Consider Phlebas

Consider Phlebas, first published in 1987, is a space opera novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks. Written after a 1984 draft, it is the first to feature the Culture.

The novel revolves around the Idiran–Culture War, and Banks plays on that theme by presenting various microcosms of that conflict. Its protagonist Bora Horza Gobuchul is an enemy of the Culture.

Consider Phlebas is Banks's first published science fiction novel and takes its title from a line in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. A subsequent Culture novel, Look to Windward (2000), whose title comes from the previous line of the same poem, can be considered a loose follow-up.

Consider Phlebas
First edition
AuthorIain M. Banks
Audio read byPeter Kenny
Cover artistRichard Hopkinson[1]
SeriesThe Culture
GenreScience fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Followed byThe Player of Games 

Plot summary

The Culture and the Idiran Empire are at war in a galaxy-spanning conflict. A Culture Mind, fleeing the destruction of its ship in an Idiran ambush, takes refuge on Schar's World. The Dra'Azon, godlike incorporeal beings, maintain Schar's World as a monument to its extinct civilisation, forbidding access to both the Culture and the Idirans. Horza, a shape-changing mercenary, is rescued from execution by the Idirans who believe the Dra'Azon guardian may let him onto the planet as in the past he was part of a small group of Changers who acted as stewards. They instruct him to retrieve the Mind.

During Horza's extraction, the Idirans also capture a Special Circumstances agent, Perosteck Balveda. However, the Idiran starship on which he is travelling is soon attacked by a Culture vessel, and Horza is ejected. He is picked up by a pirate ship, the Clear Air Turbulence (CAT). He is forced to fight and kill one of the crew to earn a place. The captain, Kraiklyn, leads them on two disastrous pirate raids in which several of the crew perish. After the second raid Horza is taken prisoner by a cult living on an island on the orbital Vavatch. He escapes after killing the cult leader and makes his way to the main city of Vavatch where he finds Kraiklyn, who is playing "Damage"—a high stakes card game.

Having now changed his appearance to mimic that of the CAT captain, Horza follows him back to the CAT, kills him and returns to the CAT meeting the few remaining original crew. He is introduced to a newly recruited member, whom he recognises as a disguised Perosteck Balveda. Culture agents outside try to capture the ship. Horza manages to lift off and as the fugitives warp away from Vavatch, they see the Orbital destroyed by the Culture warships to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Balveda reveals Horza's identity and he convinces the crew to carry out his mission. A sentient Vavatch drone, Unaha-Closp, has been trapped on the ship and reluctantly joins the team.

They land on Schar's World and search for the Mind in the Command System, a complex of subterranean train stations. They soon discover that the Mind is being hunted by a pair of Idiran soldiers who have killed all the Changers stationed on the planet, and who regard Horza and his crew as enemies, having no knowledge of the Changers' alliance with the Idirans. Horza has kept Balveda alive, and she is taken into the complex. The CAT's crew encounter the Idirans in one of the Command System stations, and after a firefight apparently kill one and capture the other. After tracking the Mind to another station, the drone Unaha-Closp discovers it hiding in the reactor car of a Command System train. The second Idiran, who had been mortally wounded but not killed, sets one of the trains for a collision course to the station. The captured Idiran, Xoxarle, frees himself and in the ensuing impact and firefight the remaining members of the Clear Air Turbulence are killed. Horza pursues Xoxarle and is fatally injured, but the Idiran is killed by Balveda.

Horza dies soon after Balveda gets him to the surface and the Mind is returned to the Culture. In an epilogue, the Mind becomes a starship, and names itself the Bora Horza Gobuchul.


