The Culture is a fictional interstellar anarchic, socialist, and utopian society created by the Scottish writer Iain M. Banks which features in a number of science fiction novels and works of short fiction by him.
The Culture is characterized by being a post-scarcity society (meaning that its advanced technologies provide practically limitless material wealth and comforts for everyone for free, having all but abolished the concept of possessions), by having overcome almost all physical constraints on life (including disease and death) and by being an almost totally egalitarian, stable society without the use of any form of force or compulsion, except where necessary to protect others Minds, powerful artificial intelligences, have an important role to play in this society. They administer this affluence for the benefit of all. The novels of the Culture cycle, therefore, mostly deal with people at the fringes of the Culture–diplomats, spies or mercenaries–those who interact with other civilizations, and who do the Culture's dirty work in moving those societies closer to the Culture ideal, sometimes by force.
In this fictional universe, the Culture exists concurrently with human society on Earth. The time frame for the published Culture stories is from roughly AD 1300 to AD 2100, with Earth being contacted during the end of the time frame, though the Culture had covertly visited the planet in the 1970s in The State of the Art.The Culture itself is described as having been created when several humanoid species and machine sentiences reached a certain social level, and took not only their physical, but also their civilizational evolution into their own hands. In The Player of Games, the Culture is described as having existed as a space-faring society for eleven thousand years.
Society and culture
The Culture is a symbiotic society of artificial intelligences (AIs) (Minds, Drones) and humanoids who all share equal status. As mentioned above, all essential work is performed (as far as possible) by non-sentient devices, freeing sentients to do only things that they enjoy (administrative work requiring sentience is undertaken by the AIs using a bare fraction of their mental power, or by people who take on the work out of free choice). As such, the Culture is also a post-scarcity society, where technological advances ensure that no one lacks any material goods or services. As a consequence, the Culture has no need of economic constructs such as money (as is apparent when it deals with civilizations in which money is still important).
Marain is the Culture's shared language. Designed by early Minds, the Culture believes (or perhaps has proved, or else actively made true) the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis that language influences thought, and Marain was designed to exploit this effect, while also 'appealing to poets, pedants, engineers and programmers'. Designed to be represented either in binary or symbol-written form, Marain is also regarded as an aesthetically pleasing language by the Culture. The symbols of the Marain alphabet can be displayed in three-by-three grids of binary (yes/no, black/white) dots and thus correspond to nine-bit wide binary numbers.Related comments are made by the narrator in The Player of Games regarding gender-specific pronouns, and by general reflection on the fact that Marain places much less structural emphasis on (or even lacks) concepts like possession and ownership, dominance and submission and especially aggression. Many of these concepts would in fact be somewhat theoretical to the usual Culture citizen.Marain itself is also open to encryption and dialect specific implementations for different parts of the Culture. M1 is basic Nonary Marain, the three-by-three grid. All Culture citizens can communicate in this variant. Other variants include M8 through M16, which are encrypted by various degrees, and are typically used by the Contact Section. Higher level encryptions exist, the highest of these being M32. M32 and lower level encrypted signals are the province of Special Circumstances. Use of M32 is reserved for extremely secret and reserved information and communication within Special Circumstances. That said, M32 has an air of notoriety in the Culture, and in the thoughts of most may best be articulated as "the Unbreakable, Inviolable, Holy of Holies Special Circumstances M32" as described by prospective SC agent Ulver Seich. Ships and Minds also have a slightly distasteful view of SC procedure associated with M32, one Ship Mind going so far as to object to the standard SC attitude of "Full scale, stark raving M32 don't-talk-about-this-or-we'll-pull-your-plugs-out-baby paranoia" on the use of the encryption (Excession).
There are no laws as such in the Culture. Social norms are enforced by convention (personal reputation, 'good manners' and by, as described in The Player of Games, possible ostracism for more serious crimes). Minds generally refrain from using their all-seeing capabilities to influence people's reputations, though they are not necessarily themselves above judging people based on such observations, as described in Excession. Minds also judge each other, with one of the more relevant criteria being the quality of their treatment of sentients in their care. Hub Minds for example are generally nominated from well-regarded GSV (the largest class of ships) Minds, and then upgraded to care for the billions living on the artificial habitats.The only serious prohibitions that seem to exist are against harming sentient beings, or forcing them into undertaking any act (another concept that seems unnatural–in fact is almost unheard of–to almost all Culture citizens). As mentioned in The Player of Games, the Culture does have the occasional "crime of passion" (as described by an Azadian) and the punishment was to be "slap-droned", or to have a drone assigned to follow the offender and "make sure [they] don't do it again".While the enforcement in theory could lead to a Big Brother-style surveillance society, in practice social convention among the Minds prohibits them from watching, or interfering in, citizens' lives unless requested, or unless they perceive severe risk. The practice of reading a sentient's mind without permission–something the Culture is technologically easily capable of–is also strictly taboo, and Minds that do so are considered deviant and shunned by other Minds (see GCU Grey Area). At one point it is said that if the Culture actually had written laws, the sanctity of one's own thoughts against the intrusion of others would be the first on the books.This gives some measure of privacy and protection–though the very nature of Culture society would, strictly speaking, make keeping secrets irrelevant: most of them would be considered neither shameful nor criminal. It does allow the Minds in particular to scheme amongst themselves in a very efficient manner, and occasionally withhold information.
