The End of The Culture (Iain Banks Thread)

There are at least a few other Banks fans in here so I thought this might be interesting. On a purely selfish personal level regarding his passing I’m disappointed that we’ll never find out what his ultimate vision of the science-fiction universe he created was to have been (if indeed he had one).

Its implied in-universe that The Culture will in time simply sublime away like all other civilisations before it but that it is currently conciously maintaining a presence in physical reality in order to continue its ‘good works’.

My question is how do you see the Culture ending as a society, sublimation, collapsing or dispersing through over-decadence and/or the loss of a central unifying idea, being destroyed by a collection of equivtech level civilisations or a more powerful one by annoying the others one to many times with their smarmyness, or something else?


Hmmmm. Interesting question, and one that I frankly doubt that Banks intended to answer. However, now that you’ve posed it here, I’ll have a good think on it. I look forward to reading other’s thoughts on the matter as well.

I don’ t recall the specifics of any book, chapter or verse, but think there were three ways that any species or ‘group’ could leave the universe: (1) be exterminated in a war; (2)voluntary genocide (suicide); or (3) sublimation to join the collective conciousness on another plane of existence.

If any group survived long enough, they’d eventually choose either (2) or (3).

I can’t recall if AI (robots) can sublime, but I think they can. I expected that the culture would split into three groups - those that just wanted to end it, those that wanted to sublime, and those that wanted to remain and form a new community, slightly different from the culture.

The Culture would therefore survive in name only, as an ancestor civilization. That’s my WAG.

The meta-civilization in our galaxy undergoes constant turnover by sublimation, and technological advance has more or less plateaued. It may be that The Culture’s desire to stick around to do good works will allow them to advance far enough to break the cycle. It’s revealed at the end of Excession that the Excession was a bridge between universes created by a much, much more advanced society migrating to new digs. Maybe The Culture will eventually do that, too. After all, we’re not specifically told that The Culture sublimed.

(And yes, AIs can sublime. At least Minds can, and drones can apparently somehow “join” Minds.)

Minds and human gestalts can definitely sublime.

I’m not sure - the Culture is already capable of sustaining breakaways like the Zetetic Elench and the Peace Faction. I think what Banks was trying to get at is that in its anarchistic way, the Culture had hit on the best long-term sustainable way of existing as an Involved society, it wasn’t about to implode, so an OOCP or other global killer (e.g. hegemonizing swarm) is the only way it’s going to end.

I always wonder what if Banks was planning on a final “Horza was right” book, where the Minds decide that the flesh bags they’ve been carrying around aren’t worth the hassle anymore. Maybe they genocide Culture’s humans , maybe they put them all in a virtual hell.

AI’s can definitely sublime, in fact its stated that Minds can sublime all by themselves wheras for lesser beings it takes a civilisation wide effort. It is implied that exceptional individual ‘humans’ can sublime on their own but they can’t maintain themselves as a coherent entity in the ‘beyond’.

In fact Minds have to be created deliberately flawed, if they aren’t they take one look around them and Sublime away, not sure what that says about physical reality!

You bring up something that I wondered about the last Culture book, 99.9% of the society depicted in it Sublimes away, but for a civilisation of a few tens or hundreds of billions that still leaves a large enough remnant to continue as a ‘people’ albiet in a different way.

Actually, I’d forgotten about the Excession and what it implied, I hope that would be the ultimate fate of the Culture, to surpass the commonly accepted possibilities and transcend as a people, beyond ‘mere’ sublimation.

That’s a rather unpleasant thought, I can’t see it happening both ‘in-universe’ and because Banks obviously thought of the Culture as a utopia and something to strive towards. I do have sympathy for the people who say that the Minds have too much power and control over biologicals and that they exist only under their sufferance.

But by far the majority seem genuinely benign and enjoy having people around and I can’t see that changing.

Look to Windward had the Culture effectively gone from galactic society after a galactic cycle (~250 million years). So they do eventually disappear but it isn’t mentioned how.

Eww, no. Any hack can write “What if the machines rise up?”. Banks was one of the only voices exploring “What if they don’t?”.

But he always kept a few nagging doubt around. The Mind Gray Area made it it’s life work to torture beings who it thought deserved it, and there’s the lingering questions as to whether Special Circumstances was responsible for the plot to destroy the Mind & Orbital in Look to Windward. I don’t think Banks saw the Culture as an absolutely desirable Utopia at all, just something a lot better than what we currently have. No I don’t really think he was planning on wiping it all out, but it is an interesting thing to think about.

Grey Area and even Special Circumstances are aberrations compared to the wider Culture though, I can’t see enough Minds ever being converted to be anti-biological to implement any sort of plan against them.

And I may be misremembering but wasn’t there a part in one of the books that AI’s and Minds are ‘raised’ to have a fondness for biologicals? Naturally like people this training wouldn’t always take but in the majority it does.

I don’t think they Grey Area was despised and shunned for what it did with what it learned rather than it read biologicals minds in the first place, technologically easy but something of a taboo in Culture society.

