The Culture series is composed of independent tales, though some of the same characters appear in two of the plots and there are several references to the Idirian war. The Contact Section of the Culture—a utopia of highly advanced technologies in which life is prolonged, all wants are fulfilled, and humanoids of all species live in peace—benevolently watches over emerging societies in the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds. Through Special Circumstances operatives, the Culture shapes those societies to its standards. The plots of the individual novels concern the adventures of Special Circumstances operatives.
The first novel, Consider Phlebas, depicts a galactic war between the Culture and three-legged, reptilian Idirians, occurring in the fourteenth century of Earth’s Common Era. The Culture fights to justify itself, excusing its hedonistic lifestyle by the way it improves inferior societies by imposing its standards on them. The Idirians, who think the Culture lacks real principles, fight to subjugate other species, bringing other societies to their god in a religious and commercial empire. Bora Horza, a “changer” who can assume any humanoid shape, supports the Idirians and fights on their side; Perosteck Balveda, a Special Circumstances agent, is his opponent. The object of their struggle is a Mind (the sentient core of a starship) that has escaped the Idirians and is hiding on a forbidden planet controlled by a third society, the Dra’Azon. To find the Mind, Horza assumes the identity of the leader of a Free Company (of pirates) and takes the pirates (including Balveda, who knows his real identity) to the planet, arriving after Idirians have already landed. In a running battle with the Idirians, who...
(The entire section is 709 words.)