It has been argued within the novels by opponents of the Culture that the role of humans in the Culture is nothing more than that of pets, or parasites on Culture Minds, and that they can have nothing genuinely useful to contribute to a society where science is close to omniscient about the physical universe, where every ailment has been cured, and where every thought can be read. Many of the Culture novels in fact contain characters (from within or without the Culture) wondering how far-reaching the Minds' dominance of the Culture is, and how much of the democratic process within it might in fact be a sham–subtly but very powerfully influenced by the Minds in much the same ways Contact and Special Circumstances influence other societies. Also, except for some mentions about a vote over the Idiran-Culture War, and the existence of a very small number of 'Referrers' (humans of especially acute reasoning), few biological entities are ever described as being involved in any high-level decisions.On the other hand, the Culture can be seen as fundamentally hedonistic–one of the main objectives for any being, including Minds, is to have fun–rather than to be 'useful'. Also, Minds are constructed, by convention, to care for and value human beings. While a General Contact Unit (GCU) does not strictly need a crew (and could construct artificial avatars when it did), a real human crew adds richness to its existence, and offers distraction during otherwise dull periods. In Consider Phlebas it is noted that Minds still find humans fascinating, especially their odd ability to sometimes achieve similarly advanced reasoning as their much more complex machine brains.To a large degree, the freedoms enjoyed by humans in the Culture are only available because Minds choose to provide them. Nevertheless, social convention within the community of Minds seem to make it impossible, as well as abhorrent, that these freedoms should be curtailed in a society that cares about the happiness of its members. The freedoms include the ability to leave the Culture when desired, often forming new associated but separate societies with Culture ships and Minds, most notably the Zetetic Elench and the ultra-pacifist and non-interventionist Peace Faction.
The Culture is a posthuman society, which originally arose when seven or eight roughly humanoid space-faring species coalesced into a quasi-collective – a 'group-civilization' – ultimately consisting of approximately thirty trillion (short scale) sentient beings (this includes artificial intelligences). In Banks' universe, a good part (but by no means an overwhelming percentage) of all sentient species is of the 'pan-human' type, as noted in Matter. It is not explained how this similarity in many species came about.Although the Culture was originated by humanoid species, subsequent interactions with other civilizations have introduced many non-humanoid species into the Culture (including some former enemy civilizations), though the majority of the biological Culture is still pan-human. Little uniformity exists in the Culture, and its citizens are such by choice, free to change physical form and even species (though some stranger biological conversions are irreversible, and conversion from biological to artificial sentience is considered to be what is known as an Unusual Life Choice). All members are also free to join, leave, and rejoin, or indeed declare themselves to be, say, 80% Culture.
Techniques in genetics have advanced in the Culture to the point where bodies can be freed from built-in limitations. Citizens of the Culture refer to a 'normal' human as 'human-basic' and the vast majority opt for significant enhancements; severed limbs grow back, sexual physiology can be voluntarily changed from male to female and back (though the process itself takes time), sexual stimulation and endurance are strongly heightened in both sexes (something that is often subject of envious debate among other species), pain can be 'switched off', toxins can be bypassed away from the digestive system, automatic functions such as breathing or heart rate can be switched to conscious control, and bones and muscles adapt quickly to changes in gravity without the need to exercise. The degree of enhancement found in Culture individuals varies to taste, with certain of the more exotic enhancements limited to Special Circumstances personnel (for example, weapons systems embedded in various parts of the body).Most Culture individuals opt to have 'drug glands' that allow for hormonal levels and other chemical secretions to be consciously monitored, released and controlled. These allow owners to secrete on command any of a wide selection of synthetic drugs, from the merely relaxing to the mind-altering: 'Snap' is described in Use of Weapons and The Player of Games as "The Culture's favourite breakfast drug". 'Sharp Blue' is described as a utility drug—as opposed to a sensory enhancer or a sexual stimulant—that helps in problem solving. 'Quicken', mentioned in Excession, speeds up the user's neural processes so that time seems to slow down, allowing them to think and have mental conversation (for example with artificial intelligences) in far less time than it appears to take to the outside observer. 'Sperk', as described in Matter, is a mood- and energy-enhancing drug, while other such self-produced drugs include 'Calm', 'Gain', 'Charge', 'Recall', 'Diffuse', 'Somnabsolute', 'Softnow', 'Focus', and 'Crystal Fugue State'. The glanded substances have no permanent side-effects and are non-habit-forming.
