THE CULTURE FAQ

This FAQ anwsers questions about The Culture novels written by the Scottish author Iain M. Banks. It was originally written for questions posted to the alt.books.iain-banks newsgroup but now serves the wider web community.
The FAQ was last updated on: 2008-07-25.

The author of this FAQ can be contacted using this web email form, click here.

Contents of The Culture FAQ.

What are The Culture novels?

In published order The Culture novels are:

What books by Iain Banks have been published?

What is The Culture?

Why does Banks publish his mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks and his science fiction under Iain M Banks?

Are there any websites dealing with Iain Banks or any on-line articles about him, about his work or with lots of Banks web links?

I'm addicted to the Culture books; where can I get another fix?

Is IMB going to write another Culture novel and if so when? OR What is his next book going to be?

Is it necessary to read the Culture novels in order?

What's the deal with Use Of Weapons, I heard this was IMB's first Culture book?

When is the prologue and epilogue in Use Of Weapons set? OR is Banks going to write a sequel to Use Of Weapons?

What are IMB's science fiction novels that are not Culture novels?

Is there an on-line Epilogue for Against A Dark Background?

What was IMB's first novel, didn't he write one while still a teenager?

Which is the best Culture novel?

What is the deal with all The Culture Ship names?

What are the different ship types?

Is there a definitive list of the ship names found in The Culture novels?

Is there a timeline to show when Culture events happened in terms of the year on Earth?

Is there anywhere I can see Culture based artwork?

Where can I find the essay: "The Culture Is The Answer" by Thomas Gramstad? Or: Are there any academic essays about The Culture?

Where did the title of Consider Phlebas come from?

What is the relevance of the title of Consider Phlebas?

I heard that Inversions is actually a Culture novel, is it?

Is an Orbital the same as one of Larry Niven's Ringworlds?

What recommendations for SF books does IMB have? OR: I heard that IMB's gave Arena magazine a list of his Top Ten SF books. What are they?

Have any of the Culture books had their film rights sold or been optioned?

Question to IMB: Which would you like to see filmed?

Did Iain Banks also write these books?

The Questions Linked Below This Warning Contain Major Spoilers

The End of Look To Windward... Was 'it' part of The Culture?

Can you explain what Inversions was about and exactly why it is considered a Culture novel.

What is the timeline in Use Of Weapons?

What is the last page of Excession all about?

What are The Culture novels?

The Scottish author Iain M. Banks has created a highly advanced space faring society called The Culture. In it phenomenally intelligent machines called 'Minds' run a civilization that many would consider as utopia or as close as you can get to it.

Banks realized that a science fiction book set in utopia would be very dull and so he created 'Contact' the branch of The Culture that handles the dealing with, and meeting of, other civilizations. The plots of his Culture books all revolve around Contact and its espionage division called 'Special Circumstances'.

In published order The Culture novels are:

Consider Phlebas (1987)
The Player of Games (1988)
Use of Weapons (1990)
The State Of The Art (1991) (Novella)
Excession (1996)
Inversions (1998) (See questions later in the FAQ)
Look To Windward (2000)
Matter (2008)

What books by Iain Banks have been published?

The Wasp Factory (1984 NON-SF)
Walking on Glass (1985 NON-SF)
The Bridge (1986 NON-SF)
Consider Phlebas (1987 SF CULTURE)
Espedair Street (1987 NON-SF)
The Player of Games (1988 SF CULTURE)
Canal Dreams (1989 NON-SF)
Use of Weapons (1990 SF CULTURE)
The State Of The Art (1991 SS)
The Crow Road (1992 NON-SF)
Against a Dark Background (1993 SF)
Complicity (1993 NON-SF)
Feersum Endjinn (1994 SF)
Whit (1995 NON-SF)
Excession (1996 SF CULTURE)
A Song of Stone (1997 NON-SF)
Inversions (1998 SF CULTURE)
The Business (1999 NON-SF)
Look To Windward (2000 SF CULTURE)
Dead Air (2002 NON-SF)
Raw Spirit (2003 NON-FICTION)
The Algebraist (2004 SF)
The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007 NON-SF)
Matter (2008 SF CULTURE)

NON-SF - Not science fiction
SF - Science fiction
SF CULTURE - Science fiction set in The Culture galaxy.
SS - The State Of The Art is a book of short stories that includes NON-SF, SF and SF CULTURE in the form of a 120 page Culture novella.