  • Bora Horza Gobuchul is a Changer and an operative of the Idiran Empire. Horza was one of a party of Changers allowed on Schar's World, and for that reason is tasked by the Idirans with retrieving a Mind that had crashed to the planet. Horza is humanoid, but committed to the Idirans because he despises the Culture for its dependence on machines and what he perceives to be spiritual emptiness.
  • Juboal-Rabaroansa Perosteck Alseyn Balveda dam T'seif, usually referred to as Perosteck Balveda, is an operative of the Culture assigned to track and apprehend Bora Horza Gobuchul. She works for the Special Circumstances branch of Contact, and despite being ambivalent about the methods they use, deeply believes in their objectives.
  • Kraiklyn is the captain of the Clear Air Turbulence.
  • Yalson is a slightly furry humanoid woman working aboard the Clear Air Turbulence. She forms an intimate relationship with Horza during the time he is aboard the ship. She ends up carrying his child until she is killed, along with Horza and the rest of the crew, on Schar’s World.


Consider Phlebas, like most of Banks's early SF output, was a rewritten version of an earlier book, as he explained in a 1994 interview:

"Phlebas was an old one too; it was written just after The Wasp Factory, in 1984. I've found that rewriting an old book took much more effort than writing one from scratch, but I had to go back to do right by these things. Now I can go on and start completely new stuff."[2]

Literary significance and criticism

The book was generally very well received as a fast-paced space opera with a morally ambiguous hero and lots of grand scenery and devices. Kirkus Reviews described it as "Overextended and jarring", but "imaginative and gripping in places."[3]

Banks said in an interview:

There's a big war going on in that novel, and various individuals and groups manage to influence its outcome. But even being able to do that doesn't ultimately change things very much. At the book's end, I have a section pointing this out by telling what happened after the war, which was an attempt to pose the question, 'What was it all for?' I guess this approach has to do with my reacting to the cliché of SF's 'lone protagonist.' You know, this idea that a single individual can determine the direction of entire civilizations. It's very, very hard for a lone person to do that. And it sets you thinking what difference, if any, it would have made if Jesus Christ, or Karl Marx or Charles Darwin had never been. We just don't know.[2]


Amazon announced in February 2018 that it has acquired the global television rights to Consider Phlebas, to be adapted by Dennis Kelly into a television series and produced by Plan B Entertainment.[4]


Consider Phlebas, Iain M. Banks, London: Macmillan, 1987, ISBN 0-333-44138-9 (paperback ISBN 1-85723-138-4)


  1. ^ Publication Listing. Retrieved on 2014-05-25.
  2. ^ a b Iain Banks - Interviews. (2007-12-23). Retrieved on 2014-05-25.
  3. ^ "Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks". Kirkus Reviews. April 15, 1988.
  4. ^ "Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks". February 21, 2018.

External links

Clear air turbulence (disambiguation)

Clear-air turbulence is the erratic movement of air masses in the absence of any visual cues.

Clear Air Turbulence may also refer to:

Clear Air Turbulence (album), an album by the Ian Gillan Band

Clear Air Turbulence, a fictional space ship in the science fiction novel Consider Phlebas

Dennis Kelly

Dennis Kelly (born November 16, 1970) is a British writer for film, television and theatre. He co-wrote BBC Three's sitcom Pulling with actress Sharon Horgan, Matilda the Musical with comedian Tim Minchin, and the Channel 4 conspiracy thriller Utopia.

Iain Banks

Iain Banks (16 February 1954 – 9 June 2013) was a Scottish author. He wrote mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks, including the initial of his adopted middle name Menzies ( (listen)).

After the publication and success of The Wasp Factory (1984), Banks began to write on a full-time basis. His first science fiction book, Consider Phlebas, was released in 1987, marking the start of the Culture series. His books have been adapted for theatre, radio and television. In 2008, The Times named Banks in their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In April 2013, Banks announced that he had inoperable cancer and was unlikely to live beyond a year. He died on 9 June 2013.

Idiran–Culture War

The Idiran–Culture War is a major fictional conflict between the Idiran Empire and the Culture in the midst of which Iain M. Banks' science fiction novel Consider Phlebas is set. His later book, Look to Windward, contains many references to the war: particularly the induced supernovae of two stars, which resulted in the deaths of billions of sentient creatures. References to the war can also be found in Excession, Matter, The Player of Games, Surface Detail, and The Hydrogen Sonata.

