Iain Banks

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A guilty system recognizes no innocents. As with any power apparatus which thinks everybody’s either for it or against it, we’re against it.

Iain Menzies Banks (February 16, 1954June 9, 2013), officially Iain Banks, was a Scottish writer. As Iain M. Banks he wrote science fiction; as Iain Banks he wrote literary fiction.

Quotes[edit]

Culture series[edit]

Consider Phlebas (1987)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books
  • Something in your voice tells me we approach the question of remuneration.
    • Chapter 2 “The Hand of God 137” (p. 20)
  • Empathize with stupidity and you’re halfway to thinking like an idiot.
    • Chapter 2 “The Hand of God 137” (p. 27)
  • That was how divorced from the human scale modern warfare had become. You could smash and destroy from unthinkable distances, obliterate planets from beyond their own system and provoke stars into novae from light-years off...and still have no good idea why you were really fighting.
    • Chapter 2 “The Hand of God 137” (p. 32)
  • Pity they didn’t devote a little more ingenuity to staying alive rather than conducting mass slaughter as efficiently as possible.
    • Chapter 4 “Temple of Light” (p. 96)
  • The underlying point held; experience as well as common sense indicated that the most reliable method of avoiding self-extinction was not to equip oneself with the means to accomplish it in the first place.
    • Chapter 4 “Temple of Light” (p. 96)
  • “Don’t you have a religion?” Dorolow asked Horza.
    “Yes,” he replied, not taking his eyes away from the screen on the wall above the end of the main mess-room table. “My survival.”
    • Chapter 5 “Megaship” (p. 102)
  • “The war won’t end,” Aviger said. “It’ll just die away...I don’t think the Culture will give in like everybody thinks it will. I think they’ll keep fighting because they believe in it. The Idirans won’t give in, either; they’ll keep fighting to the last, and they and the Culture will just keep going at each other all the time, all over the galaxy eventually, and their weapons and bombs and rays and things will just keep getting better and better, and in the end the whole galaxy will become a battleground until they’ve blown up all the stars and planets and Orbitals and everything else big enough to stand on, and then they’ll destroy all of each other’s big ships and then the little ships, too, until everybody’ll be living in single units blowing each other up with weapons that could destroy a planet...and that’s how it’ll end; probably they’ll invent guns or drones that are even smaller, and there’ll only be a few smaller and smaller machines fighting over whatever’s left of the galaxy, and there’ll be nobody left to know how it all started in the first place.”
    • Chapter 11 “The Command System: Stations” (pp. 380-381)
  • “One can read too much into one’s own circumstances. I am reminded of one race who set themselves against us—oh, long ago now, before I was even thought of. Their conceit was that the galaxy belonged to them, and they justified this heresy by a blasphemous belief concerning design. They were aquatic, their brain and major organs housed in a large central pod from which several large arms or tentacles protruded. These tentacles were thick at the body, thin at the tips and lined with suckers. Their water god was supposed to have made the galaxy in their image.
    “You see? They thought that because they bore a rough physical resemblance to the great lens that is the home of all of us—even taking the analogy as far as comparing their tentacle suckers to globular clusters—it therefore belonged to them. For all the idiocy of this heathen belief, they had prospered and were powerful: quite respectable adversaries, in fact.”
    “Hmm,” Aviger said. Without looking up, he asked, “What were they called?”
    “Hmm,” Xoxarle rumbled. “Their name...” The Idiran pondered. “...I believe they were called the...the Fanch.”
    “Never heard of them,” Aviger said.
    “No, you wouldn’t have,” Xoxarle purred. “We annihilated them.”
    • Chapter 13 “The Command System: Terminus” (pp. 445-446)