For all their genetic improvements, the Culture is by no means eugenically uniform. Human members in the Culture setting vary in size, colour and shape as in reality, and with possibly even further natural differences: in the novella The State of the Art, it is mentioned that a character "looks like a Yeti", and that there is variance among the Culture in minor details such as the number of toes or of joints on each finger. Some Culture citizens opt to leave the constraints of a human or even humanoid body altogether, opting to take on the appearance of one of the myriad of other galactic sentients (perhaps in order to live with them) or even non-sentient objects as commented upon in Matter (though this process can be irreversible if the desired form is too removed from the structure of the human brain). Certain eccentrics have chosen to become drones or even Minds themselves, though this is considered rude and possibly even insulting by most humans and AIs alike.While the Culture is generally pan-humanoid (and tends to call itself 'human'), various other species and individuals of other species have become part of the Culture.As all Culture citizens are of perfect genetic health, the very rare cases of a Culture citizen showing any physical deformity are almost certain to be a sort of 'fashion statement' of somewhat dubious taste.
Almost all Culture citizens are very sociable, of great intellectual capability and learning, and possess very well-balanced psyches. Their biological makeup and their growing up in an enlightened society make neuroses and 'lesser emotions' like greed or (strong) jealousy practically unknown, and produce persons that, in any lesser society, appear very self-composed and charismatic. Character traits like strong shyness, while very rare, are not fully unknown, as shown in Excession. As described there and in Player of Games, a Culture citizen who becomes dysfunctional enough to pose a serious nuisance or threat to others would be offered (voluntary) psychological adjustment therapy and might potentially find himself under constant (non-voluntary) oversight by representatives of the local Mind. In extreme cases, as described in Use of Weapons and Surface Detail, dangerous individuals have been known to be assigned a 'slap drone', a robotic follower whose single function is to ensure that the person in question doesn't continue to endanger the safety of others.
As well as humans and other biological species, sentient artificial intelligences are also members of the Culture. These can be broadly categorised into drones and Minds. Also, by custom, as described in Excession, any artifact (be it a tool or vessel) above a certain capability level has to be given sentience.
Drones are roughly comparable in intelligence and social status to that of the Culture's biological members. Their intelligence is measured against that of an average biological member of the Culture – a so-called "1.0 value" drone would be considered the mental equal of a biological citizen, whereas lesser drones such as the menial service units of Orbitals are merely proto-sentient (capable of limited reaction to unprogrammed events, but possessing no consciousness, and thus not considered citizens – these take care of much of the menial work in the Culture). The sentience of advanced drones has varying levels of redundancy, from systems similar to that of Minds (though much reduced in capability) down to electronic, to mechanical and finally biochemical back-up brains.Although drones are artificial, the parameters that prescribe their minds are not rigidly constrained, and sentient drones are full individuals, with their own personalities, opinions and quirks. Like biological citizens, Culture drones generally have lengthy names. They also have a form of 'sexual' intercourse for pleasure, called being 'in thrall', though this is an intellect-only interfacing with another sympathetic drone.While civilian drones do generally match humans in intelligence, drones built especially as Contact or Special Circumstances agents are often several times more intelligent, and imbued with extremely powerful senses, powers and armaments (usually forcefield and 'effector'-based, though occasionally more 'offensive' weaponry such as lasers or, exceptionally, 'knife-missiles' are referred to) all powered by antimatter reactors. Despite being purpose built, these drones are still allowed individual personalities and given a choice in lifestyle. Indeed, some are eventually deemed psychologically unsuitable as agents (for example as Mawhrin-Skel notes about itself in The Player of Games) and must choose (or choose to choose) either mental reprofiling or demilitarisation and discharge from Special Circumstances.Physically, drones are floating units of varying size and shape, usually with no visible moving parts. Drones get around the limitations of this inanimation with the ability to project 'fields' – both those capable of physical force, which allow them to manipulate objects, as well as visible, coloured fields called 'auras', which are used to enable the drone to express emotion. There is a complex code of drone body language based on aura colours and patterns (which is fully understood by biological Culture citizens as well).In size drones vary substantially: the oldest still alive (eight or nine thousand years old) tend to be around the size of humans, whereas later technology allows drones to be small enough to lie in a human's cupped palm; modern drones may be any size between these extremes according to fashion and personal preference. Some drones are also designed as utility equipment with its own sentience, such as the gelfield protective suit described in Excession.