What is The Culture?

The Culture is a kind of anarchist utopia (for the most part). It's inhabitants are a mixture of mostly humanoid species and intelligent machines. These machines fall into several categories: Minds are super intelligent and are generally found in the Culture's ships - in fact it could be said they 'are' the ships. Sometimes in the case of a huge ship, say, a General Systems Vehicle (which may have a population measured in the hundreds of millions or billions) there are more than one Mind, typically three. Hub's are a special kind of Mind that are located on one of the Culture's non-ship habitats (more on this later) and perform a similar role. Finally Drones, these come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and have varying levels of intelligence though typically of at least one and a half times that of the intelligence of a typical Culture humanoid, but sometimes much greater than that.

There is no hierarchy as such in the Culture's society every individual (machine or organic) is equal. The Culture is post- scarcity due to sophisticated technology. That is to say because the Culture can manipulate things at an atomic level anything can be produced with ease so anybody can have almost anything they want. Money, therefore, has no place in the Culture (in fact the Culture considers money to be a sign of poverty).

The Culture has no laws, anybody can do pretty much what they want to do. It would be very hard for a member of the Culture to kill someone else (it would be considered very strange to even want to) but if you did do this you would be slap-droned, which is having a drone follow you around forever, making sure you didn't do it again. Worse though would be the social reaction; no one would want to talk to you.

Organic life forms in the Culture have been genetically modified (geno-fixed) with all kinds of things. You can initiate a sex change by thinking about it or put a pregnancy on hold for as long as you wish. Drug glands in your brain allow all kinds of mood enhancements like; improving speed of thought, relief of tiredness, inebriation, concentration, among many others. You don't get sick and a typical life span would be of several centuries.

Inhabitants of the Culture live in/on a variety of habitats. A few live on planets but there are only a few hundred inhabited planets in the Culture. The Culture's 'cities' are its GSV's (General Systems Vehicles), most have hundreds of millions of residents or even billions. Rocks consist of a converted asteroid and, like planets, living on one is unusual rather than the norm. The other forms of habitat are all manufactured. The most abundant of these are Orbitals which are giant rings in orbit around a star. Plates are similarly in orbit but are a pair of huge plates. Rings are an even bigger version of an Orbital, instead of orbiting a star they encircle one. Many members of Contact (see below) live on a type of ship called a GCU (General Contact Unit) on which they travel to observe, meet or interfere with other civilizations.

Banks realized that a science fiction book set in utopia would be very dull and so he created 'Contact' the branch of The Culture that handles the dealing with, and meeting of, other civilizations. The plots of his Culture books all revolve around Contact and its espionage division called 'Special Circumstances'.

For further information, assuming you've read the books, read IMB's essay called A Few Brief Notes Of The Culture which is available on- line at the addresses shown later in this FAQ.

Why does Banks publish his mainstream fiction under the name Iain Banks and his science fiction under Iain M. Banks?

Firstly the 'M' stands for Menzies, it is a 'family' name. Banks has said that he regrets adding the 'M' because 'literary types' have suggested that he wishes to make a distinction between his serious side of writing (non-SF) and his 'dumbing down' side of SF. Banks loathes this attitude and the way many among the literary establishment look down on SF as not being serious writing.