The Player of Games (1988)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books
  • “So it’s false.”
    “What isn’t?”
    “Intellectual achievement. The exercise of skill. Human feeling.”
    • Chapter 1 “Culture Plate” (p. 5)
  • All reality is a game. Physics at its most fundamental, the very fabric of our universe, results directly from the interaction of certain fairly simple rules, and chance; the same description may be applied to the best, most elegant and both intellectually and aesthetically satisfying games. By being unknowable, by resulting from events which, at the sub-atomic level, cannot be fully predicted, the future remains malleable, and retains the possibility of change, the hope of coming to prevail; victory, to use an unfashionable word. In this, the future is a game; time is one of its rules.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 48)
  • Empires are synonymous with centralized—if occasionally schismatized—hierarchical power structures in which influence is restricted to an economically privileged class retaining its advantages through—usually—a judicious use of oppression and skilled manipulation of both the society’s information dissemination systems and its lesser—as a rule nominally independent—power systems. In short, it’s all about dominance.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 91)
  • It looks perverted and wasteful to us, but then one thing that empires are not about is the efficient use of resources and the spread of happiness; both are typically accomplished despite the economic short-circuiting—corruption and favoritism, mostly—endemic to the system.
    • Chapter 1 (p. 91)
  • A guilty system recognizes no innocents. As with any power apparatus which thinks everybody’s either for it or against it, we’re against it. You would be too, if you thought about it. The very way you think places you among its enemies. This might not be your fault, because every society imposes some of its values on those raised within it, but the point is that some societies try to maximize that effect, and some try to minimize it. You come from one of the latter and you’re being asked to explain yourself to one of the former. Prevarication will be more difficult than you imagine; neutrality is probably impossible. You cannot choose not to have the politics you do; they are not some separate set of entities somehow detachable from the rest of your being; they are a function of your existence. I know that and they know that; you had better accept it.
    • Chapter 2 “Imperium” (p. 215)
  • “Is all this serious?” Gurgeh said, turning, amused, from the screen to the drone.
    “Deadly serious,” Flere-Imsaho told him.
    Gurgeh laughed and shook his head. He thought the common people must be remarkably stupid if they believed all this nonsense.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 225)
  • “You like music, Mr. Gurgeh?” Hamin asked, leaning over to the man.
    Gurgeh nodded. “Well, a little does no harm.”
    • Chapter 2 (p. 277)
  • “One of the advantages of having laws is the pleasure one may take in breaking them. We here are not children, Mr. Gurgeh.” Hamin waved the pipestem round the tables of people. “Rules and laws exist only because we take pleasure in doing what they forbid, but as long as most of the people obey such proscriptions most of the time, they have done their job; blind obedience would imply we are—ha!”—Hamin chuckled and pointed at the drone with the pipe—“no more than robots!”
    • Chapter 2 (p. 279)
  • The news team, and Hamin, seemed well pleased. “You should have been an actor, Jernau Gurgeh,” Hamin told him.
    Gurgeh assumed this was intended as a compliment.
    • Chapter 3 “Machina Ex Machina” (p. 306)
  • “I’m very sorry,” the drone said, without a trace of contrition.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 308)
  • He looked up from it at the stars again, and the view was warped and distorted by something in his eyes, which at first he thought was rain.
    • Chapter 4 “The Passed Pawn” (p. 390)

