Iain M. Banks’ Culture Series Reading Order

With Iain M. Banks’ sudden and untimely death in 2013 I took it upon myself to gather some of his works and at last begin working through his Culture (spoilers at that link) series of novels.  I’ve known of Banks for many years, but I’ve just not picked up any of his books . . . until now.  His Culture series is highly regarded by many readers, and is often credited with reviving the space opera sub genre in the late 1980s.

I now have most of the books and will be working my way through them, updating this reference page with applicable ratings as well as links to full reviews on Infinispace much like I did with Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series.  This may take several years, as I have no set timeline for completion.  I tend to mix up my reading quite a bit, not solely focusing on one author/series until I’m done.  And the Culture series lends itself exactly to that!

 

Iain M. Banks’ Culture Series:

The beautiful thing about this series is that every book/story is not linearly or thematically dependent on another.  There is no reading chronology, or timeline to adhere to, though many people recommend starting with The Player of Games.  I’m choosing to simply start at the beginning and work my way through in the order the books were published.

Below is the full and complete Culture Series.  Enjoy!

BOOK DESCRIPTION
Consider Phelbas by Iain M. Banks

Consider Phlebas (1987)

Culture #1 – 1331 AD
Consider Phlebas is a fair to middling space opera novel and the beginning of Banks’ Culture Series. Unfortunately, while the novel is rife with adventure and mayhem, the reader never gets the grand payoff set up at the beginning of Bora Horza Gobuchul’s galactic odyssey.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Full review link

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games (1988)

Culture #2 – 2080 AD
A bored member of the Culture is blackmailed into being the Culture’s agent in a plan to subvert a brutal, hierarchical empire. His mission is to win an empire-wide tournament by which the ruler of the empire is selected.
Full review link (TBD)

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (1990)

Culture #3 – 2092 AD
Chapters describing the current mission of a Culture special agent born and raised on a non-Culture planet alternate with chapters that describe in reverse chronological order earlier missions and the traumatic events that made him who he is.
Full review link (TBD)

The State of the Art by Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art (1991)

Culture #4 – Various years
A short story collection. In the title novella, the Mind in charge of an expedition to Earth decides not to make contact or intervene in any way, but instead to use Earth as a control group in the Culture’s long-term comparison of intervention and non-interference.
Full review link (TBD)

Excession by Iain M. Banks

Excession (1996)

Culture #5 – 2067 AD
An alien artifact far advanced beyond the Culture’s understanding is used by one group of Minds to lure into war a civilization the behavior of which they disapprove; another group of Minds works against the conspiracy. A sub-plot covers how two humanoids make up their differences after traumatic events that happened 40 years earlier.
Full review link (TBD)

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Inversions (1998)

Culture #6 – Unknown date
Recounts what appear to be two concurrent (and conflicting) Culture Contact missions on a planet whose development is roughly equivalent to medieval Europe. The interwoven stories are told from the viewpoint of several of the locals.
Full review link (TBD)

Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks

Look to Windward (2000)

Culture #7 – 2170 AD
The Culture has interfered in the development of a race known as the Chelgrians, with disastrous consequences.  Now, in the light of a star that was destroyed 800 years previously during the Idiran War, plans for revenge are being hatched.
Full review link (TBD)

Matter by Iain M. Banks

Matter (2008)

Culture #8 – 2087 AD
A Culture special agent who is a princess of a feudal society on a huge artificial planet learns that a Regent is trying to usurp the throne.  When she returns in order to stop the Regent, she finds a far deeper threat.
Full review link (TBD)

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

Surface Detail (2010)

Culture #9 – 2970 AD
A young woman seeks revenge on her murderer after being brought back to life by Culture technology.  Meanwhile, a war over the digitized souls of the dead is expanding from cyberspace into the real world.
Full review link (TBD)

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

Culture #10 – 2375-2567 AD
In the last days of the Gzilt civilization that is about to Sublime, a secret from far back in their history threatens to unravel their plans.  Aided by a number of Culture vessels and their avatars, one of the Gzilt tries to discover if much of their history was actually a lie.
Full review link (TBD)

About Neal Ulen

Neal Ulen

Editor/Webmaster – Neal is a writer and recovering engineer who likes pizza, the insidious power of sarcasm (and pizza), and debating science fiction (and pizza). You can also find his writing on Omni, Geeks, and other media platforms.

  • Howard Littler

    The Algebraist? 2005…

    • Hello Howard, While it may read like it, and could possibly fit into the series, The Algebraist is not part of the ‘Culture’.