Banks had been considering writing his SF under the pseudonym of 'John B. Macallan'. This was derived from two of his favorite whiskies; Johhny Walker and Macallan's. However his publisher did not think this was appropriate. The addition of the 'M' seemed like a better idea partly because two of his uncles had complained that it had been left out on The Wasp Factory ("Are you ashamed of being a 'Menzies' then?") and also because there was a historical precedent with Brian Aldiss who becomes Brian W. Aldiss when writing non-SF.

Are there any websites dealing with Iain Banks or any on-line articles about him, about his work, or with lots of Banks web links?

Iain Banks's web site can be found here:
http://www.iainbanks.net/index.htm

There is a lot of Iain Banks information on Wikipedia, found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iain_Banks

These links have lists of Iain Banks related web addresses:
http://directory.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Genres/Science_Fiction/Authors/B/Banks,_Iain_M./
http://dmoz.org/Arts/Literature/Genres/Science_Fiction/Authors/B/Banks,_Iain_M./

See also this question in the FAQ:
Is there anywhere I can see Culture based artwork?

I'm addicted to the Culture books; where can I get another fix?

There is a Culture novella of approximately 120 pages called The State Of The Art published in a book of short stories (see NB below) with the same name, The State Of The Art (1991).

Banks has also written an essay called A Few Brief Notes Of The Culture which is available on-line here:
http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/~stefan/culture.html
http://www.i-dig.info/culture/culturenotes.html

There are also two short stories:
A Gift From The Culture - Published in The State Of The Art.
Descendant - Published in The State Of The Art and in Tales From The Forbidden Planet (1987).

At one time A Gift From The Culture was available on-line. This is no longer the case.

NB: At least one edition of The State Of The Art contains only that novella and not the short stories.

Is IMB going to write another Culture novel and if so when? OR What is his next book going to be?

The latest Culture novel, Matter, was published in 2008.

In August 2000, Banks was asked if he was fed up with writing Culture novels, this is what he replied:

"Not fed up. I've no definite plans for the next one and it's probably a long way down the line if/when it does happen, but I find it hard to imagine I won't write about the Culture again".

Obviously Banks said this years before he wrote Matter and there was an eight year gap between writing Look To Windward (2000) and Matter (2008). There is no current news available as to what Banks' next book will be or whether he will write another Culture novel.

Is it necessary to read the Culture novels in order?

In short - no. [-- But I would. :-) --]

In long - not really. Much discussion on the internet on this subject has thrown up the following (somewhat conflicting) advise.

a) Yes, read them in order. (Most people say to do this.)
b) No, it doesn't matter what order.
c) No, but start with either The Player Of Games or Use Of Weapons.
d) i. No, read them in any order but don't start with Excession.
d) ii. I started with Excession and loved it.
e) I suggest you read Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games at the same time! ;-) (Suggested by Loznic.)

It is not really a big deal especially when you consider that none of the characters in any of the Culture novels appear in more than one book (with a small exception concerning Diziet Sma who is in a novel and in one of the short stories, and various Minds that feature in Excession and get mentioned in Look To Windward).

It is fair to say that you won't spoil any aspect of any of the books by reading another first. Some people argue that reading Look To Windward before Consider Phlebas would be a mistake (I take that view). It should be said that the technology level of The Culture progresses in line with the published order due to the fact that several 1000 years pass between the events of Consider Phlebas and those of Matter.

My personal opinion is to read them in published order because I see no good reason why not to and they work so well in published order.

What's the deal with Use Of Weapons, I heard this was IMB's first Culture book?

Banks wrote an extremely long book, about 250,000 words (a typical novel is between 60,000 and 85,000 words) called Use Of Weapons before any of his books were published. Having been published as both an SF and mainstream fiction author he re-wrote Use Of Weapons after encouragement from his friend and fellow SF author Ken MacLeod. The book was cut down to a sensible length and the dual running time line was introduced at Ken's suggestion.

When is the prologue and epilogue in Use Of Weapons set? OR is Banks going to write a sequel to Use Of Weapons?

