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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. David Gerard
    August 15, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

    What I keep coming back to from “State of the Art” is the Mind casually taking a copy of the entirety of Earth’s cultural production. All of it. I find it fascinating to contemplate what that could even mean, how that’s even a coherently-describable action, and that’s even before you disallow Minds from reading human brains. What did Banks have in mind? A static snapshot of the whole planet and everything on it would do the job, but if he meant that he’d have said it. How would you philosophically distinguish the culturally meaningful to save from the culturally meaningless, even assuming a Mind?

    (why yes, I do have a thing about cultural preservation.)


  2. Devin
    August 16, 2016 @ 7:47 am

    Well, it’s a Mind, so we know it’s smarter than us; not just a faster processor but qualitatively better. It can think things we can’t.

    My guesses would be either a) it’s a snapshot of the whole Earth, Banks just says “cultural product” because that’s what they’re using it for and he wants you to be thinking “oh, yes, everything Shakespeare and Shatner ever wrote” instead of “ah, of course, they’ll know our nuclear arsenals,” or b) the Mind is not being completist but has some satisfactory threshold for probability-of-cultural-significance and the resources to sort its sensor input accordingly.


    • Devin
      August 16, 2016 @ 7:50 am

      And of course I meant to say “yes, this is impossible, but then it can think things we can’t” at the end there, and also “probably option B doesn’t save much space over option A, but that’s fine too” but I hit the button too soon.


  3. Aylwin
    August 27, 2016 @ 9:12 am

    Very belatedly getting a chance to comment here, but on the off-chance this gets read, thank you for this. It helps straighten out some of the hows and whys of the story’s not-really-working for me.

    I remain puzzled by various aspects of its framing though. Like why, given that he hardly ever reused characters, Banks chose Sma as a narrator at all, and why he made such a point of her account being written in the immediate aftermath of the events of Use of Weapons. I feel there ought to be some significant emotional or thematic illumination from that, but don’t really see one. In particular, there’s the emphasis given to the fact that she is writing retrospectively, with her insistence that she would have told it the same way at the time, and Skaffen-Amtiskaw’s scoffing incredulity at this. Clearly we are meant to think about how her more recent experiences (and all we know about those is her role in Use of Weapons) may have coloured her recollections, but I don’t really see what is being driven at there.

    Also in this context, I am not sure what foundation there is in the text for your statement that this story explains Sma’s entry into SC, except in so far as her interventionist inclinations might be one consideration that would attract the attention of their recruiters (and even that could just as well be imagined to be a mark against her suitability as one in favour, depending on what they’re looking for).

    The emphasis on retrospection also plays into the decision to set the story when he does. Perhaps the way it rules out the possibility of overt intervention right from the start is sufficient explanation of putting it in the past, though, perhaps serendipitously, it also keeps the considerable Cold War element of the setting clear of the dramatic changes going on around the time of publication, which could have abruptly dated something with a more contemporary setting. Putting it in the 70s also locates it in the period when he was doing his original Culture writing, and hence brings the Culture to an Earth more like the one in which the Culture was first devised, lining up Banks’s own retrospection with Sma’s (presumably the release date of Star Wars accounts for it being 1977 specifically).

    Assuming this project continues, it will be interesting to see your reaction to “phase two” of the series. This, I suspect, is where it may get sticky, given the general political thrust of those three books and, well, quite a bit about Look to Windward, which I like a lot, but can very easily see you violently disliking. If nothing else, the little cold box will make you angry.


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