By contrast to drones, Minds are orders of magnitude more powerful and intelligent than the Culture's other biological and artificial citizens. Typically they inhabit and act as the controllers of large-scale Culture hardware such as ships or space-based habitats. Unsurprisingly, given their duties, Minds are tremendously powerful: capable of holding millions of simultaneous conversations with the citizens that live aboard them, while running all of the functions of the ship or habitat. To allow them to perform at such a high degree, they exist partially in hyperspace to get around such hindrances to computing power as the speed of light.During the time of Consider Phlebas, Minds were estimated to number in the several hundreds of thousands.Culture Minds choose their own names (which then also identify the craft they inhabit, if any), and their choices are often whimsical and humorous. Presumably to avoid the cumbersome repetition of such long names, the inhabitants of ships and habitats tend to refer to the overseeing local Mind simply as the "Ship" or the "Hub", for example.Culture military craft are often designed to be ugly and graceless, lacking the Culture's usual aesthetic style, and it has been theorised that this is because Culture citizens wish to distance themselves from the military aspects of their society. Their ship classes, reflecting the Culture's profound distaste of war and resultant refusal to disguise their weapons with euphemisms, are always unpleasant (such as the Gangster class, Torturer class, Psychopath class and Thug class). Since the Mind concerned chooses its own name this may sometimes even indicate a degree of self-hatred over its purpose for existence. Warship Minds are somewhat out of the normal Culture's behaviour range, designed to be more aggressive and less ambivalent about violence than the usual Culture citizen.Minds generally view their crew/inhabitants as 'interesting companions' and interact with them through remotely controlled devices, often drones or humanoid 'avatars'. Examples of more diverse interactive systems are animals such as small fish suspended in their own anti-gravity sphere of water.As a sidenote, the fact that artificial intelligences are accepted as citizens of the Culture was a major factor in the Idiran-Culture War, which is explored in Consider Phlebas. This citizenship of AIs (which the Culture promotes in other societies it encounters) has other more general consequences. For instance, despite a high degree of automation within Culture technology, menial tasks are often undertaken by non-sentient technology, to avoid the exploitation of sentient lifeforms (though Minds often work at administrative tasks using bare fractions of their enormous mental capabilities).Although the Culture is a type of utopian anarchy, Minds most closely approach the status of leaders, and would likely be considered godlike in less rational societies. As independent, thinking beings, each has its own character, and indeed, legally (insofar as the Culture has a 'legal system'), each is a Culture citizen. Some Minds are more aggressive, some more calm; some don't mind mischief, others simply demonstrate intellectual curiosity. But above all they tend to behave rationally and benevolently in their decisions.As mentioned before, Minds can serve several different purposes, but Culture ships and habitats have one special attribute: the Mind and the ship or habitat are perceived as one entity; in some ways the Mind is the ship, certainly from its passengers' point of view. It seems normal practice to address the ship's Mind as "Ship" (and an Orbital hub as "Hub"). However, a Mind can transfer its 'mind state' into and out of its ship 'body', and even switch roles entirely, becoming (for example) an Orbital Hub from a warship.More often than not, the Mind's character defines the ship's purpose. Minds do not end up in roles unsuited to them; an antisocial Mind simply would not volunteer to organise the care of thousands of humans, for example. On occasion groupings of two or three Minds may run a ship. This seems normal practice for larger vehicles such as GSVs, though smaller ships only ever seem to have one Mind.Banks also hints at a Mind's personality becoming defined at least partially before its creation or 'birth'. Warships, as an example, are designed to revel in controlled destruction; seeing a certain glory in achieving a 'worthwhile' death also seems characteristic. The presence of human crews on board of warships may discourage such recklessness, since in the normal course of things, a Mind would not risk beings other than itself.With their almost godlike powers of reasoning and action comes a temptation to bend (or break) Cultural norms of ethical behaviour, if deemed necessary for some greater good. In The Player of Games, a Culture citizen is blackmailed, apparently by Special Circumstances Minds, into assisting the overthrow of a barbaric empire, while in Excession, a conspiracy by some Minds to start a war against an oppressive alien race nearly comes to fruition. Yet even in these rare cases, the essentially benevolent intentions of Minds towards other Culture citizens is never in question. More than any other beings in the Culture, Minds are the ones faced with interesting ethical dilemmas.