Here's what Banks wrote when asked if he was going to write a sequel to Use Of Weapons.

"No; I don't tend to do sequels. The last bit of UoW is there to imply that another story, similar to Zakalwe's (even down to Sma's involvement and some history to do with a chair) is about to begin, and has been at least partially instigated by Z's own actions. And of course Z is back to his old tricks too, because both the prologue and the epilogue take place after the main action of the book. So it all continues..."

Opinions differ as to whether Zakalwe is still working for Special Circumstances at this stage or whether he has gone freelance again. There don't seem to be any clues one way or the other. Even Banks' comment above about Sma's involvement doesn't help because she could be involved regardless of whether Zakalwe is working for SC or not.

What are IMB's science fiction novels that are not Culture novels?

Against a Dark Background (1993)
Feersum Endjinn (1994)
The Algebraist (2004)

Is there an on-line Epilogue for Against A Dark Background (non-Culture SF novel)?

Against A Dark Background is not a Culture novel but it is an IMB science fiction novel. There is an epilogue for this which did not appear in the book, it can be found here:
http://www.i-dig.info/culture/aadbep.html

NB: Publishers - if I am breaching any copyright by hosting this file on my server, please let me know and it will be removed.

What was IMB's first novel, didn't he write one while still a teenager?

Here is what IMB's said about this:

"I tried writing my first novel when I was 14 (thought I had, too, till I did a word-count) and wrote something resembling one when I was 16 (the snappily titled The Hungarian Lift-Jet)".

Banks's first published novel was The Wasp Factory (1984).

Which is the best Culture novel?

This is obviously totally subjective. The general consensus in the online discussion that I have read is that either Use Of Weapons or The Player Of Games is the best Culture novel. Personally I am split between the two, and can not decide. They are all good. Inversions (1998) is the least like a typical Culture novel and Look To Windward (2000) is my least favourite, though I still enjoyed it.

What is the deal with all The Culture Ship names?

The Culture is largely 'run' by its Minds and most of these are themselves 'ships' - space faring vehicles of many different types (see the next question for a list of Culture ship types and the one after that for ship names). Typically Culture ships will choose clever, interesting or witty names for themselves such as; the 'Ultimate Ship The Second' and the 'Unfortunate Conflict Of Evidence'. Banks is fond of the name of the aggressive warship, the 'Frank Exchange Of Views'.

What are the different ship types?

GCU General Contact Unit (Mentioned class: Delinquent)
GSV General System Vehicle
LSV Limited System Vehicle
MSV Medium Systems Vehicle (Original GSV concept, now reclassified MSV, Mentioned Class: Desert)
GOU General Offensive Unit
LOU Limited Offensive Unit (Mentioned class: Hooligan)
ROU Rapid Offensive Unit (Mentioned classes: Abominator, Torturer, Gangster, Inquisitor, Killer, Psychopath, Thug, Scree (LCU) demilitarized Rapid Offensive Unit and renamed "Very Fast Picket" in The Player Of Games)


All of these Culture ships are sentient by virtue of having a Mind. Most GSV's have three Minds.

Is there a definitive list of the ship names found in The Culture novels?

Not any more. The current, incomplete list, has all the ship names up to, and including, Look To Windward (2000) (however the Look To Windward ship names have not been verified and may be partially incomplete. The list has no ship names from Matter (2008).

The current list is here:
http://www.i-dig.info/culture/cultureshiplist.txt

NB: If anyone wishes to provide a ship list from Matter or verify the ship names from Look To Windward, please use the contact form to contact me.

Is there a timeline to show when Culture events happened in terms of the year on Earth?

Yes, this is is. Note that the events of Matter (2008) are not included. I can't remember who created this so apologies for the lack of a credit to the creator. I modified it slightly according to the discussion that followed it's posting on the usenet.


