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.


Short fiction[edit]

The State of the Art (1991)[edit]

All page numbers from the trade paperback edition published by Night Shade Books (ISBN 978-1-59780-074-7)
Only Descendant and State of the Art are set in the world of his Culture series
For details on the original publication of each story, see the Wikipedia page
All ellipses in the original stories
  • It’s as if I drifted into this situation. I didn’t ever think about fighting or doing anything risky at all, not until the war came along. I agreed it was necessary, but that seemed obvious; everybody thought so, everybody I knew, anyway. And volunteering, agreeing to take part; that too seemed... natural. I knew I might die, but I was prepared to risk that; it was almost romantic. Somehow it never occurred to me that it might entail privation and suffering. Am I as stupid as those throughout history—those I’ve always despised and pitied—who’ve marched off to war, heads full of noble notions and expectations of easy glory, only to die screaming and torn in the mud?
    • “Descendant” (p. 40)
  • There is a saying that we provide the machines with an end, and they provide us with the means.
    • “Descendant” (p. 40)
  • “Tell me, suit, don’t you wonder if it’s all worth it?’
    “If what’s all worth what?” it says, and I can hear that condescending tone in its voice again.
    “You know; living. Is it worth all the... bother?”
    “No, I don’t ever wonder about it.”
    “Why not?” I’m keeping my questions short as we walk, conserving energy and breath.
    “I don’t need to wonder about that. It’s not important.”
    “Not important?”
    “It’s an irrelevant question. We live; that’s enough.”
    • “Descendant” (p. 44)
  • I’ve been thinking about the war a lot recently, and I think I’ve decided it’s wrong. We are defeating ourselves in waging it, will destroy ourselves by winning it.
    • “Descendant” (p. 46)
  • We created something a little closer to perfection than ourselves; maybe that’s the only way to progress. Let them try to do the same. I doubt they can, so they will always be less as well as more than us. It’s all just a sum, a whispered piece of figuring lost in the empty blizzards of white noise howling through the universe, a brief oasis in an infinite desert, a freak bit of working out in which we have transcended ourselves, and they are only the remainder.
    • “Descendant” (pp. 47-48)
  • “Nothing is sacred to you, Mr. Munro. You base your beliefs on the products of human thought, so it could hardly be otherwise. You might believe in certain things, but you do not have faith. That comes with submission to the force of divine revelation.”
    “So, because I don’t have what I think of as superstitions, because I believe we just happen to exist, and believe in... science, evolution, whatever; I’m not as... worthy as somebody who has faith in an ancient book and a cruel, desert God?”
    • “Piece” (p. 73)
  • It’s very nearly 1989 but it’s midnight in the Dark Ages just the thickness of a book away, the thickness of a skull away; just the turn of a page away.
    • “Piece” (p. 74)
  • Reason shapes the future, but superstition infects the present.
    • “Piece” (p. 75)
  • And coincidence convinces the credulous. Two things happen at the same time, or one after another, and we assume there must be a link; well, we sacrificed a virgin last year, and there was a good harvest. Of course the ceremony to raise the sun works—it comes up every morning, doesn’t it? I say my prayers each night and the world hasn’t ended yet...
    Dung beetle thinking. Life is too complicated for there not to be continual coincidences, and we just have to come to terms with the fact that they merely happen and aren’t ordained, that some things occur for no real reason whatsoever, and that this is not a punishment and that is not a reward. Good grief; the most copper-bottomed, platinum-card proof of divine intervention, of some holy masterplan, would be if there were no coincidences at all! That really would look suspicious.
    • “Piece” (p. 75)
  • Of course they aren’t ready for it, of course we’ll spoil the place. Are they any more ready for World War Three? You seriously think we could mess the place up more than they’re doing at the moment? When they’re not actually out slaughtering each other they’re inventing ingenious new ways to massacre each other more efficiently in the future, and when they’re not doing that they’re committing speciescide, from the Amazon to Borneo... or filling the seas with shit, or the air, or the land. They could hardly make a better job of vandalizing their own planet if we gave them lessons.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 84)
  • I came out stunned. I was angry at them, then. Angry at them for surprising me, touching me like that. Of course I was angry at their stupidity, their manic barbarity, their unthinking, animal obedience, their appalling cruelty; everything that the memorial evoked... but what really hit me was that these people could create something that spoke so eloquently of their own ghastly actions; that they could fashion a work so humanly redolent of their own inhumanity.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 94)
  • An excess of boringness does not make a thing interesting except in the driest academic sense. A place is not boring if you have to look really hard for something which is interesting. If there is absolutely nothing interesting about any particular place, then that is a perfectly interesting and quintessentially un-boring place.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 112)
  • Beauty is something that disappears when you try to define it.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 128)
  • On Earth one of the things that a large proportion of the locals is most proud of is this wonderful economic system, which, with a sureness and certainty so comprehensive one could almost imagine the process bears some relation to their limited and limiting notions of either thermodynamics or God, all food, comfort, energy, shelter, space, fuel, and sustenance gravitates naturally and easily away from those who need it most and towards those who need it least. Indeed, those on the receiving end of such largesse are often harmed unto death by its arrival, though the effects may take years and generations to manifest themselves.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 136)
  • It is the case that because Free Enterprise got there first and set up the house rules, it will always stay at least one kick ahead of its rivals. Thus, while it takes Soviet Russia a vast amount of time and hard work to produce one inspired lunatic like Lysenko, the West can so arrange things that even the dullest farmer can see it makes more sense to burn his grain, melt his butter, and wash away the remains of his pulped vegetables with his tanks of unused wine than it does to actually sell the stuff to be consumed.
    And note that even if this mythical yokel did decide to sell the stuff, or even give it away—the Earthers have an even more devastating trick they can perform; they show you that those foods aren’t even needed anyway! They wouldn’t feed the least productive, most unimportant untouchable from Pradesh, tribesperson from Darfur, or peon from Rio Branco! The Earth has more than enough to feed all its inhabitants every day already! A truth so seemingly world-shattering one wonders that the oppressed of Earth don’t rise up in flames and anger yesterday! But they don’t, because they are so infected with the myth of self-interested advancement, or the poison of religion acceptance, they either only want to make their own way up the pile so they can shit upon everybody else, or actually feel grateful for the attention when their so-called betters shit on them!
    It is my contention that this is either an example of the most formidable and blissfully arrogant use of power and existing advantage... or scarcely credible stupidity.
    • “State of the Art” (p. 137)
  • All the usual rules of uprising realpolitik still apply, especially that concerning the peculiar of dialectic of dissent which—simply stated—dictates that in all but the most dedicatedly repressive hegemonies, if in a sizable population there are one hundred rebels, all of whom are then rounded up and killed, the number of rebels present at the end of the day is not zero, and not even one hundred, but two hundred or three hundred or more; an equation based on human nature which seem often to baffle the military and political mind.
    • “A Few Notes on the Culture” (pp. 168-169)
  • While the forces of repression need to win every time, the progressive elements need only triumph once.
    • “A Few Notes on the Culture” (p. 169)

