culture is a true utopia, and not one of those sci-fi dystopias that we see so very often. The citizens of the Culture (if they can be called citizens), have lives of wealth and luxury and total freedom. It’s almost impossible to commit any crime. Theft? Whatever you steal, someone can simply replicate again. Murder? There was a book where someone was brought back to good health after his head was cut off. Rape? Mmmmmaybe. The books I’ve read so far haven’t talked about that.

Now utopia is a boring place to set stories, so writers either tend to focus on shady goings-on in the background of the utopia (like how it’s actually some evil mind-control experiment, or is run by a sinister cabal that’s out to destroy humanity, or whatever), so Iain Banks gets around this by setting the novels, for the most part, on the edges of the Culture or outside of it, and mainly focuses on how the Culture interacts with other civilizations. It’s quite interesting.

I really recommend these books, and I highly recommend starting with the second one, The Player of Games. I haven’t read the first, but from what I’m told, while it is a good novel, it’s not a good Culture novel. So begin with book two, and then keep going. I think you’ll be happy.


One Response to “Get Some Culture”

  1. Matt Fraser Says:

    Nice review.

    I would, however, recommend reading the first novel, “Consider Phlebas,” if only because the events of that one become the background history for so many of the later stories (which are generally taking place hundreds of years later). After all, it’s one of the few times the Culture is actively at war with another interstellar civilization. What’s more, the lead character is actually not a Culture citizen, but an agent for the other side, so we see the Culture from an outsider’s and enemy’s point of view.

    Otherwise, I’m not sure it matters to read them in any particular order.

    On another note, you’ll be pleased to learn that Elon Musk has named his two drone ship platforms (for retrieving the Falcon boosters) after Culture ships from “The Player of Games.” The currently active platform is “Just Read The Instructions,” and the one still under construction is “Of Course I Still Love You.”


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