7250 BC : Phage Rock first inhabited. Note: This is a best guess, it was certainly pre 7000 BC.
7000 BC : Birth of the Culture
0500 AD : Zetetic Elench split from Culture
0970 AD : Pittance discovered. Note: +/- 100 years.
1267 AD : Hostilities begin between Idir and Culture.
1289 AD : First warship built by Culture.
1307 AD : First machine fatalities between Idir and Culture.
1326 AD : Culture War Council creation results in the splitting of some sections from the main part of Culture.
1327 AD : Official start of war between Culture and Idir.
1330 AD : Events of Consider Phlebas. Note: Possible inaccuracy.
1332 AD : Homomda joins war on Idir side.
1366 AD : Twin Novae Battle of Arm One-Six. Note: Possible inaccuracy.
1367 AD : End of Culture-Idiran War in space.
1375 AD : Official end of Culture-Idiran War.
1575 AD : Pittance modified to become Culture weapons store. Note: Best guess.
1977 AD : Culture GCU "Arbitrary" visits Earth (from The State of the Art).
2070 AD : Events of The Player Of Games. Note: +/- 100 years.
2080 AD : Diziet Sma recounts events of The State of the Art, possibly while in route to Crastallier. Note: +/- 10 years.
2093 AD : Sma writes poem, 'Slight Mechanical Destruction' after the events of Use Of Weapons. Note: 115 Khmer calendar, Earth.
2100 AD : Events of Excession. Note: +/- 100 years but Excession events definitely after The Player Of Games.
2170 AD : Light from the Twin Novae Battle reaches Masaq' Orbital; events of Look To Windward. Note: +/- 10 years.

Is there anywhere I can see Culture based artwork?

A collection of excellent 3D rendered scenes, inspired by the Culture books, and designed by Chris Lynas, can be found at Chris's web page named 'Fastness' (formerly called 'Excession') here:
http://www.fastness.co.uk/

Where can I find the essay: "The Culture Is The Answer" by Thomas Gramstad? Or: Are there any academic essays about The Culture?

Thomas Granstad has written a fascinating essay called "The Culture Is The Answer" in which he shows how The Culture embodies "the essential virtues of Objectivist social theory." He also argues that looking at The Culture can suggest ways of correcting "major shortcomings of current Objectivist thought".

This description of the article may sound dry but the article is well written and interesting. "The Culture Is The Answer" can be found here:
http://www.i-dig.info/culture/cultureistheanswer.html

Where did the title of Consider Phlebas come from?

The title of Consider Phlebas comes from a 1922 poem called The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot.

This is the relevent extract:

Part 4 - Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering whirpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

The whole poem can be found on-line easily with a Google search, click here to do so.

It should also be noted that Banks's 2000 Culture novel, Look To Windward, takes its title from the line immediately preceding 'Consider Phlebas'. Unsurprisingly Banks is a fan of T. S. Eliot's poetry.

What is the relevance of the title of Consider Phlebas?

Banks has given two answers to this that I am aware of. Firstly that is sounds cool (which it does). Secondly that a drowned mariner is a good image to invoke for a novel about a shipwrecked 'sailor' who falls in with a gang of pirates, and there is also a sea-change when Horza 'changes' while on the surface of the sea.

I heard that Inversions is actually a Culture novel, is it?

This description of Inversions is deliberately vague so as not to be a spoiler for the book. A better answer is in the spoilers section at the very bottom of this FAQ (but do not read this unless you have already read the book).

Inversions contains references that people who have read The Culture novels will recognize. So Inversions is set in The Culture galaxy. But the book does not contain the word "Culture" or any descriptions of spaceships or other overtly high-tech items.

The book shows the Culture influencing another society from the point of view of members of the society being influenced. They never hear of the Culture itself, but the standard components of a Culture novel - an attempt by the Culture to influence another civilization, with a Culture agent as one of the main characters - are there.

Is an Orbital the same as one of Larry Niven's Ringworlds?

