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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
    April 11, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

    typo in title!


  2. Jane
    April 11, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

    Nice chair.


  3. triturus
    April 11, 2016 @ 5:51 pm

    “it’s so good you can see why he didn’t write another one for six years.”

    It’s likely that State of the Art was written after Use of Weapons, given that the original UoW was written in 1974.

    The State of the Art collection was published in 1991 but the State of the Art novella itself was published as a very limited edition stand-alone in 1989. The SotA novella is set in 1977, so it’s possible it was written in the 70s too (and it shares the character of Diziet Sma with UoW).


  4. Aylwin
    April 11, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

    The best-executed twist ending I know of, for the sheer pervasiveness of the indications of what’s being hidden, framed so that you don’t notice them, with even the odd clue to the clues layered on top of that (as in the game played with the narration on the freezer ship).

    It always perplexed me that the same author could produce something as blindingly obvious and cliched as the twist ending of Against a Dark Background. I don’t think that obviousness actually damages the book, but it’s so blatant that I start to wonder whether it’s some sort of deliberate irony, only if it is I can’t figure it out.


  5. Aylwin
    April 11, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    I’m interested by the degree to which, here and in the previous posts, you emphasise the critique of foreign intervention as a central message of the books. I don’t see it quite like that – clearly Banks was very interested in probing the uncomfortable aspects of the Culture’s interventionism, but surely his view was ultimately that it is a Good Thing, the proper way for a society to behave if it has the advantages that the Culture does. This is his utopia after all, and its external policy is presented as being as fundamental to its character as its internal life.

    In a way, though I certainly don’t actually think this was where Banks was coming from, one could even read the Culture as a utopia designed with the purpose of generating a virtuous imperialism in mind. If you are attracted to the idea of a powerful and enlightened society transforming others for their own good, whether they like it or not, the most intractable practical problems are the fact that the power of self-interest means that high-minded motivations are likely to be swamped by the impulse for material gain, and the fact that human social dynamics are so complicated that any attempt to reshape another society by design is almost certain to founder in a maelstrom of unintended consequences. So you avoid the former problem by supposing a post-scarcity society, whose superfluity of resources removes the temptations of material gain, and deal with the latter by supposing it to be run by hyperintelligent AIs capable of engineering the desired outcome with almost total reliability. And of course you suppose a society which shares your own values, so that it is driving for the right goals in the first place.

    Banks’s basic approval of Contact means that the authorial critique focuses more on the muckiness of some of the means of intervention, and the fact that there can never be a complete guarantee against their going wrong, than on the character of the ends. This is the book that comes closest to directly challenging the Culture’s right to do what it does, and to acknowledging its fundamentally imperialist character. It comes in that central conversation where Beychae points out that Contact’s efforts to “help” other societies inevitably involve imposing the Culture’s own particular values on others, regardless of what they want.

    But Banks ultimately avoids facing that challenge head-on. Not by nobbling the critique, in the way he nobbled Horza’s, but by underplaying the defence. He could have given the brief to a Culture citizen, or indeed a Mind, who could be expected to offer as good a defence as the author is capable of, and the strength of whose arguments would thus be a fair test of his own. But instead he gives it to a “mercenary” who works for the Culture but remains outside it, and who can therefore dead-bat the argument with a pragmatic “yeah, but would you rather have the other lot?”. To switch metaphors, Banks folds on that hand, so he never has to show the strength of his cards.


    • Spoilers Below
      April 13, 2016 @ 2:23 pm

      There’s a reading of Use of Weapons (and the other early Culture novels) against Kiergeraard’s Fear and Trembling that might prove interesting. One needs to have faith that the Minds/God have your best interests at heart, even if they are asking you to do horrible things, that what they are telling you to do will ultimately turn out in the end for everyone. They are “gods” that one can have a personal relationship, of sorts, with, but are certainly tend towards the old testament variety, with their demand for expansion, no gods being held before them, etc. By setting up entities which are literally smarter than anything else is existence, are they freed from ethical concerns? Are we allowed to judge them on our scale, given that they will outlive us and outlast us? We literally cannot understand them, nor their ethical system, if they have one.

      Needless to say, this isn’t actually comforting at all (nor does Kierkegaard intend it to be), and the skepticism with which Banks often views the Culture (better than the other guys, but still…) is quite understandable.

      And this view of the Minds rather neatly segues into Excession, where Banks takes this depiction out to the woodshed and gives it a good working over.


  6. Aylwin
    April 11, 2016 @ 10:15 pm

    Slightly disappointed at the abandonment of the gauche-first-edition-cover policy in favour of the classy Mark Salwowski version.


  7. KIERON Gillen
    April 13, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

    This set me off to re-read this. Half thought I only had read it once. If I have, it’s worrying how much I knew it all beat for beat – I have to presume I must have re-read it, and forgotten them, as the initial reading was so vibrant in my head.

    I’m aware I’ve played with this explicitly at least twice in my own career – my own chairs have turned up in both Young Avengers (where I clearly tried to give a bunch of really sweet readers nightmares) and in Crossed (where It was more appropriate.)

    And my own cover of choice:


    • Daibhid C
      April 13, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

      I love the way both that cover and the first edition of Consider Phlebas have a subtitle of “A Science Fiction Novel”. Just in case the rocketships don’t clue you in.

      (Remember when you could see a rocketship on the cover of a book and be sure you were getting an examination of interventionism within a quasi-Marxist utopia?)


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