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The Culture

The Culture is a fictional anarchic, socialistic and utopian society invented by the Scottish writer Iain M. Banks and described by him in several of his novels. Banks's second Culture novel, The Player of Games is widely considered to be the best introduction to the Culture.

The Culture originally comes about when seven or eight roughly humanoid[?] space-faring races coalesce into a rough collective -- a "group-civilisation" -- and now consists of approximatiely thirty trillion sentient beings. There is little uniformity in the Culture. Its citizens are such by choice, they are free to join, leave, and rejoin or indeed declare themselves to be, say, 80% Culture. Techniques in genetics are advanced to the point where human bodies are freed from built-in limitations: a severed limb grows back, automatic reflexes such as breathing or developing a blister can be switched to conscious control, bones and muscles adapt quickly to changes in gravity without the need to exercise them.

Further still, the humans of the Culture are equipped with drug glands in the base of their skull which secrete on command any of a large selection of chemicals, from the merely relaxing to the mind-altering: "Snap!" is described in Use of Weapons as "The Culture's favourite breakfast drug," and is presumably similar to caffeine. "Quicken," mentioned in Excession, puts experiences in slow motion.

For all these genetic perfections, the Culture is by no means eugenically uniform. Human members vary in size, colour and shape as much as ourselves, and there are further differences: in the novella The State of the Art, it is mentioned that a character "looks like a Yeti," perhaps implying Neaderthal descent, and also that there is variance among the Culture in minor details such as the number of toes or of joints on each finger.

The Culture has a shared language in Marain[?]. The Culture believes (or perhaps has proved) the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language affects society, and Marain was designed to exploit this effect. A related comment is made by the narrator in The Player of Games regarding gender-specific pronouns in English. Marain is also regarded as an aesthetically pleasing language.

Whilst the Culture is normally pacifist, a faction within the Culture exists to deal with special circumstances.

As well as humans, sentient artificial intelligences are also members of society. Each ship or space-based habitat contains at least one "Mind" which is usually identified with and known by the same name as the physical object it runs and inhabits. A Mind is tremendously powerful: capable of holding millions of conversations simultaneously with any of the humans that live on board, while running all the functions of the ship or habitat. The fact that Minds are accepted as citizens of the Culture was a major factor in the Idiran-Culture War, which is explored in Consider Phlebas.

"Drones" are usually more comparable to humans in terms of intelligence, although the Culture creates machines of widely varying intellectual capacity.

See also: Culture

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