Here's what Banks writes on the subject in A Few Brief Notes Of The Culture:

"Perhaps the easiest way to envisage an Orbital is to compare it to the idea that inspired it (this sounds better than saying; Here's where I stole it from). If you know what a Ringworld is - invented by Larry Niven; a segment of a Dyson Sphere - then just discard the shadow- squares, shrink the whole thing till it's about three million kilometres across, and place in orbit around a suitable star, tilted just off the ecliptic; spin it to produce one gravity and that gives you an automatic 24-hour day-night cycle (roughly; the Culture's day is actually a bit longer). An elliptical orbit provides seasons."

What recommendations for SF books does IMB have? OR: I heard that IMB gave Arena magazine a list of his Top Ten SF books. What are they?

Here is Banks's Top Ten SF books that he specified in an interview in Arena magazine.

01. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert Heinlen
02. Tiger! Tiger! - Alfred Bester
03. Hyperion - Dan Simmons
04. Fire Upon The Deep - Vernor Vinge
05. Neuromancer - William Gibson
06. The Dispossessed - Ursula K Le Guin
07. The Muller-Fokker Efect - John Sladek
08. The Pastel City - M John Harrison
09. Stand on Zanzibar - John Brummer
10. Babel-17 - Samuel R Delany

Have any of the Culture books had their film rights sold or been optioned?

Pathe have optioned The Player of Games. Whether or not the option is still active is unknown.

Banks has said he would most like Consider Phlebus filmed and 'could live' with the ending being changed if necessary (see the next question).

No films of Culture books have yet been made.

Question to IMB: Which would you like to see filmed?

Banks was asked in an interview which of his SF books he would like to see filmed.

Q. How would you like to see your science fiction books filmed, if at all?

A. With a very, very, very big budget indeed. The one I'd most like to see done is Consider Phlebas; if they kept in the sequence where the megaship hits the giant tabular iceberg, the fist-fight under the giant hovercraft, the bit where the Clear Air Turbulence escapes from the GSV, and the final train wreck, I wouldn't even mind if they changed it to a happy ending!

Did Iain Banks also write these books?

Classic Glamour Photography (August 1989)
Allanfearn Sewage Farm Archaeological Assessment (July 1993)

Both of these books were written by 'an' Iain Banks but not by 'our' Iain Banks.

It also seems likely that these books were written by two different Iain Banks. It is unlikely that someone would specialize in both archaeological sewage farms and classic glamour photography. I am, however, hoping to be proved wrong on this!

The Questions Linked Below This Warning Contain Major Spoilers

The end of Look To Windward apparently has a Culture entity acting in revenge and committing murder. Did I get this right? Or what's going on the Culture doesn't behave like this?

Banks has confirmed that this is correct, the Culture is, via Special Circumstances, responsible for the murderous entity.

Here's what IMB said about it:

"All I can say is that at this sort of level - the realpolitik level of attempting to prevent the sort of attack that might kill billions of civilians - even the Culture throws away its usual moral rule-book. This is what SC is for, in a sense. That doesn't make such actions right, just less wrong, and arguably less wrong that not acting at all or, as I said earlier, acting too predictably. Besides; I've always said the Culture is as close as something remotely like us could ever get to a genuine Utopian state; I never said it was perfect."

In the quotation above IMB refers to something he said earlier about predictably. Here is what he said:

"But behaving wildly (and viciously) out of character means that the bad-guys can't ever exactly predict what they can get away with before the Culture steps in, or how bad the retribution will be. And of course, there's lots of different tendencies within SC... maybe it was just a nasty Mind on the duty roster that day."

Can you explain what Inversions was about and exactly why it is considered a Culture novel.

Both the Doctor and DeWar are from the Culture, though the Doctor is there as an SC agent and DeWar is there as a Culture dropout. They are the pair of friends that DeWar tells children's stories about.

