Amazon wins the Culture wars, nabs the TV rights to Iain M. Banks’ space opera Consider Phlebas

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Amazon have added another flower to their already-impressive bouquet of genre acquisitions after picking up the TV rights (as per Deadline) to the late Iain Banks’ (he added the M. to his name to differentiate his genre writing from his literary fiction) space opera Consider Phlebas. It joins the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and more as recent high-profile acquisitions by the entertainment arm of the online giant that’s pushing hard into the genre TV space right now.

Published in 1987 and suddenly making me feel very old for that realisation, Consider Phlebas is the first in Banks’ Culture series, which consists of nine novels and a short story collection. The last being The Hydrogen Sonata, which was published a year before his death in 2013.

In the series, the Culture is a utopian, galaxy-spanning civilisation consisting of humans and various alien species, along with highly-advanced artificial intelligences known as “Minds”. It frequently comes into contact, and conflict, with other civilisations which do not share its ideals, and the novels deal with how the Culture overcomes those differences. It’s space opera of the highest degree. Personally, I’ve always considered the Culture to be more of a benevolent dictatorship where people are free to do whatever they choose, but overseen by its Minds who have fairly unlimited power at their disposal to ensure that way of life.

Consider Phlebas itself drops the reader into the middle of the Idiran-Culture War, albeit on the opposite side of the conflict. The main protagonist is Horza, a shape-changing mercenary working for the Idirans, a highly-religious authoritarian civilisation whose own ideals are diametrically opposed to those of the idealistic and open Culture. Horza is tasked with retrieving a Culture Mind that managed to flee the destruction of its ship and landed on a planet known as Schar’s World. However the world is one of the so-called “Planets of the Dead”, and is under the protection of the Dra’Azon, a sublimed species – or one that has moved on to a higher dimension of existence, who brook no interference of the dead worlds under their purview.

Dennis Kelly, the man behind the cult British series Utopia, has been tapped to head the adaption of Banks’ modern classic for the streaming service, with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment producing. Amazon Studios’ Head of Scripted Series, Sharon Tal Yguado, said at the announcement of the acquisition:

“The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen. We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebas into a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come.”

Kelly also expressed his long-standing admiration for Banks’ work:

“Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humor and humanism shines through these novels. Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for—rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning.”

The novel’s synopsis (via Amazon) is as follows:

The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.

Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.

Last Updated: February 22, 2018

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