In their continuing crusade to buy up everything I like, Amazon have announced this week that they have purchased the rights to Iain M. Banks’s sci-fi novel Consider Phlebas.
This comes after their $205 million deal for the rights to produce a Lord of the Rings based series last year, so it seems that they are giving their all to bash Netflix into the dust. After seeing the Netflix adaptation of Death Note, all I can say is good on them for trying, and maybe offer to get a few good hits in myself.
For those of you too cool to read sci-fi novels, Consider Phlebas is the first work in sci-fi author Iain M. Banks’s incredible Culture series. These books loosely follow a highly advanced civilisation called the Culture, a society comprised of space anarchist hippies. When I say advanced I truly mean it.
None of this “we have faster than light travel and laser beams, but basically otherwise are still like modern humans” trash you see in Star Wars or Star Trek. No, in the Culture everyone has, among many other advances: an internet connection jammed into their brains, drug glands engineered into their bodies, can change sex at will, never get ill (except voluntarily to break the monotony of healthy living) have their minds backed up so physical death is no big deal, all their whims catered to by machine overseers, extremely long lives (immortality, if you don’t get sick of the whole life thing and choose to be shot into the centre of a star) and play massive online video games while they sleep at night instead of dreaming. This enormous Utopian society is guided by Minds, vast AIs capable of running several simulations of entire universes as well as performing whatever daily functions they wish all at once.
My point in describing all this is that the universe is very, very ambitious. I think it will be very difficult to present such technologically superior societies and alien characters to audiences on television, at least without dumbing it down somewhat. For example, Consider Phlebas’s plot follows Horza, a humanoid genetically engineered shapeshifter fighting for the Culture’s enemies, the Idirans. He is an amoral murderer tasked with the mission to capture a Culture Mind and is willing to do anything to complete this task.
He is not a conventional hero, or even antihero, and I think he will be very hard to portray without an internal monologue. Similarly, to do the book justice Amazon will have to spend an extraordinary amount of money on the show. This is on a property which, while having a devoted fanbase, does not have the name recognition of Lord of the Rings.
Still, with Iain M. Banks having died nearly five years ago, its nice to have something set in the Culture universe being released. I’m skeptical but at the same time excited to see what Amazon do with the property. Watch this space for any further updates as they come in.