Likes, Loves and Influences: Iain M Banks

This will probably be the last of my LL&I posts (unless I ever do one for Scott Lynch, but he’s a recent love and I think I’ve gushed enough about his books on my blog, so maybe not). This is also part 32 of my 26-Week Book Challenge. I should have posted this last week, but I was feeling a bit meh and took the week off instead.

Before I get going on the post proper, I’d like to take the time to point out a site that might be interesting/of use to other indie authors like myself: Indie Author Land. They dedicate themselves to promoting indie authors, and if you are such an author you can fill in their Author Interview questionnaire entirely for free to be featured on their site.

So, today’s challenge is a book you wish you could live in, which is where Iain M Banks comes in.

I have always been fascinated by the various worlds I have encountered in the many fantasy novels I’ve read, and I’ve often fantasised about being one of the characters in these books. Back when I was a teenager we used to be subscribed to a Dutch comic magazine, Eppo, and one of the regular comics in there was about an inventor. One day he invented a belt that could transport you into a book, albeit as yourself, and I was instantly hooked on the idea. I encountered the idea again in an installment of Tom Poes, another well-known comic character in the Netherlands. (And I also used the idea myself in the story Twisted Fairytale, which I posted on this blog sometime last year.)

So, I’m certainly no stranger to the idea of living in a book, and if I ever were to encounter a genie in a bottle, one of my wishes would be for a device which would allow me to live the life of any character in any book, from birth to death, in the space of about an hour or so.

Which then brings up the question of which characters I would choose to be. I’d happily pick any of the protagonists in any of my own books, but that’s because I’m a wuss and couldn’t hurt them if I tried. The first character who sprang to mind when I first had the idea was Fitzchivalry Farseer, but then I remembered all the horrible things that happen to him in the books, and changed my mind.

Frankly, when you think about all the various worlds and all the horrible things that live in them, the choice of what world I would happily live in becomes easier and easier, and faced with having to choose just one, I’d pick the Culture.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Culture, they are the backbone of many of Iain M Banks’ novels. The Culture are a post-scarcity society, one of the most advanced in the universe, and they are unusual in that they don’t have a home planet. Culture citizens either live on orbitals or on Ships, and each of these are under control of a Mind, an Artificial Intelligence infinitely more advanced/intelligent than humans.

The beauty of the Culture is that despite the superiority of these AIs, there is none of the usual ‘we’re better than humans so let’s kill them all’ vibe you see in so many other science-fiction books that feature AIs. The Minds live in complete harmony with the humanoids, and there are also numerous AI drones, more of a size with humans, wandering around. When you compare this to something like Isaac Asimov’s robot stories, the contrast is refreshing. Not that I dislike Asimov – I love his robot stories, but it’s just cool to have superior AI without that killer instinct.

Since the Culture is a post-scarcity society, there is no real concept of ownership. People live in houses until they get bored with their environment and they move on. They can do whatever the hell they like with their lives, until they eventually get bored with that as well. Then they either choose to die, or they might go into Storage for a few centuries, with instructions to be woken up either when something interesting happens, or just after a certain period of time.

Culture humanoids are chock full of glands, with which they can produce any kind of drug they wish. They can get blind stinking drunk, then let their glands produce something that sobers them up within minutes. They can get as high as a kite if they want, and they can produce drugs that enhance a sexual experience. If there was ever a society purely tailored towards hedonism, the Culture is it.

Basically, I cannot think of a single reason why I wouldn’t want to be a Culture citizen, which is why there was never any contest for this challenge. That said, if I ever do meet a genie, I’ll still get that device, and I’ll still spend many, many hours living the lives of many of my favourite characters.

What about you? Who would you be, or what book would you live in? Let me know in the comments!

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