It has been commented that the Idiran–Culture war, with its juxtaposition of a religiously-fanatical species fighting (and eventually succumbing to) the atheist Culture, shows the author's theme of "antipathy to religious belief, although nominally not to the believers". The commentator also refers to the war as a clash of civilizations in the sense of Samuel P. Huntington.

List of civilisations in the Culture series

Various fictional societies are depicted in the Culture series of Iain M. Banks.

List of spacecraft in the Culture series

This is a list of spacecraft found in the Culture novels and short stories by Iain M. Banks. Most ships in this list are members of The Culture, the hybrid society featured in many of these novels. In this setting, each Culture ship, and some others, is also an artificial intelligence with a distinctive personality. Many of these ships are significant characters in the novels.

Look to Windward

Look to Windward is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 2000. It is Banks' sixth published novel to feature the Culture. The book's dedication reads: "For the Gulf War Veterans".

The novel takes its title from a line in T. S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. It is loosely a sequel to Consider Phlebas, Banks's first published Culture novel. Consider Phlebas took its name from the following line in the poem and dealt with the events of the Idiran-Culture War; Look to Windward deals with the results of the war on those who lived through it.

Mind (The Culture)

In Iain M. Banks' Culture series, most larger starships, some inhabited planets and all orbitals have their own Minds: sapient, hyperintelligent machines originally built by biological species, which have evolved, redesigned themselves, and become many times more intelligent than their original creators. According to Consider Phlebas, a Mind is an ellipsoid object roughly the size of a bus and weighing around 15,000 tons.

These Minds have become an indispensable part of the Culture, enabling much of its post-scarcity amenities by planning and automating society (controlling day-to-day administration with mere fractions of their mental power). The main feature of these Minds—in comparison to extremely powerful artificial intelligences in other fiction—is that the Minds are (by design and by extension of their rational, but "humanistic" thought processes) generally a very benevolent presence, and show no wish to supplant or dominate their erstwhile creators. Though this is commonly viewed in a utopian light, a view where the human members of the Culture amount to little more than pets is supportable.

Orbital (The Culture)

In Iain M. Banks' fictional Culture universe, an Orbital (sometimes also simply called an O or a small ring) is a purpose-built space habitat forming a ring typically around 3 million km (1.9 million miles) in diameter. The rotation of the ring simulates both gravity and a day-night cycle comparable to a planetary body orbiting a star.

Its inhabitants, often numbering many billions, live on the inside of the ring, where continent-sized "plates" have been shaped to provide all sorts of natural environments and climates, often with the aim of producing especially spectacular results.

Orbitals first appear in Banks' 1987 novel Consider Phlebas, and again in many later novels in the series.

Peter Kenny

Peter Kenny is a voice-over artist actor, singer and designer living in South West London. Raised on Merseyside he gained a BA(Hons) in Drama from the University of Hull.


Phlebas may refer to:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a character from T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, part IV

Consider Phlebas, a novel by Iain M. Banks, named after Eliot’s poem

Plan B Entertainment

Plan B Entertainment Inc., more commonly known as Plan B, is an American production company founded in November in 2001 by Brad Grey, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. In 2004, after Pitt and Aniston divorced, Grey became the CEO of Paramount Pictures and Pitt became the sole owner of the company. It currently holds a production deal with Annapurna Pictures, former deals include Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. and New Regency. The president of the company was for many years Dede Gardner, but she and Pitt named Jeremy Kleiner co-president with Gardner in 2013. Three of the production company's movies, The Departed, 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, have won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Special Circumstances

Special Circumstances, abbreviated SC, is a "secret service"-type organisation that exists within the fictional anarchist utopian science fiction civilisation known as the Culture. It forms a background and plot device in several novels and shorter works of Iain M. Banks.