Use of Weapons (1990)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit Books
Note: there are two alternating sets of chapter numbering in this book. The first is indicated by English words, and counts up from One to Fourteen. The second is indicated by Roman numerals, and counts down from XIII to I.
  • The sky was aquamarine, stroked with clouds. She could smell the grass and taste the scent of small, crushed flowers. She looked back up over her forehead at the gray-black wall towering behind her, and wondered if the castle had ever been attacked on days like this. Did the sky seem so limitless, the waters of the straits so fresh and clean, the flowers so bright and fragrant, when men fought and screamed, hacked and staggered and fell and watched their blood mat the grass?
    Mists and dusk, rain and lowering cloud seemed the better background; clothes to cover the shame of battle.
    • Chapter Two (pp. 50-51)
  • He knew in his heart that there was a relief in not being listened to, sometimes. Power meant responsibility. Advice unacted upon almost always might have been right, and in the working out of whatever plan was followed, there was anyway always blood; better it was on their hands. The good soldier did as he was told, and if he had any sense at all volunteered for nothing, especially promotion.
    • Chapter XII (p. 65)
  • Sex was an infringement, an attack, an invasion; there was no other way he could see it; every act, however magical and intensely enjoyed, and however willingly conducted, seemed to carry a harmonic of rapacity. He took her, and however much she gained in provoked pleasure and in his own increasing love, she was still the one that suffered the act, had it played out upon her and inside her. He was aware of the absurdity of trying too hard to develop the comparison between sex and war; he had been laughed out of several embarrassing situations trying to do so (“Zakalwe,” she would say when he tried to explain some of this, and she would put her cool slim fingers behind his neck and stare out from the rambunctious black tangle of her hair. “You have serious problems.” She would smile), But the feelings, the acts, the structure of the two were to him so close, so self-evidently akin, that such a reaction only forced him deeper into his confusion.
    • Chapter IX (pp. 144-145)
  • “I’m from out of town,” he said breezily. This was true. He’d never been within a hundred light-years of the place.
    • Chapter IX (p. 147)
  • “I think I know the real reason.”
    “Which is?”
    “Alcohol in the dust clouds. Goddamn stuff is everywhere. Any lousy species ever invents the telescope and the spectroscope and starts looking in between the stars, what do they find?” He knocked the glass on the table. “Loads of stuff, but much of it alcohol.” He drank from the glass. “Humanoids are the galaxy’s way of trying to get rid of all that alcohol.”
    • Chapter IX (p. 148)
  • He would give up then, and console himself with something she’d said: that you could not love what you fully understood. Love, she maintained, was a process, not a state. Held still, it withered. He wasn’t too sure about all that; he seemed to have found a calm clear serenity in himself he hadn’t even known was there, thanks to her.
    • Chapter IX (p. 149)
  • What they had talked themselves into, they could be silent out of.
    • Chapter IX (p. 157)
  • “Let’s waste a little time, hmm?”
    “A nice euphemism, sir,” she mused distantly.
    He smiled. “Come and help me think of better ones.”
    She smiled and they both looked at each other.
    There was a long pause.
    • Chapter IX (p. 157)
  • “Well,” he sighed to no one in particular, and looked up into yet another alien sky. “Here we are again.”
    • Chapter Six (p. 178)
  • Such a stupid act. Sometimes heroics revolted him; they seemed like an insult to the soldier who weighed the risks of the situation and made calm, cunning decisions based on experience and imagination, the sort of unshowy soldiering that didn’t win medals but wars.
    • Chapter VIII (p. 183)
  • The youth was a cretin, and didn’t even realize that he was.
    He could think of no more disastrous combination.
    • Chapter V (p. 303)
  • There are no gods, we are told, so I must make my own salvation.
    • Chapter V (p. 303)
  • What is all your studying worth, all your learning, all your knowledge, if it doesn’t lead to wisdom? And what’s wisdom but knowing what is right, and what is the right thing to do?
    • Chapter Ten (p. 316)
  • “You’re a wicked man.”
    “Thank you. It’s taken years of diligent practice.”
    • Chapter Eleven (p. 355)
  • “These people have successfully incorporated a belief in your martial prowess into their religion; how can you deny them?”
    “Believe me, it would be easy.”
    • Chapter Twelve (p. 390)
  • He suspected the troops felt closer to somebody who spoke a different language but asked them questions than they did to somebody who shared their language and only ever used it to give orders.
    • Chapter Twelve (p. 394)
  • He shrugged. “Whatever.”
    “Aw, Darac, come on; argue, dammit.”
    “I don’t believe in argument,” he said, looking out into the darkness (and saw a towering ship, a capital ship, ringed with its layers and levels of armament and armor, dark against the dusk light, but not dead).
    “You don’t?” Erens said, genuinely surprised. “Shit, and I thought I was the cynical one.”
    “It’s not cynicism,” he said flatly. “I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.”
    “Oh well, thank you.”
    “It’s comforting, I suppose.” He watched the stars wheel, like absurdly slow shells seen at night: rising, peaking, falling...(And reminded himself that the stars too would explode, perhaps, one day.) “Most people are not prepared to have their minds changed,” he said. “And I think they know in their hearts that other people are just the same, and one of the reasons people become angry when they argue is that they realize just that, as they trot out their excuses.”
    “Excuses, eh? Well, if this ain’t cynicism, what is?” Erens snorted.
    “Yes, excuses,” he said, with what Erens thought might just have been a trace of bitterness. “I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you’re supposed to argue about, come later. They’re the least important part of the belief. That’s why you can destroy them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place.” He looked at Erens. “You’ve attacked the wrong thing.”
    • Chapter II (p. 417)
  • In all the human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots.
    • Chapter Thirteen (p. 434)
  • He had to give orders that meant men died, and sometimes sacrifice hundreds, thousands of them, knowingly sending them to their near-certain deaths, just to secure some important position or goal, or protect some vital position. And always, whether they liked it or not, the civilians suffered too; the very people they both claimed to be fighting for made up perhaps the bulk of the casualties in their bloody struggle.
    He had tried to stop it, tried to bargain, from the beginning, but neither side wanted peace on anything except its own terms, and he had no real political power, and so had had to fight.
    • Chapter I (p. 443)
  • More than anything else now, though, he wanted to save Darckense. He had seen too many dead, dry eyes, too much air-blackened blood, too much fly-blown flesh, to be able to relate such ghastly truths to the nebulous ideas of honor and tradition that people claimed they were fighting for. Only the well-being of one loved person seemed really worth fighting for now; it was all that seemed real, all that could save his sanity.
    • Chapter I (p. 444)

