Friday, 10 November 2017

Reading order of the Culture novels (updated)

Back in 2009 I published a reading order to the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks. Sadly, Iain is no longer with us, meaning that the Culture series is effectively complete, so now a final order can be given.

As always, it's worth remembering the following:

It Doesn't Really Matter
The Culture novels are all stand-alone stories separated from one another by decades and centuries of time and thousands of light-years of space, so you can pretty much read them in whatever order you wish.

Publication Order
That said, publication order probably makes the most sense, due to the (very) minor and occasional reference in one book to the events of another. This is the order the books were published in:

  1. Consider Phlebas (1987)
  2. The Player of Games (1988)
  3. Use of Weapons (1990)
  4. The State of the Art (1991)
  5. Excession (1996)
  6. Inversions (1998)
  7. Look to Windward (2000)
  8. Matter (2008)
  9. Surface Detail (2010)
  10. The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)

Chronological Order

I don't recommend the chronological order, since I don't think Banks was paying enormous attention to this when writing the books. For example, Excession (which is set 400 years after Consider Phlebas) has a clear reference to the events of The Player of Games, but the latter novel is set well over 700 years after Consider Phlebas, which is a clear discrepancy. Still, for the curious, the order the books apparently takes place in is as follows:
  1. Consider Phlebas (1331 AD)
  2. Excession (c. 1867)
  3. Matter (c. 1890)
  4. The State of the Art (1977)
  5. The Player of Games (c. 2085)
  6. Use of Weapons (2092)
  7. Look to Windward (c. 2170)
  8. The Hydrogen Sonata (c. 2375)
  9. Surface Detail (c. 2767)
Note that The State of the Art refers to the titular novella of the collection, not the other two Culture stories in the book. I could be wrong (not having read them yet), but I believe the other two stories and Inversions lack any information that can be used to reliably date them at all.

Note on the Dates Above

The appendix to Consider Phlebas gives the date for the beginning of the Idiran War as 1327 AD and the book takes place four years later. The war ends in 1375. Excession takes place 500 years after the war ends. Matter takes place over twenty years after the Sleeper Service vanishes (which happens at the end of Excession). The State of the Art features a Contact group surveying Earth in 1977. One of the same characters turns up in Use of Weapons 115 years after the mission to Earth. One of the ships in The Player of Games is 716 years old and was built at the end of the Idiran War (so near the end it never engaged in combat with the enemy). Look to Windward takes place 803 years after the Twin Novae Battle, one of the final space battles of the Idiran War. The Hydrogen Sonata takes place 1,000 years after the end of the Idiran War in Consider Phlebas. Surface Detail takes place 600 years after the events of Look to Windward but about 1,500 years after the end of the Idiran War; this may be a simple rounding error.

According to Consider Phlebas' appendix, the Culture contacts Earth some time around 2100 AD. Earth joins the Culture but never really amounts to much as a member.

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FFP said...

Thanks for this.
I am rationing myself to three a year.

Unknown said...

I don't ration myself - I just read them over and over again. Marvellous stories.

Unknown said...

Great ordering! One thing though, the story The State of the Art was first published in 1989 and later collected into the collection The State of the Art in 1991. So, technically it was published before Use of Weapons.