The name "Inversions" has to do with the fact that the Doctor and DeWar each favored a different style of involvement in other cultures, and each of them ends up having to use the other's style; the Doctor ends up killing people and DeWar ends up not killing someone who it is his job to kill. The novel is also an 'inversion' of most of the other Culture novels, which tell the stories of the Culture's involvement with other societies from a Culture perspective, Consider Phlebas is however another exception.

The Doctor's knife is a knife missile; it's unclear whether she killed the earlier people, but I think not, it would be out of character, and it seems far more likely to me that the Captain of the Guard was having these people assassinated, because their plotting was going against the King's will and threatening the King's valuable doctor.

Oelph is telling us all this so there can be a conventional narrative device, having one of the characters tell the story at the end of his life. It couldn't be one of the Culture characters because then we'd know too much.

DeWar goes native and later dies in an avalanche, if I remember rightly. The Doctor returns to SC.

What is the timeline in Use Of Weapons?

Childhood; lives with aristocratic family during troubled times; eventually grows up and starts a revolution (stopped by the real Cheradenine); kills Darkense in gruesome manner and then escapes homeworld on STL cryoship while disguised as Cheradenine.

Another world/another war - left for dead on ice flows; rescued by Diziet and offered chance of working for SC presumably because of the politics he'd been espousing.

Wanders GSV, meets Chori; learns about what's expected of him.

Another world/first job for the Culture; escorts The Chosen One to the Perfumed Palace, tries consciousness expanding drug as payment from his tribe.

Initial Voerenhutz job - sets up Beychae as El Presidente of system.

Takes some time off; tries to become a poet; fails miserably.

Another mission (gone wrong?); left for dead in caldera; escapes by dragging his body around a rock to form a local rescue symbol.

'Heretic' war; takes cross-eyed woman captive after ambush; wins war again but demoted and discharged for apparently being too successful...

Lives with Shias Engin, the poet, again miserably fails to lead La Dolce Vita'.

His disintegration begins... Beheaded on Fohls (and if that wasn't traumatic enough he also loses that piece of Darkense); has new body grown; learns of Chori's death. Skaffen sends him a hat. [:] <- Drone Smiley

First escape from Culture; lives on beach as hermit - frightens locals.

Refuses to break out of the Winter palace siege contrary to what SC wants (Mythoclast culture?).

Goes away for second time; destroys knife missile to escape Culture control; nearly wrecks a planet with his brand of social tinkering; found and brought back by Diziet.

Main storyline of UoW; returns to Voerenhutz; saves Beychae; betrayed by SC on Balzeit; shaves bonce, gets badly hurt, refuses medical help.

Returns to homeworld; has aneurism during Livueta's revelation; saved by Skaffen.

Sma recruits a new operative from Balzeit.

Zakalwe is freelancing (or maybe working for SC, it is unclear) on some forgotten planet nuking the locals (prologue and epilogue of UoW).

Thanks to snark^ for creating this timeline.

What is the last page of Excession all about?

In the alt.books.iain-banks newsgroup Richard Puchalsky gave the definitive answer, here is what he wrote:


It's really not that obscure.

"call me highway call me conduit call my lightning rod scout catalyst observer"

The Excession is listing its main functions. "highway" and "conduit" are pretty obvious; the Excession is a means for travelers to pass from one universe to another, as the Culture has hypothesized. "scout" and "observer"; well, the Excession obviously observed the local part of our universe where it appeared, for reasons that it mentions later. "lightning rod" and "catalyst" are a bit tougher, but you can make up your own theories for those. The main question is whether the Excession is listing part of its universe-connecting function, or whether it means that it's catalyzing something in the local social situation. By guess is the first.

"call me what you will i was there when i was required"

The Excession is mainly motivated by its task or job, it seems.