While Minds would likely have different capabilities, especially seeing their widely differing ages (and thus technological sophistication), this is not a theme of the books. It might be speculated that the older Minds are upgraded to keep in step with the advances in technology, thus making this point moot. It is also noted in Matter that every Culture Mind writes its own OS, thus continually improving itself and, as a side benefit, becoming much less vulnerable to outside takeover by electronic means and viruses, as every Mind's processing functions work differently.The high computing power of the Mind is apparently enabled by thought processes (and electronics) being constantly in hyperspace (thus circumventing the light speed limit in computation). Minds do have back-up capabilities functioning with light-speed if the hyperspace capabilities fail - however, this reduces their computational powers by several orders of magnitude (though they remain sentient).The memory storage capability of a typical GSV Mind is described in Consider Phlebas as 1030 bytes (1 million yottabytes). Research at the UC Berkeley School of Information suggests that 5 exabytes of storage space were created in 2002 alone, 92% of it on magnetic media, mostly on hard disks. Hence, a GSV Mind has 200 billion times more storage than the total storage created by humans in 2002.The Culture is a society undergoing constant technological improvement, so the stated capacity of Minds is open to change. 600 years after the conclusion of the Idiran War, the capacity of Minds has increased at a near-geometric rate. By the time of the events of the novel Look to Windward, Minds of the class described within Consider Phlebas are referred to as minds, with a small 'm'. Their capacities allow them to be considered equivalent to what are known as AI Cores, which at this time are the equipment of shuttles, trans-light modules, and Drones. While considered sentient, their powers at this point are considered inferior to a contemporary Mind. That said, there are several Vehicles and Hubs which have had upgrades, improvements and enhancements given to them since construction, allowing them to stay at the forefront of the state of the art.Using the sensory equipment available to the Culture, Minds can see inside solid objects; in principle they can also read minds by examining the cellular processes inside a living brain, but Culture Minds regard such mindreading as taboo. In Look to Windward an example is cited of an attempt to destroy a Culture Mind by smuggling a minuscule antimatter bomb onto a Culture orbital inside the head of a Chelgrian agent. However the bomb ends up being spotted without the taboo being broken.In Consider Phlebas, a typical Mind is described as an ellipsoid of several dozen cubic metres, but weighing many thousands of tons, due to the fact that it is made up of hyper-dense matter. It is noted that most of its 'body' only exists in the real world at the outer shell, the inner workings staying constantly within hyperspace.The Mind in Consider Phlebas is also described as having internal power sources which function as back-up shield generators and space propulsion, and seeing the rational, safety-conscious thinking of Minds, it would be reasonable to assume that all Minds have such features, as well as a complement of drones and other remote sensors as also described.Other equipment available to them spans the whole range of the Culture's technological capabilities and its practically limitless resources. However, this equipment would more correctly be considered emplaced in the ship or orbital that the Mind is controlling, rather than being part of the Mind itself.Minds are constructed entities, which have general parameters fixed by their constructors (other Minds) before 'birth', not unlike biological beings. A wide variety of characteristics can be and are manipulated, such as introversion-extroversion, aggressiveness (for warships) or general disposition.However, the character of a Mind evolves as well, and Minds often change over the course of centuries, sometimes changing personality entirely. This is often followed by them becoming eccentric or at least somewhat odd. Others drift from the Culture-accepted ethic norms, and may even start influencing their own society in subtle ways, selfishly furthering their own views of how the Culture should act.Minds have also been known to commit suicide to escape punishment, or because of grief.Minds are constructed with a personality typical of the Culture's interests, i.e. full of curiosity, general benevolence (expressed in the 'good works' actions of the Culture, or in the protectiveness regarding sentient beings) and respect for the Culture's customs.Nonetheless, Minds have their own interests in addition to what their peers expect them to do for the Culture, and may develop fascinations or hobbies like other sentient beings do.The mental capabilities of Minds are described in Excession to be vast enough to run entire universe-simulations inside their own imaginations, exploring metamathical (a fictional branch of metamathematics) scenarios, an activity addictive enough to cause some Minds to totally withdraw from caring about our own physical reality into 'Infinite Fun Space', their own, ironic and understated term for this sort of activity.