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).

Inversions (1998)[edit]

Nominated for the 1998 British Science Fiction Award
All page numbers are from the mass market paperback first edition published by Orbit ISBN 978-1-85723-763-4
  • The only sin is selfishness.
    • Prologue (p. 1; opening words)
  • That was another thing she taught me. That you are what you do. To Providence—or Progress or the Future or before any other sort of judgment apart from our own conscience—what we have done, not what we have thought, is the result we are judged by.
    • Prologue (p. 3)
  • Truth, I have learned, differs for everybody. Just as no two people ever see a rainbow in exactly the same place—and yet both most certainly see it, while the person seemingly standing right underneath it does not see it at all—so truth is a question of where one stands, and the direction one is looking in at the time.
    • Chapter 2 (p. 22)
  • “Some of us prefer history to legends, lady,” DeWar said heavily, “and sometimes everybody can be wrong.”
    • Chapter 2 (p. 37)
  • No! Get away from me, you wittering purple rogues! Away and become bankers the lot of you—admit what you really love!
    • Chapter 3 (p. 45)
  • “See if you can hold off this pack of blood-sucking scavengers. Here’s my duelling sword.” The King handed me his own sword! “You have full permission to use it on anyone who looks remotely like a physician.”
    • Chapter 3 (p. 47)
  • Pain, or even just discomfort, is like the warning sent by a frontier guard, sir. You are free to choose to ignore it, but you should not be unduly surprised if you are subsequently over-run by invaders.
    • Chapter 3 (p. 51)
  • You can draw the blinds in a brothel, but people still know what you’re doing.
    • Chapter 4 (p. 69)
  • Did the Doctor really imagine that everbody went around believing different things? One believed what one was told to believe, what it made sense to believe. Unless one was a foreigner, of course, or a philosopher.
    • Chapter 7 (pp. 125-126)
  • “I believe in Providence, mistress.”
    “But when you say Providence, do you really mean god?”
    “No, mistress. I don’t believe in any of the old gods. No one does any more. No one of sense, at any rate. Providence is the rule of laws, mistress,” I said.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 126)
  • Mocking the wisdom that comes with age is a fit sport only for those who expect never to attain much of it themselves.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 127)
  • Of course, she does seem to be a rather good doctor. At the very least she has done the King no obvious harm, and that in my experience is far more than one might reasonably expect from a court physician.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 130)
  • But there we are. Some things never do make perfect sense. There must be some explanation, and it is perhaps a little like the Doctrine of the Perfect Partner. We must be content to know that she exists, somewhere in the world, and try not to care overmuch that we will probably never meet her.
    • Chapter 7 (p. 132)
  • “I had formed the impression the Protector valued your counsel.”
    “It is most valued when it most closely accords with his own view.”
    • Chapter 8 (p. 140)
  • “Quettil, it doesn’t matter,” the King said airily, waving one hand. “I prefer accuracy to flattery.”
    • Chapter 9 (p. 158)
  • People often behave badly when they are trying to prove a point.
    • Chapter 10 (p. 177)
  • We only become beasts—we become worse than beasts—when we torment others.
    • Chapter 11 (p. 197)
  • “One does not spy on one’s own people,” ZeSpiole informed him. “One has, rather, conduits of communication which lead to the common man.”
    • Chapter 18 (p. 295)
  • There is always the right of the strong to take the weak and the rich to take the poor and the powerful to take those who have no power. UrLeyn may have written down our laws and changed a few of them, but the laws that still bind us to the animals cut the deepest. Men compete for power, they strut and parade and they impress their fellows with their possessions and they take the women they can. None of that has changed. They may use weapons other than their hands and teeth, they may use other men and they may express their dominance in money, not other symbols of power and glamour, but...
    • Chapter 20 (p. 335)
  • What I know was passed to me by others, and so must surrender the toll which information tends to pay when it passes through the minds and memories of others.
    • Chapter 23 (p. 371)
  • Perhaps my certainty is misplaced.
    • Epilogue (p. 399)
  • I am told he is something of a scholar, which is no bad thing in a king, providing it is not taken to excess.
    • Epilogue (p. 402)

