Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Do Not Consider Phlebas

First, thanks to Dave for his first guest post.  Great Stuff.

Second, this is a bit off topic but I just read (part of) a really terrible, but massively popular and acclaimed, book.  Consider Phlebas by Iain Banks.  This is the first book in his Culture series, which is also massively popular an acclaimed.  Now, maybe I'm missing the point, and the whole thing is a literary metaphor that just goes over my head.  But I don't think so.  That said...

This book is not good. I was fooled by the reviews because I really like grand intergalactic sci-fi with a broad, complex backdrop. Consider Phlebas tries to be that, but without any new or interesting ideas. Its like someone shook up box full of bad 50's pulp sci-fi and whatever came out was the book. There are the space mercenaries, the super secret genetically modified spy with special powers and secret poison glands, the ultra tech society (which really seems very unimaginatively bland) and of course the interstellar war between implacable enemies. And instead of creating a feeling of grand awe, the vast galaxy of new creatures and cultures is just like a kinda weird big earth. Everyone know everyone, there's a huge crazy card game called "Damage" which is watched across the galaxy by trillions (and yet the main character,Horza, happens to recognize half the people playing in the game he happens upon (which is of course the 'biggest in the galaxy'). Its kinda like how Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect knew everyone in the Universe, except this isn't supposed to be funny (or maybe it is and failed?). Another indication of how small Banks makes this galaxy seem, Horza gets thrown out of a space ship in the middle of a battle, uses his handy in suit warp drive, and yet is conveniently found moments later by a pirate space ship wandering by. Ugh. Aweful.  This is such an "It was raining on Mongo that morning" moment in the book, to quote Jerry Pournelle (who co-wrote, among many great books, The Mote In God's Eye). Please go read some vernor vinge instead if you'd like a galactic space adventure that is truly awe inspiring. Maybe the rest get better, but i doubt it.

Oh, and for now reason apparent to the plot so far (i just quit the book about half way through) Horza is captured by some fat religious cult leader who eats people while forcing his followers to starve eating garbage. Then we get a stupid description of the fat guy eating a prisoner, then eating horza's finger, then falling on his lead disciple and crushing him to death. The Horza escapes and that whole chapter basically meant nothing. And the book opened with Horzon being ritually executed by drowning in the feces and urine of his captors who are attending a party, and its, i guess, some race of all old people called "The Gerontologists" or something retarded like that. UGH!

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