Excession (1996)[edit]

All page numbers from the hardcover edition published by Bantam Books
  • Tishlin’s dubious look indicated he wasn’t totally convinced this phrase contributed enormously to the information-carrying capacity of the language.
    • Chapter 2 “Not Invented Here” section II (p. 58)
  • The combination of modern ordnance and outdated tactics had, as usual, created enormous casualties on both sides.
    • Chapter 3 “Uninvited Guests” section I (p. 66)
  • She took a deep breath. Suddenly, she felt quite entirely sober. “Is this as important as I think it is?”
    “Almost certainly much more so.”
    “Oh,” she said, “fuck.”
    • Chapter 3 “Uninvited Guests” section IV (p. 98)
  • Here, in the bare dark face of night
    A calm unhurried eye draws sight
    —We see in what we think we fear
    The cloudings of our thought made clear
    • Chapter 3 “Uninvited Guests” section IV (p. 104)
  • It was like living half your life in a tiny, stuffy, warm gray box, and being moderately happy in there because you knew no better...and then discovering a little hole in one corner of the box, a tiny opening which you could get a finger into, and tease and pull at, so that eventually you created a tear, which led to a greater tear, which led to the box falling apart around you...so that you stepped out of the tiny box’s confines into startlingly cool, clear fresh air and found yourself on top of a mountain, surrounded by deep valleys, sighing forests, soaring peaks, glittering lakes, sparkling snowfields and a stunning, breathtakingly blue sky. And that, of course, wasn’t even the start of the real story, that was more like the breath that is drawn in before the first syllable of the first word of the first paragraph of the first chapter of the first book of the first volume of the story.
    • Chapter 4 “Dependency Principle” section III (p. 120)
  • It was just like some ancient electricity-powered computer; it didn't matter how fast, error-free, and tireless it was, it didn't matter how great a labor-saving boon it was, it didn't matter what it could do or how many different ways it could amaze; if you pulled its plug out, or just hit the off button, all it became was a lump of matter; all its programs became just settings, dead instructions, and all its computations vanished as quickly as they'd moved.
    It was, also, like the dependency of the human-basic brain on the human-basic body; no matter how intelligent, perceptive and gifted you were, no matter how entirely you lived for the ascetic rewards of the intellect and eschewed the material world and the ignobility of the flesh, if your heart just gave out...
    That was the Dependency Principle; that you could never forget where your off switches were located, even if it was somewhere tiresome.
    • Chapter 4 “Dependency Principle” section III (p. 122)
  • He wanted to be who he was, not the person he would become if he lost the one trait that distinguished him from everybody else, no matter how perverse that decision seemed to others.
    • Chapter 4 “Dependency Principle” section V (p. 129)
  • The double-sun system was relatively poor in comets; there were only a hundred billion of them.
    • Chapter 5 “Kiss the Blade” section I (p. 133)
  • I am not being obtuse.
    You are being paranoid.
    • Chapter 5 “Kiss the Blade” section II (p. 136)
  • There came a point when if a conspiracy was that powerful and subtle it became pointless to worry about it.
    • Chapter 5 “Kiss the Blade” section III (p. 149)
  • He was tall and very dark-skinned and he had fabulously blond hair and a voice that could raise bumps on your skin at a hundred meters, or, better still, millimeters.
    • Chapter 5 “Kiss the Blade” section IV (p. 151)