Look to Windward (2000)[edit]

  • "What, now?" "Soon equates to good, later to worse, Uagen Zlepe, scholar. Therefore, immediacy."
  • Never forget I am not this silver body, Mahrai. I am not an animal brain, I am not even some attempt to produce an AI through software running on a computer. I am a Culture Mind. We are close to gods, and on the far side. We are quicker; we live faster and more completely than you do, with so many more senses, such a greater store of memories and at such a fine level of detail. We die more slowly, and we die more completely, too.
    • Look to Windward

Non-Culture Novels[edit]

Against a Dark Background (1993)[edit]

All page numbers are from the trade paperback edition published by Orbit ISBN 1-85723-179-1 in 1995
All italics and ellipses as in the book, unless otherwise noted
  • “No, Geis, it doesn’t wear off. Like certain exotic diseases, and unlike love, synchroneurobonding is for life.”
    Geis lowered his eyes. “You weren’t always so cynical about love.”
    “As they say; ignorance pays.”
    • Chapter 1 “Overture” (p. 15)
  • “Put plainly, I am not at liberty to divulge that information. There, it is said. Let us quickly move on from this unfortunate quantum of dissonance to the ground-state of accord which I trust will inform our future relationship.”
    “So you’re not going to tell me.” Sharrow nodded.
    “My dear lady,” the machine said, continuing to trundle after her. “Without saying so in so many words...correct.”
    • Chapter 1 “Overture” (p. 19)
  • “How are you?”
    “I am here.”
    “Apart from that,” she said levelly.
    “There is no apart from that.”
    • Chapter 2 “The Chain Gallery” (p. 38)
  • Geis is a pain, Sharrow; the guy has a kind of charming facade but basically he’s a social inadequate whose real place in life is out mugging pensioners and cheating and beating on his girlfriends, and if he had three more names and been raised in a rookery in the The Meg rather than the nursery at house Tzant, that’s exactly what he would be doing. Instead he jumps out of the commercial equivalent of dark allies, strips companies and fucks their employees. He’s got no idea how real people work so he plays the market instead; he’s a rich kid who thinks the banks and courts and Corps are his construction set and he doesn’t want anybody else to play. He wants you the way he wants a sexy company, as a bauble, a scalp, something to display. Never get beholden to people like that, they’ll piss on you and then charge irrigation fees.
    • Chapter 3 “Echo Street” (p. 52)
  • “Anyway,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
    “Indeed. I can see contrition oozing from your every pore.”
    • Chapter 3 “Echo Street” (p. 59)
  • Perhaps it was simply bad luck, but despite the fact the sheer capability of the Guns ought to have ensured their owner could effectively become ruler of the entire system, the weapons had invariably been the downfall of whoever had come into possession of them.
    • Chapter 6 “Solo” (p. 109)
  • “Aah...Yes, and how does madam wish to pay?”
    She slapped her credit card on the counter. “Eventually.”
    • Chapter 9 “Reunions” (p. 172)
  • “He might come in useful,” Cenuij said.
    “Yeah,” Zefla said. “So’s a broken leg if you want to kick yourself in the back of the head.”
    • Chapter 11 “Deep Country” (p. 202)
  • She felt cold and battered and tired. This combat flying lark was supposed to have been just a little exotic incident in her life, something to tell people about when she was old. It had never been meant to get this important, never been planned to be this crucial and ghastly and hopeless. It certainly wasn’t supposed to be the end of everything. It couldn’t all just end, could it?
    Yes it could, she thought. Somehow she’d never really thought about it before, but yes; of course it could. She didn’t just accept it now; she knew it now. What a time to learn that particular lesson.
    • Chapter 12 “Snow Fall” (p. 219)
  • “So,” he said to the monk, “you are of an Order which also despises the Great Infernal Wizard.”
    “Indeed, your gracious Majesty,” the monk said, looking down modestly at the carpet. His voice sounded respectful. “Our Belief—perhaps not so dissimilar from your own, more venerable and more widely followed creed, is that God is a Mad Scientist and we His experimental subjects, doomed forever to run the Maze of Life through apparently random and unjust punishments for meaningless and paltry rewards and no discernible good reason save His evil pleasure.”
