Monday, July 08, 2013

A Few Notes on the Culture

Iain Banks wrote this cool article about some basic aspects on his semi-galactic civilization, The Culture. Like Banks himself, I'd love to live there. Like he said, the idea was to make a Utopia which was about as good as he could imagine it within realistic standards for a human society. And he also said it was the driving engine for the whole series of books, which I find really interesting and cool. Most writers, moi included, sadly find it much easier to be driven by darker ideas.
Of course this is countered by the fact that to get narrative tension, most of the stories take place on the edges, where the peaceful culture meet less placid alien cultures.

I would love if the Culture would be added to Kindle Worlds, where fan fiction authors can get their stories selected, and monies earned are split between the author and the owner of the original world. It's a great idea. (Though so far, sadly, limited to US citizens. Payments and taxes issues, for sure.)

Of course in the case of the Culture, this might be a bit redundant. It has no recurring characters, and the stories tend to take place widely spaced out in time and space, and within the Culture and the book series, it has such fantastic variety of... well, anything, that one might as well make it all up oneself, simply inspired by Banks.


Alex Greene said...

Quite possibly, The Culture itself is the recurring character.

Dave Nielsen said...

There is a kind of darkness to the idea of the Culture, though, and Banks makes it clear it's not ideal. For one thing, unlike the Federation in Star Trek there's no idea of the Prime Directive. In The State of the Art they leave Earth alone as an experiment. Most of the time they happily interfere, upgrading less developed civilizations.

It's also a bad society if you have any kind of ego. It wouldn't bother me, but there are people who wouldn't like the idea of being redundant within their own civilization, of there being no point in pursuing an interest in science, art, or whatever because the machines can do everything better.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I dunno, lots of people still play chess.

But I agree that it's a bit higher developed humanity than Earth. It pretty much has to be if you want a Utopia. (Unless it's enforced, and that's no Utopia, many stories have explored that.)

I think a big Ego in the Culture, if it's really bad, would flee. But by far the most would just get temper fits, but it's like fighting pillows, they get nowhere, so they tire themselves out. Probably they'll go into a virtual world where they can fight to dominate. (People can get Lost even in today's crude games, so it's not hard to imagine that a totally realistic virtuality can become your world if you want it.)

Interference is a very difficult question, and I think Banks make it clear that the Culture is very divided on the subject.
I'm pretty much against interference myself, but it's hard, if you have some neighbors with domestic violence, not to do *anything* at all.

I think you go a bit to far if you call it "dark" that the Culture, with baby-steps and great care, tend to influence other cultures towards fewer megadeaths. "Debatable" would be closer, I think.

Se Use of Weapons for example, where Zakalwe goes in and tries to do it himself, and makes a holy mess of the situation, and Contact has to dig him out and save the planet from a world war. They know how difficult it is to help. And they know they made mistakes sometimes.

Dave Nielsen said...

I dunno, lots of people still play chess.

That's true, but mostly against other humans, and when you lose badly against a computer it's at least an unthinking machine.

S.V. Smethurst said...

I'm not sure how wanting and liking to have a purpose in life, a point to existing, means you have an ego problem. What's thepoint of being alive if you're just a leech?

It seems to me the Culture is a step back in some ways because the Minds are in total control, they're unelected, eternal kings. Votes are taken the really big things that affect the whole Culture (like the Idiran war) but the day to day running of a ship or orbital or rock is down to the all powerful Mind.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

There's no doubt the humans are royally fucked if the minds go bad.
But it seems built in that they won't, and in any case they are independent too.

A purpose is essential, but personally I don't think an important purpose necessarily has to be connected to body survival.

John Goodfellow said...

In reality we'd probably never want to hand over total control to a computer. But that's only if ones as powerful as a Mind came on the scene right now. It'll be a slow advance over hundreds of years and maybe future humans won't have a problem with the idea.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, that's a very good point.

We won't trust child care to a robot either, until somehow over time they have proven themselves reliable there.

People probably even now wouldn't get on an airplane without a pilot. Despite that the computers for years have been better pilots than the humans. Even back in the eighties, a friend told of a landing in very bad weather, and the pilot said, "ladies and gentlemen, I will turn this landing over to our trusty computer". And when he did, the plane sudden flew rock-steady, and the landing was perfect.

I wish they'd done that with a landing ten years ago for me in Germany. It was *very* windy, and we came down wrong, landed on one wheel, took off again, and had to go around for another try. Almost everybody, even a stewardess who had strapped herself in next to me, felt sick, and some had thrown up.