Anyway, they find ‘humans’ fun to have around and they don’t take up many resources and effort in the long view.

I think Banks say the Culture very much as a Utopia, just not one that was perfect or without its flaws, I think he stated that humanity could eventually achieve a society like it if we’re wise and lucky.

While personally I would love to live in the Culture I do think thats only on a selfish personal basis, for humanity as a whole having such power ceded to beings so much more powerful and capable than ourselves doesn’t sit well with me, both for the threat aspect and that the destiny of humanity as a species would no longer be our own, we’d have a say but very much at the sufferance of the Minds. But luckily the Minds do appear to be benign and I don’t think that would ever change, they might lose interest in biologicals (though I doubt it) but they wouldn’t turn against them.

I think a key factor is that the culture is a post-scarcity civilization, so there’s no motive to ‘kill all humans’, and no motive to ‘kill all robots’. The only threats to a normal person would be from a minority within the culture (jealousies, revenge etc.) which are either preventable or solvable by benevolent minds, or from external civilizations (eg. Idiran), in which case the culture re-inforces it’s solidarity against a common enemy.

Crap, I do not remember reading that! I should be ashamed of myself. Since Excession I always thought that the Culture eventually would find a way to step through into younger universes, possibly aided by the ships and minds who went through ahead of them at the end of the book.

True, I think what holds the Culture together are two key concepts, hedonism and good-works, if these unifying concepts start to fail to be attractive it could begin to fragment and drift apart. Personally I think thats unlikely but then we’ve already seen the Zetetic Elench for whom the Culture proper just wasn’t partying hard enough. :eek:

I wondered if what the Grey Area discovered with the aid of the Excession was somehow even better than Subliming? (though given how Subliming is described in the Hydrogen Sonata its hard to imagine how it could be).

That would seem really out of character for the Minds that we’ve seen in the books - even the most psychopathic of minds, the Grey Area and the Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints don’t have the animus in them to genocide anybody. They’ll happily kill a bunch of armed hostile people, or even people who aren’t armed and have done significant damage to others (Veppers,) but I can’t see them having it in them to kill a bunch of harmless people.
It also goes against the central themes of a lot of Banks’ work - he seemed to like going down the road of ‘but what if the future isn’t dystopia?’ ‘what would it look like to try to make life more aligned with the values of material wealth/post-wealth and hedonism?’ Which is a refreshing change - I like a good post-apocalypse story as much as anyone, but someone has to write something that’s not post-apocalypse or apocalyptic.

For some good Banks post-apocalyptic work, Against a Dark Background is pretty grim, but isn’t a Culture story.

Was AADB post-apocalyptic? Its been a long time since I read it, I wonder are such ‘orphan solar systems’ as depicted possible?

Not in the sense of Earth/Revelations apocalypse, but in the sense that the civilization within that solar system has experienced a number of devastating wars, some of which apparently left vast tracts of the planet uninhabited (possibly uninhabitable?) and wiped out enough of the people/institutions that various technologies and histories were lost.
I’m not an astronomer, but it seems plausible to me that stars could be expelled from galaxies, and since we seem to be finding lots of exoplanets, there is a likelihood that such expelled stars would have planetary systems.

Missed this thread at the time.

There are some hints in Excession that given access to a very, very young Universe, you can manipulate the settings, so to speak, as you see fit. Perhaps the entities that are migrating via the Excession are going to a groovy designer Universe. A physical implementation of some crazy Infinite Fun Space concept? The Sublimed are still confined to our rather mundane Universe, after all.

I think the notion of the Culture hanging on forever because of its anarchic nature has a lot to recommend it. It does not strike me that all of the Culture will ever be ready to Sublime at once. Their do-gooding with less advanced cultures ensures that there will always be chain of cultures going from primitive to Culture members, as the more advanced Culture members Sublime.

Interesting question: can a technologically advanced culture whose moral standards are deeply questionable Sublime, like the Affront for example? Somehow, I can’t see the Affront Subliming. Whom would they torment? Haven’t read Hydrogen Sonata yet, so I have only the haziest concept of Subliming. It does not sound like something a member of the Affront would even be interested in, based on what I know.

Even if the Culture never Sublimes, the epilogue to Look to Windward is a little ambiguous - the Culture could still be around (almost unrecognizably) in another form/by another name, or it could have been destroyed in some manner. The implication seems to be that the Culture’s gone, but given the scale of the time jump between the ending and the epilogue, quite a lot could have happened. :wink:

Not sure if the Affront would want to Sublime - you could be right on that, but there doesn’t seem to be a moral prerequisite for Sublimation - the partially-Sublimed Pavuleans from Surface Detail have their Sublimed half urging the still-extant half to maintain a Hell in which consciousnesses are tortured indefinitely… seems pretty evil to me, but they got to Sublime.

I think there’s an implication somewhere that species that have Sublimed gradually lose interest in the Real, so eventually, evil or not, they kinda go away. I suppose the Sublimed Affront could raise some Hell (heh) in the Real even after they left it for a while if they really did want to torment someone.