Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas (London: Orbit, 1988).
This is the first of what Banks calls his “Culture Novels.” These consist of standalone novels set in the same essential milieu. The centre of this setting is the society known as the Culture: advanced humans with highly advanced sentient machines and capabilities of genetic manipulation. From the first page to the last, the book really hums. The action is almost non-stop. As an introductory novel, it does a great job of creating lots of interest and introducing lots of topics in little space. The plot centres around a war between the animalistic Idirans and the effete Culture. The protagonist is Horza, a Changer: a race that can change their appearance. The philosophical theme of the book focuses on why he chooses to side with the Idirans and what is ultimately the fruits of war.
Overall, I love the pace of the book. It grabs you early and keeps things moving—sometimes a little too much, perhaps. The ending matches well with the story. I particularly like the little wrap-up at the end that ties up the loose ends. This is my first Banks book, and it does make me want to read more. I also bought the 2nd book and will post about that shortly.
Note: This book contains a fair amount of coarse language and adult innuendo.
P.S. The title of this book apparently comes from a T.S. Eliot poem “The Waste Land.” Time to look it up!