Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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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. CJM
    March 20, 2017 @ 11:12 pm

    A problem is that USE OF WEAPONS already rattled off about a half-dozen interventions from an outsider’s point-of-view, and generic medieval castle dealing with more technological introduction was one of them. USE OF WEAPONS makes it hard for a Culture story to go back to THE PLAYER OF GAMES mode of story-telling, just by doing so much.


  2. Aylwin
    March 21, 2017 @ 11:56 am

    Yeah, this is the dull one.

    I completely agree about the ponderously one-sided didacticism of the Vossil-DeWar “debate”, but I think there is more at issue there than just intervention vs non-intervention, even though that is what is most explicitly cited. There also seems to be an argument being made about methods of intervention, and hence about means of political change in general.

    The idea that the disagreement is a straight yes/no about intervention depends largely on the “Lavishia” backstory, but even there DeWar says that they argued not only about whether to intervene, but also how to go about it if you did. His advocacy of “being cruel to be kind” could pertain to leaving people to make their own mistakes, but could also apply to the use of violent, coercive, ruthless methods to achieve some goal.

    Certainly when you look at the main body of his story, DeWar does not appear at all as a straightforward anti-interventionist. In renouncing the Culture, he has not just downshifted to live the simple life of the primitive and play his warrior games for real, but has made himself the obsessively dedicated principal bodyguard to a head of state, and what’s more to the founding head of a quite recently established and severely threatened revolutionary regime, apparently unique in its political environment but with the recognised potential to inspire emulation elsewhere. And all this is in a world about whose social development he had previously had fierce arguments!

    This can hardly be an accident. Clearly he is trying to shape the development of history. How that is to be reconciled with his ostensible non-interventionist views is not specified, but there are certainly ways it could be reconciled – he is, after all, using no technological means unavailable to a native of this world, nor attempting to introduce any alien ideas. He is merely adding the unaided weight of his arm to a particular tendency already existing in this society, in a manner which could be justified as “fair play” by someone who rejected the Culture’s use of its superior power to dictate the development of weaker societies.

    If the issue had been only intervention vs non-intervention, there would be no reason why DeWar could not have been placed in the service of some more traditional monarchy. The actual set-up creates a clear opposition between two sorts of social change, with DeWar batting for revolution and Vossil representing reform. Indeed, Vossil’s specific means of achieving reform amounts to something like the kind of hostile caricatures of liberalism that play this theatre from time – merely a matter of keeping the comparatively reasonable king in charge and whispering in his ear that he should be nicer. Given that Vossil is a female healer, whose femaleness is a major issue (and in the backstory an advocate of “being kind to be kind” who doesn’t like hurting fluffy animals), while DeWar is a male warrior surrounded by conspicuously exploitative sexual relations (and in the backstory an outdoorsy, cynical, macho dickhead), there’s a pretty heavy-handed gender dimension to this, setting feminine soft influence against masculine hard power.

    What’s more, the opposition between them goes beyond contrast to become an outright proxy conflict, since King Quience is the dedicated and cunning enemy of the Protector UrLeyn, whose goal is explicitly to destroy not only UrLeyn or his regime but the whole idea of revolution that he stands for. The triumph of Vossil, her protege and their reform programme directly entails the total defeat of DeWar, his protege and their revolutionary programme.

    And all this is within a narrative which, as you say, comes down unequivocally in favour of Vossil and against DeWar. Hence, I see this book as the centrepiece of a turn against radicalism in the second-phase Culture books, following a trajectory from Excession‘s more nuanced but still fairly clear support for the Culture’s softly-softly consensus on reforming the Affront, against the conspirators’ advocacy of violent coercion. Look to Windward does not involve that sort of policy dispute, but the underlying assumptions of its premise seem very much the same.


    • Aylwin
      March 22, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

      That should be “from time to time” in the, er, antepenultimate paragraph.

      I did think that as there was so little to say about this book, for once I wouldn’t be burdening anyone’s scrollbar with interminably long comments. Best laid plans etc.


  3. Aylwin
    March 21, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

    Besides the kind-of-pointless and not very concerted obscuring of the fact that this was a Culture book, there is also a second “twist”, pursued with much greater dedication – the Bodyguard strand kicks off by explicitly raising the question of who its narrator is, before doing everything it can to indicate that it’s DeWar, and then revealing at the end that it was really Perrund (of course, on re-reading there are clues to this). Which seems not just kind-of-pointless but completely pointless, since it really changes nothing.


  4. fourthings
    March 22, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

    I don’t have a ton to contribute, not having read Inversions, but FUCK I am excited for your Look to Windward review. It was my introduction to the series, and still I think my favorite. I don’t know what that says about my taste.

    The really interesting thing, from a series perspective, is that Look to Windward is (in the title and otherwise) explicitly set up as a reflection and perhaps a rejoinder to Consider Phlebas, but it makes no structural or narrative attempt to parallel Phlebas and only lightly touches on that book’s themes. It’s just a totally different animal–one gets the sense Banks felt he oversold the AI debate, and was dissatisfied with the highly linear Odyssey structure because it involved too much stuff happening.

    Much better to have five converging plot threads which don’t quite manage to come to a head, so everyone calls it a wash and goes for another drink.


  5. Roderick T. Long
    March 22, 2017 @ 10:59 pm

    Oddly (apparently), this is one of my favourite Culture novels. I thought the basic story stood on its own quite well, apart from the “reveal.”


  6. darkspine10
    April 6, 2017 @ 8:18 pm

    Is there any set pattern to the publishing of Cultural Marxism, or is it just whenever you’re feeling like it?

    Just curious as to why this series has such large gaps between essays compared to say, Tardis Eruditorum or the Star Wars essays.


    • Aylwin
      April 7, 2017 @ 1:26 pm

      I believe Phil is reading the books and posting pretty much as he goes along. Given that, and the fact that this is not a big headlining project, presumably when he posts on a particular book depends chiefly on when he gets round to reading it.


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