Special Circumstances is part of a larger fictional Culture organisation called Contact, which coordinates Culture interactions with (and in) other less-developed, universe-aware civilisations. SC exists to fulfil this role when circumstances exceed the moral capacity of Contact, or where the situation is highly complex and requires highly specialized skills, such as in The Player of Games. Special Circumstances also does the "dirty work" of the Culture, a function made especially complicated by the normally very high ethical standards the Culture sets itself. SC acts in a way that has been compared with the democratising intentions of real-world liberal intent on overcoming the world's (and especially other nations') evils by benign interference.In the novels, Special Circumstances, essentially a secret service/black ops unit often provides the main plot device linking the Culture and other civilisations being intervened in. The "good works" (for which Special Circumstances does the dirty work) are the wider plot device for allowing interaction between the advanced Culture and the "barbaric" societies it tries to improve. In the same vein, Banks has noted that the perfect society of the Culture creates well-adjusted, content people—who are (for story purposes) rather boring. Therefore, many of the Culture novels deal with outside agents or mercenaries in the employ of Special Circumstances.

The Culture

The Culture is a fictional interstellar post-scarcity civilization or society created by the Scottish writer Iain M. Banks and features in a number of his space opera novels and works of short fiction, collectively called the Culture series.

In the series, the Culture is composed primarily of sentient beings of the pan-human variety, artificially intelligent sentient machines, and a small number of other sentient "alien" life forms. Machine intelligences range from human-equivalent drones to hyper-intelligent Minds. The Culture's economy is maintained automatically by its non-sentient machines, with high-level work entrusted to the Minds' subroutines, which allows its humanoid and drone citizens to indulge their passions, romances, hobbies, or other activities, without servitude. Many of the series' protagonists are humanoids who choose to work for the Culture's elite diplomatic or espionage organisations, and interact with other civilisations whose citizens hold wildly different ideologies, morals, and technologies.

The Culture has a grasp of technology which is advanced relative to most of the other civilisations which share the galaxy. Most of the Culture's citizens do not live on planets but in or on artificial habitats, such as huge orbitals, or on ships, the largest of which are home to billions of individuals. Biologically, the Culture's citizens have been genetically enhanced to live for centuries, and have modified mental control over their physiology, including the ability to introduce a variety of psychoactive drugs into their systems, change biological sex, or switch off pain at will. Culture technology is able to transform individuals into vastly different body forms but, for unclear reasons, the Culture standard form remains fairly close to human.

A central theme of the series is the ethical struggles which face the Culture when interacting with other societies - some of which brutalise their own members, pose threats to other civilisations, or threaten the Culture itself, the reactions to which conflict with the Culture's philosophy of peace and individual freedom. The Culture tends to make major decisions based on the consensus formed by its Minds and, if appropriate, its citizens. In one instance, a direct democratic vote of trillions – the entire population – decided The Culture would go to war with a rival civilisation. Those who objected to the Culture's subsequent militarisation broke off from the meta-civilisation, forming their own separate civilisation; a hallmark of the Culture is its ambiguity. In contrast to the many interstellar societies and empires which share its fictional universe, the Culture is difficult to define, geographically or sociologically, and "fades out at the edges".

The Culture (series)

The Culture series is a science fiction series written by Scottish author Iain M. Banks. The stories centre on the Culture, a utopian, post-scarcity space society of humanoids, aliens, and very advanced artificial intelligences living in socialist habitats spread across the Milky Way galaxy. The main theme of the novels is the dilemmas that an idealistic hyperpower faces in dealing with civilizations that do not share its ideals, and whose behaviour it sometimes finds repulsive. In some of the stories, action takes place mainly in non-Culture environments, and the leading characters are often on the fringes of (or non-members of) the Culture, sometimes acting as agents of Culture (knowing and unknowing) in its plans to civilize the galaxy.

The Sublimed

The Sublimed are alien civilizations in the Culture series of science fiction works by Iain M. Banks who have left the known dimensions of space time behind ("subliming") to take up residence in several higher dimensions. These higher dimensions seem to lack many of the constraints on the development of complexity found in our four dimensions.Individuals and Minds are capable of subliming, and this is described as an ever-present temptation for beings that are bored with or tired of the limited space and time as we know it.

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