The #WritersRead prompt for February was a book set in the future. I chose to read Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks.
I approached the book with a lot of misconceptions. I had expected it to be a long and difficult read, full of stuff I just didn’t get. But while the world Iain M. Banks has created (The Culture) is thoughtful and Consider Phlebas contains many literary themes, it is, at its core, an entertaining novel of high stakes adventure.
I have long wanted to read the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks but kept putting them off for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I started with the wrong book. I tried to read The Algebraist (not part of the Culture series) and had a very difficult time. I didn’t finish the book. Being so long ago, I barely remember anything but being mystified and bored (most likely due to being mystified). But there was something about the book that made me keep trying until I eventually put it aside, figuring I’d try again on audio sometime.
Next, I veered sideways and tried Iain Banks’ fiction, starting with The Wasp Factory. I enjoyed the book, even though it disturbed me. The same with The Quarry which explores remarkably similar themes (sort of).
Meanwhile, I’d been collecting Culture series novels and putting them on the TBR shelf with the hope that one day I’d find the fortitude to begin the series everyone seemed to recommend. It’s on all the lists and everyone loves it. But the books are so BIG and The Algebraist was so… dense.
This month I finally decided to go for it. Consider Phlebas would be my February book. Expecting to have a difficult time, I purchased the audiobook and got listening.
Consider Phlebas is first, and foremost, a story of adventure. Horza, a shape-changing mercenary, is tasked with retrieving a rogue piece of Culture technology. Through a series of misadventures, he attempts to do just that. His progress is dogged by Culture agent, Balveda, and complicated by the crew of the ship he commandeers.
That’s essentially it. The plot. All of it. It’s that simple. Why am I stuck on this point? Because I thought it was going to be a lot more complicated. There were so many years of thought and expectation circling my mind as I went into this novel that I honestly expected not to get it. I even went to Wikipedia after I finished to see if there was anything I missed. Nope.
Simple doesn’t mean bad. (For me, it rarely does. I love simplicity in fiction and literature.) But to answer the question of whether I enjoyed this novel requires another look at my mindset. My simple answer is yes. I enjoyed the story as it unfolded. Banks’ imagination, his characters, the world he created around the plot like a corridor that lit up as you walked along. I never felt overwhelmed by backstory or exposition. As a reader, I remained in-the-moment. But I kept wondering if I was missing something; if it was all too easy. I wondered (as I sometimes do with super literary books) if I lacked the intellect to ‘get’ the underlying message.
The underlying message of this book? There were several.
* No plan survives contact with the enemy.
* Iain Banks has a dark, dark mind. (OMG, that cult.)
* That in the midst of war, there are always hundreds (thousands) of smaller battlefields where the lines of conquest will cross in different directions.
* Bad guys aren’t always all bad and the good guys aren’t always all good.
* We live in a complicated world and that’s not likely to change when we reach other stars.
In summary: while I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, my mindset interfered on some level with my overall appreciation of the story. I was expecting more complications than I got. It’s almost as if I was expecting not to like the book (and to be beset with that same quasi-guilt that attacks when you don’t get a book that everyone else loves). But I actually really, really liked it – even the ending, which was horrible, but not (and I’m not going to explain it any more clearly than that).
The best part is that my Culture journey has begun and I’ll be able to move forward to the next book with just the right mindset. I’ll be ready to continue exploring this universe and have fun. But first, I’m going to go back to the beginning and reread this one.
Other notable reads this month!
Hellbent (Orphan X #3) by Gregg Hurwitz
This series gets better with every book. Evan Smoak was recruited from an orphanage at age twelve and trained to be the ultimate assassin. The series begins several years after Evan has left the Orphan program to become The Nowhere Man. Using his considerable resources, he helps people, one at a time, requiring no payment other than to pay it forward. Every person he helps is to find one other person who needs his services.
The Orphan program isn’t something you can really leave behind, however, and in Hellbent, some of the true demons from Evan’s past will catch up with him.
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Heartfelt and lovely. Trisha is a difficult character to bond with but I came to love her all the same. She’s fierce! I love that while her own convictions make her life more difficult, she persists. Yet she’s not inflexible.
I also enjoyed the family dynamics, the way the siblings tried to support one another, even though they all had such full agendas, mental and physical. It wasn’t easy for them to make time for each other, or sometimes to make space in their faults. But they did it anyway.
The food aspect of this novel will be one I remember the most because that’s me. I remember the food from books I barely remember the plot of (not that this book isn’t memorable). I actively salivated reading this and may have even groaned audibly at one point (okay, two). We will be eating my best attempt at Indian this week… and, lucky me(!), there’s a recipe at the back that looks pretty easy to follow.
America’s Game: The NFL at 100 by Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams
The kind of book you’ll sip at for months, discovering moments and reliving others. A must-read for football fans. Several favourite aspects:
* the organisation of historical information into quarters
* so many great stories and annecdotes
* photos and quotes from players
* all the facts
The best part, though, is the uncompromised voices of co-authors Jerry Rice and Randy O. Williams as they share their love of American’s Game.