Monthly Archives: May 2014

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

In the last book I wrote about here, Arguably, by Christopher Hitchens, Mr. Hitchens claimed that science fiction was not of great interest to him.  It must have seemed to him that the realm of real life presented such an array of brutality, misery and buffoonery that a tour of the merely speculative was not worth the effort.

But, Consider Phebas, by Iain M. Banks, is a space opera in the best sense of the term–passionate adventures, life and death struggles, romance, alien creatures, technological wonders–all set in a vast and fascinating universe, with a story that rushes mightily along with the power of an enormous train.

While this is a great adventure story, a really fun thrill-ride, it is framed by the larger story of two ruthless inimical civilizations, blasting one another apart with astonishing, grotesque weapons over the course of generation after generation of destruction.  It is tempting to damn the excesses of these two civilizations as the follies of the faith-based.  The cataclysmic war between them arose from a conflict between their two proselytizing philosophies, carried forcefully and stubbornly across the galaxies.

This frame for all the action is great, nourishing stuff for the more thoughtful reader, but Consider Phlebas is also a great thrill for those who enjoy the roller-coaster read, with the hairpin turns and hair-raising drops.  It is great fun.



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Arguably by Christopher Hitchens

I’ll propose a little exercise: Each time you pick up a book by some notable author, Google <that author>+Christopher Hitchens. I bet you will find more than a little delight in the essay, book review, book introduction or other glittering nugget that pops up. He wrote beautifully, brilliantly and extensively about writing and writers, and the bite-sized length of the pieces gathered in this collection is perfect for those whose tolerance for exegesis is low. He had a encyclopedic fund of knowledge about writers, their place in history, their ideas, and a great grace and fluidity in getting it all across to the devoted non-professional, like me. Reading just one of these essays will lead to reading another, and another. Arguably also serves to give the lie to the notion that atheists are a glum lot, with no principles and no joy. There is as much vigor and delight in the writing here as there was (and will be) for me in the reading, and his passion is clear and not a bit shy.  This is not just a book about books and writers; there is also a generous sampling of Hitch’s well-known fire in the tinder of current affairs, but my joy was in discovering this treasure of anecdote and context about writers and writing.

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