    • Chapter 13 “At The Court Of The Useless Kings” (p. 228)
  • When you have this sort of power, this responsibility, you can’t choose not to have it when the decisions become tough. You can’t afford to prevaricate or delegate; you have to be engaged. You can’t stay neutral; you can say you’re neutral, and try to act as though you are, but that neutrality will always help one side more than the other; that’s just the way power works...the leverage it exerts.
    • Chapter 15 “Escape Clause” (p. 271)
  • “Details matter, though, don’t you think?” he said. “Sometimes what appear to be utterly inconsequential actions have the most enormous results. Chance makes the casual momentous. It is the fulcrum upon which the levers of action rest.”
    • Chapter 16 “The Ghost” (p. 298)
  • Allow me to attenuate my portentousness for you.
    • Chapter 16 “The Ghost” (p. 298)
  • “I think,” she said carefully, “that perhaps too many people want things to be simple when they are not and cannot be. Encouraging that desire is seductive and rewarding, but also dangerous.”
    • Chapter 16 “The Ghost” (p. 299)
  • “Choice,” he said heavily. A small smile disturbed his face. “We all think we have so much of that, don’t we?”
    • Chapter 19 “Spoiling Bid” (p. 367)
  • “Probably end up as one of those sordid cult leaders,” Zefla said after a while as they plodded into a bare area of the forest where a fire had left thousands of tree trunks standing upright and bare, black posts already surrounded by slender young trees forcing their way towards the sky around them. “You know, pedalling some weird concoction of re-tread gibberish and living in a palace while their followers sleep shifts and work the streets and give you this big flatline smile when you tell them where to stuff their tracts.”
    • Chapter 21 “A Short Walk” (p. 395)
  • Is there anything I can do? Just tell me.
    What can you do?
    Destroy things. All I can do is destroy things. It’s the only thing I’m any good at. Would you like me to destroy something?
    I want you to destroy everything! she screamed. Every fucking thing. All the evil men and compliant women, all the armies and companies and cults and faiths and orders and every stupid fucker in them! All of them! EVERYTHING!
    • Chapter 23 “All Castles Made Of Sand” (p. 427)
  • Molgarin shook his head. “Oh dear,” he said. Something worse than cynicism must be abroad if even our aristocracy cannot accept that the rich and powerful may be motivated by purposes beyond acquiring yet more money and increased influence.” He put his head to one side, as though genuinely puzzled. “Can’t you see, Lady Sharrow? Once one has a certain amount of both, one turns to hobbies, or good works or philosophy. Some people become patrons of the arts or charities. Others may—charitably—be said to raise their own lives to the state of art, living as the common herd imagine they would live if they had the chance. And some of us attempt not merely to understand our history, but to influence meaningfully the course of the future.”
    • Chapter 23 “All Castles Made Of Sand” (p. 432)
  • Hope could be more painful than despair.
    • Chapter 24 “Fall Into The Sea” (p. 474)
  • Sorry? Of course he was sorry. People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it was. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped. Fate, I’m sick of it all...
    Sorrow be damned, and all your plans. Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure and certain people prepared to maim and kill whoever got in their way; fuck every cause that ended in murder and a child screaming.
    • Chapter 24 “Fall Into The Sea” (p. 484; ellipsis represents elision of a short paragraph of description)

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.


  • I won't miss waiting for the next financial disaster because we haven't dealt with the underlying causes of the last one. Nor will I be disappointed not to experience the results of the proto-fascism that's rearing its grisly head right now. It's the utter idiocy, the sheer wrong-headedness of the response that beggars belief. I mean, your society's broken, so who should we blame? Should we blame the rich, powerful people who caused it? No let's blame the people with no power and no money and these immigrants who don't even have the vote, yeah it must be their fucking fault.

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