The Culture has a relatively relaxed attitude towards death. Genetic manipulation and the continual benevolent surveillance of the Minds make natural or accidental death almost unknown. Advanced technology allows citizens to make "backup" copies of their personalities, allowing them to be resurrected in case of death, although as these are merely copies, consciousness is not continued, and the original individual is not truly reborn, just replaced. The form of that resurrection can be specified by the citizen, with personalities returning either in the same biological form, in an artificial form (see below), or even just within virtual reality. Some citizens choose to go into 'storage' (a form of suspended animation) for long periods of time, out of boredom or curiosity about the future.Attitudes individual citizens have towards death are very variable (and have varied throughout the Culture's history). While many, if not most, citizens make some use of 'backup' technology, many others do not, preferring instead to risk death without the possibility of recovery (for example when engaging in extreme sports). These citizens are sometimes called 'disposables', and are described in Look to Windward. Taking into account such accidents, voluntary euthanasia for emotional reasons, or choices like sublimation, the average lifespan of humans is described in Excession as being around 350 to 400 years, but can be longer. Some citizens choose to forgo death altogether, although this is rarely done and is viewed as an eccentricity. Other options instead of death include conversion of an individual's consciousness into an AI, joining of a group mind (which can include biological and non biological consciousnesses), or subliming (usually in association with a group mind).Concerning the lifespan of drones and Minds, given the durability of Culture technology and the aforementioned options of mindstate 'back-ups', it is reasonable to assume that they live as long as they choose. Even Minds, with their utmost complexity, are known to be backed up (and reactivated if they for example die in a risky mission, see GSV Lasting Damage). In Excession, it is noted that even Minds themselves do not necessarily live forever either – often choosing to eventually sublime or even committing suicide.
Science and technology
Anti-gravity and forcefields
The Culture (and other societies) have developed powerful anti-gravity abilities, closely related to their ability to manipulate forces themselves.In this ability they can create action-at-a-distance – including forces capable of pushing, pulling, cutting, and even fine manipulation, and forcefields for protection, visual display or plain destructive ability. Such applications still retain restrictions on range and power: while forcefields of many cubic kilometres are possible (and in fact, orbitals are held together by forcefields), even in the chronologically later novels, such as Look to Windward, spaceships are still used for long-distance travel and drones for many remote activities.With the control of a Mind, fields can be manipulated over vast distances. In "Use of Weapons", a Culture warship uses its electromagnetic effectors to hack into a computer light years away.
Artificial intelligences (and to a lesser degree, the non-sentient computers omnipresent in all material goods), form the backbone of the technological advances of the Culture. Not only are they the most advanced scientists and designers the Culture has, their lesser functions also oversee the vast (but usually hidden) production and maintenance capabilities of the society.The Culture has achieved artificial intelligences where each Mind has thought processing capabilities many orders of magnitude beyond that of human beings, and data storage drives which, if written out on paper and stored in filing cabinets, would cover thousands of planets skyscraper high (as described by one Mind in Consider Phlebas). Yet it has managed to condense these entities to a volume of several dozen cubic metres (though much of the contents and the operating structure are continually in hyperspace).At the same time, it has achieved drone sentiences of human-or-above intellectual ability in barely apple-sized form, and built extremely powerful (though not sentient) computers capable of fitting into tiny insect-like drones. Some utilitarian devices (such as spacesuits) are also provided with artificial sentience. These specific types of drones, like all other Culture AI, would also be considered citizens–though as described in the short story Descendant, they may spend most of the time when their 'body' is not in use in a form of remote-linked existence outside of it, or in a form of AI-level virtual reality.
A major feature of its post-scarcity society, the Culture is obviously able to gather, manipulate, transfer and store vast amounts of energy. While not explained in detail in the novels, this involves antimatter and 'grid energy', a postulated energy field dividing the universe from a mirroring anti-matter universe, and providing practically limitless energy. Transmission or storage of such energy is not explained, though these capabilities must be powerful as well, with tiny drones capable of very powerful manipulatory fields and forces.The Culture also uses various forms of energy manipulation as weapons, with 'Gridfire' – a method of creating a dimensional rift to the energy grid, releasing astronomical amounts of energy into a region of non-hyperspace – being described as a sort of ultimate weapon more destructive than condensed antimatter bombardment. One character in Consider Phlebas refers to gridfire as "the weaponry of the end of the universe".
The Culture (at least by the time of The Player of Games) has developed a form of teleportation capable of transporting both living and unliving matter instantaneously via wormholes. This technology has not rendered spacecraft obsolete – in Excession a barely apple-sized drone was displaced for no further than a light-second at maximum range (mass being a limiting factor determining range), a tiny distance in galactic terms. The process also still has a very small chance of failing and killing living beings, but the chance is described as being so small (1 in 61 million) that it normally only becomes an issue when transporting a large number of people and is only regularly brought up due to the Culture's safety conscious nature.Displacement is an integral part of Culture technology, being widely used for a range of applications from peaceful to militaristic. Displacing warheads into or around targets is one of the main forms of attack in space warfare in the Culture universe. The Player of Games mentions that drones can be displaced to catch a person falling from a cliff before they impact the ground, as well.
The Culture has the capability to read and store the full sentience of any being, biological or artificial, and to thus 'reactivate' a stored being after its death. Note that this also necessitates the capability to read thoughts, but as described in Look to Windward, doing this without permission is considered heavily taboo.