  • Even the pain of what had felt on occasion like an irretrievably broken heart had consistently proved less lasting than she’d initially imagined and expected; the revelation that a boy’s taste was so grotesquely deficient he could prefer somebody else to her always reduced both the intensity and the duration of the anguish her heart demanded be endured to mark such a loss of regard.
    • Chapter 6 “Pittance” section III (p. 180)
  • Look at these humans! How could such glacial slowness even be called life? An age could pass, virtual empires rise and fall in the time they took to open their mouths to utter some new inanity!
    • Chapter 7 “Tier” section II (p. 212)
  • If you have any helpful suggestions I’d be pleased to hear them. If all you can do is make snide insinuations then it would probably benefit all concerned if you bestowed the fruits of your prodigious wit on someone with the spare time to give them the consideration they doubtless deserve.
    • Chapter 7 “Tier” section III (p. 219)
  • Death, he remembered somebody saying once, was a kind of victory. To have lived a long good life, a life of prodigious pleasure and minimal misery, and then to die; that was to have won. To attempt to hang on forever risked ending up in some as-yet-unglimpsed horror future. What if you lived forever and all that had gone before, however terrible things had sometimes appeared to be in the past, however badly people had behaved to each other throughout history, was nothing compared to what was yet to come? Suppose in the great book of days that told the story of everything, all the gone, done past was merely a bright, happy introduction compared to the main body of the work, an unending tale of unbearable pain scraped in blood on a parchment of living skin?
    Better to die than risk that.
    Live well and then die, so that the you that is you now can never be again, and only tricks can re-create something that might think it is you, but is not.
    • Chapter 8 “Killing Time” section V (pp. 259-260)
  • That’s the trouble with people like them, I suppose; whenever you think you’re detecting the first signs of them starting to behave responsibly, it’s just them being even more devious and underhand than usual.
    • Chapter 8 “Killing Time” section V (p. 261)
  • I am, as I have always been, of the opinion that while the niceties of normal moral constraints should be our guides, they must not be our masters.
    • Chapter 8 “Killing Time” section VII (p. 269)
  • Maybe it wasn’t anything remotely to do with religion, mysticism or metaphilosophy after all; maybe it was more banal; maybe it was just...accounting.
    • Chapter 11 “Regarding Gravious” section VI (p. 364)
  • Any such inklings were like a few scattered grains of truth dissolved in an ocean of nonsense, and were anyway generally inextricably bound up with patently paranoid ravings which served only to devalue the small amounts of sense and pertinence with which they were associated.
    • Chapter 11 “Regarding Gravious” section VI (p. 365)
  • She supposed she ought to feel impressed that Genar-Hofoen was sticking to his principles in the face of imminent death—and she did feel a little admiration—but mostly she just thought he was being stupid.
    • Chapter 11 “Regarding Gravious” section VII (p. 369)
  • How depressing, the Sleeper Service thought. That it should all come down to this; the person with the biggest stick prevails.
    • Chapter 11 “Regarding Gravious” section X (p. 372)

Look to Windward (2000)[edit]

  • "What, now?" "Soon equates to good, later to worse, Uagen Zlepe, scholar. Therefore, immediacy."

Non-Culture Novels[edit]

Transition (2009)[edit]

  • Libertarianism. A simple-minded right-wing ideology ideally suited to those unable or unwilling to see past their own sociopathic self-regard.

External links[edit]

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