"through me passed the overarch bedeckants in their great sequential migration across the universes of [no translation] the marriage parties of the universe groupings of [no translation] and the emissaries of the lone bearing the laws of the new from the pulsing core the absolute center of our nested home"

The Excession is referring to the set of nested universes with a Big Bang going off in the center that features in Culture universe cosmology. The "overarch bedeckants" and the other parties mentioned all sound like varieties of what the Culture might call equiv-tech cultures; different groups that all know enough to know how to use the Excession to travel from one universe to another. Marriage parties and emissaries are mentioned, but are both probably figurative or philosophical roles rather than literal ones. "Overarch bedeckants" comes from two actual words; "overarching" can mean either "forming an arch overhead" or "dominating or embracing all else", "bedeck" means "to clothe with finery" (Merriam-Webster). The Excession referring to the set of universes as "our nested home" makes it clear that these groups live there, travel from one universe to another is routine for them.

"all this the rest and the others I received as i was asked and transmitted as i was expected without fear favor or failure"

The Excession views its main purpose as the carrying out of its job or task of transportation for all comers (all comers who know enough about inter-universal travel, that is).

"and only in the final routing of the channel i was part of did i discharge my duty beyond normal procedures"

Now we get to the plot of the book.

"when i moved from a position where my presence was causing conflict in the micro-environment concerned (see attached)

The Excession, as we already guessed, realized that people were about to start fighting over it. Of course its location is a "micro-environment"; it's a small part of one galaxy in one universe. Note that the Excession has someone to make reports to.

"considering it prudent to withdraw and reposition myself and my channel-tract where for some long time at least it was again unlikely i would be discovered"

The Excession just moved its apparent position from one place in our universe to another, because it didn't want to cause trouble.

"the initial association with the original entity _peace makes plenty_ and the (minor) information-loss ensuing was not as i would have wished but as it represented the first full such liaison in said micro-environment i assert hereby it fell within acceptable parameters"

The Excession treats what we would think of as death as information-loss, since if it has a full mind-state pattern for someone, it can always just make a copy of them anyway (and it considers perfect copies to be equivalent to the original). Here it's confirmed that the Excession is not really bloodthirsty or expansionist, it regrets having to destroy the entities that were trying to probe it. Note that this bit of its report, amusingly, is what is currently known as CYA.

"i present the entity _peace makes plenty_ and the other above-mentioned collected / embraced / captured / self-submitted entities as evidence of the environment's general demeanor within its advanced / chaotic spectrum-section"

The Excession has captured (recreated from their mind-states) a grab bag of what the Culture would call Involveds (that's what advanced / chaotic spectrum-section means). Some really were self-submitted, like the _Gray Area_ and the _Sleeper Service_. _peace makes plenty_ gets pride of place because it was first captured, apparently.

"and urge that they be observed and studied free"

i.e. free to move about within the Excession's interior, or within its associated civilization(s), presumably. The entities are going to be recreated as entities, not just studied as inactive mind-states.

"with the suggested proviso that any return to their home environment is potentially accompanied by postassociation memory confiscation"

i.e. if they want to go home, they'll have their memories of the interior of the Excession blanked out.

"in the linked matter of the suitability of the relevant inhabitants of the micro-environment for (further or ordered) communication or association it is my opinion that the reaction to my presence indicates a fundamental unreadiness as yet for such a signal honor"

As the Minds discussing the incident afterwards guessed, the irresponsible plot had helped to convince the Excession that the Culture and other local Involveds were not yet ready for contact.

"lastly in recognition of the foregoing i wish now to be known hereafter as _the excession_ thank you end"

The Excession has taken a name from this incident. I found this to be the single most interesting part of this page, because almost everything else is just a confirmation of what some character has already guessed at previously in the book. It implies that the excession is not as "liberated" as the Culture's Minds, perhaps considered by its society to be more like what the Culture would consider an AI. It didn't have a name to change, it adopted a name where it had none. Did the Culture inadvertently start something?

Also note that this kind of thing must be fairly unusual for the Excession, or it wouldn't be recognizing it in this way. In most of its universal linkings, it probably doesn't get noticed by the locals.

That's pretty much it.

Thanks Richard.