Starships and warp drives
As an almost fully space-borne culture, starships (next to orbitals) are the main living spaces, vehicles and ambassadors of the culture. A proper Culture starship (as defined by hyperspace capability and the presence of a Mind to inhabit it) may range from several hundreds of metres to several dozens of kilometres. The latter may be inhabited by billions of beings and are artificial worlds in their own right, including whole ecosystems.The Culture (and most other space-faring species in its universe) use a form of Hyperspace-drive to achieve faster-than-light speeds. Banks has evolved a (self-confessedly) technobabble system of theoretical physics to describe the ships' acceleration and travel, using such concepts as 'infraspace' and 'ultraspace' and an 'energy grid' between universes (from which the warp engines 'push off' to achieve momentum). An 'induced singularity' is used to access infra or ultra space from real space; once there, 'engine fields' reach down to the Grid and gain power and traction from it as they travel at high speeds.These hyperspace engines do not use reaction mass and hence do not need to be mounted on the surface of the ship. They are described as being very dense exotic matter, which only reveals its complexity under a powerful microscope. Acceleration and maximum speed depend on the ratio of the mass of the ship to its engine mass. As with any other matter aboard, ships can gradually manufacture extra engine volume or break it down as needed. In Excession one of the largest ships of the Culture redesigns itself to be mostly engine and reaches a speed of 233,000 times lightspeed. Within the range of the Culture's influence in the galaxy, most ships would still take years of travelling to reach the more remote spots.Other than the engines used by larger Culture ships, there are a number of other propulsion methods such as gravitic drive at sublight speeds, with antimatter, fusion and other reaction engines occasionally seen with less advanced civilizations, or on Culture hobby craft.Warp engines can be very small, with Culture drones barely larger than fist-size described as being thus equipped. There is also at least one (apparently non-sentient) species (the 'Chuy-Hirtsi' animal), that possesses the innate capability of warp travel. In Consider Phlebas it is being used as a military transport by the Idirans, but no further details are given.
The Culture has highly advanced nanotechnology, though descriptions of such technology in the books is limited. Many of the described uses are by or for Special Circumstances, there are no indications that the use of nanotechnology is limited in any way. (In a passage in one of the books, there is a brief reference to the question of sentience when comparing the human brain or a 'pico-level substrate'.)One of the primary clandestine uses of nanotechnology is information gathering. The Culture likes to be in the know, and as described in Matter "they tend to know everything." Aside from its vast network of sympathetic allies and wandering Culture citizens one of the primary ways that the Culture keeps track of important events is by the use of practically invisible nanobots capable of recording and transmitting their observations. This technique is described as being especially useful to track potentially dangerous people (such as ex-Special Circumstance agents). Via such nanotechnology, it is potentially possible for the Culture (or similarly advanced societies) to see everything happening on a given planet, orbital or any other habitat. The usage of such devices is limited by various treaties and agreements among the Involved.
Much of the Culture's population lives on orbitals, vast artificial worlds that can accommodate billions of people. Others travel the galaxy in huge space ships such as GSVs ('General Systems Vehicles') that can accommodate hundreds of millions of people. Almost no Culture citizens are described as living on planets, except when visiting other civilizations. The reason for this is partly because the Culture believes in containing its own expansion to self-constructed habitats, instead of colonising or conquering new planets. With the resources of the universe allowing permanent expansion (at least assuming non-exponential growth), this frees them from having to compete for living space.The Culture, and other civilizations in Banks' universe, are described as living in these various, often constructed habitats:
These are vast, brown dwarf-sized bubbles of atmosphere enclosed by force fields, and (presumably) set up by an ancient advanced race at least one and a half billion years ago. There is only minimal gravity within an airsphere. They are illuminated by moon-sized orbiting planetoids that emit enormous light beams.Citizens of the Culture live there only very occasionally as guests, usually to study the complex ecosystem of the airspheres and the dominant life-forms: the "dirigible behemothaurs" and "gigalithine lenticular entities," which may be described as inscrutable, ancient intelligences looking similar to a cross between gigantic blimps and whales. The airspheres slowly migrate around the galaxy, taking anywhere from 50 to 100 million years to complete one circuit. In the novels no one knows who created the airspheres or why, but it is presumed that whoever did has long since sublimed but may maintain some obscure link with the behemothaurs and lenticular entities. Guests in the airspheres are not allowed to use any force-field technology, though no reason has been offered for this prohibition.The airspheres resemble in some respects the orbit-sized ring of breathable atmosphere created by Larry Niven in "The Integral Trees", but spherical not toroidal, require a force field to retain their integrity, and arose by artificial rather than natural processes.
