A Second Read: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks


Upon hearing the sad news that Iain Banks will soon leave us, I picked up Consider Phlebas for a second read. I found the book just as enjoyable as the first time around, probably because it had been several years since I read it. I don’t read many books twice, and this one has its flaws, but it’s hard to find a more well-rounded piece of space opera. 
I don’t like Horza, the protagonist. He’s a reasonably honorable character, but too capable of killing without remorse. I do like the realistic portrayal of Horza. 
At the top of the list of Cool Things in this book for me is the Idirans, a tripedal religious-fundamentalist, galaxy-spanning military theocracy. Their anatomy/physiology is fascinating enough, but I cannot resist being drawn in by their throwback warrior culture. 
I’d wager Banks has spent some time between the covers of Thucydides’ classic The Peloponnesian War. I see the Culture as a fictional incarnation of ancient Athens with its internal freedoms and vast empire of tightly controlled states. The Idirans’ resemblance to ancient Sparta, a totalitarian state fighting against an all-consuming empire, is complete down to the Medjel race taking the place of the Helots of ancient Greece. I think the most excellent science fiction has roots in human history and politics, and the Culture novels are no exception.


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