An Orbital (sometimes also simply called an O or a small ring) is a purpose-built space habitat forming a massive ring (though much smaller than a ringworld) rotating to simulate gravity.Its inhabitants, often numbering many billions, live on the inside of the ring, where continent-sized 'plates' have been shaped to provide all sorts of natural environments and climates, often with the aim of producing especially spectacular results.
Banks has described Orbitals as looking like "a god's bracelet" hanging in outer space. Orbitals are ribbon-like hoops of a super-strong material (see also unobtainium) reinforced and joined with force fields. Each Orbital possesses a 'hub', a station suspended at its rotational centre which houses the Orbital's governing Mind.An Orbital is similar to a ringworld but is much smaller and does not enclose its primary star within itself, instead orbiting the star in a more conventional manner, making it much more intrinsically stable than a ringworld. Many different civilizations are known to use Orbitals sized according to the preferences of the builders; the Culture's Orbitals are approximately ten million kilometres in circumference, which, together with their rotational speed, creates gravity and day-night cycles to normal Culture standard. They have widths varying between one thousand and six thousand kilometres, giving them a surface area of between 20 and 120 times that of the Earth (but comprising significantly less mass).The inside of the hoop can be formed to any type of planetary environment, from desert to ocean to jungle to glacier. The structure is usually divided into individual 'plates', similar to continents. Though there need be no directly visible indication for the transition from one plate to another, on some Orbitals the border between neighboring plates is marked by an artificially high string of mountains known as a 'bulkhead range'. These also serve to contain the atmosphere in those areas where the Orbital may not yet be complete, with those gaps in the plate ring being bridged only by forcefields.Some plates mimic natural environments very closely, others are wild exaggerations possible only by advanced matter forming and intricate (but usually hidden) machinery - such as a gigantic river circumnavigating the whole Orbital, which in some reaches travels on immense, kilometre-high bridge- or mountain-range-like constructions, and in other regions might act as an immense 'waterslide' for a floating event stadium.Orbitals spin to mimic the effects of gravity and are sized so that the rate of rotation necessary to produce a comfortable gravity level is approximately equal to one day. In the case of the standard Culture day and gravity, this diameter is around three million kilometres (almost three times the diameter of Earth's Sun). For such an orbital to reproduce the equivalent to the Earth's gravity (i.e. 9.8 Newtons / kg at sea level), whilst maintaining Earth's 24 hour period of rotation, it would need to have a diameter of approximately 3.71 million kilometres. By tilting the axis of the Orbital relative to its orbit around a star a convenient day-night cycle can be experienced by the inhabitants. Since the edges of the Orbital are built as high walls, the rotation prevents the atmosphere from escaping, thus protecting the inhabitants from radiation. The walls are typically hundreds or thousands of kilometres high, made of a 'monocrystal' material.Responsibility for day-to-day administration of one of the Culture's Orbitals and the management of its complex systems mainly rests with a Mind, which is situated in a structure in space at the centre of the Orbital, known as the Hub. The Mind is generally referred to simply as "Hub" by the inhabitants of the Orbitals, who never tend to be more than a millisecond away from the personalized contact and care it provides (via a contact terminal, usually worn as a piece of jewelry).As the Hub Mind is extremely advanced, it could simultaneously hold conversations with every one of the billions of citizens a fully-settled Orbital has, and constantly controls millions of avatars, (usually) humanoid representatives of itself, throughout the world, though it can also interact in myriad other ways. It will also provide near-instant aid or material comforts, usually via service drones or matter displacement - being a near-omnipresent, omniscient as well as generally all-benevolent presence in the life of an Orbital citizen. As an insurance policy against unscrupulous Hub Minds, and to represent the community to visitors from more traditionally hierarchical societies, each Orbital also elects a body called a General Board from among its human and drone population. As a further check on the power of the Hub Mind, matters of public concern are decided by referendum.Other civilizations also build Orbitals, however, and it is not clear if all are similarly managed.Notwithstanding these advantages of Orbital life, Orbitals have been called 'backwaters' by some Culture citizens who prefer travelling lives.The culture within the Orbitals is typical for the philosophic-hedonistic slant of all the Culture. They are also prime examples of the Culture's post-scarcity society, for within some physical limits, all material wishes can be fulfilled (or will be fulfilled by the Hub on request).Orbital culture is thus heavy on enjoyment, arts and crafting, creative endeavours of all kinds, learning, as well as sports and games. The mere building of an Orbital is an adventure itself, in which the Hub mind involves its inhabitants; beginning with two plates orbiting its future Hub, with more plates added to them at regular intervals. The final joining plates may not be fully formed and 'landscaped' until after a very long time - at least as measured from the viewpoint of a biological member of the Culture.While the number of people living on an Orbital tends to be in the many billions, the sheer size of the habitat, as well as the casual lifestyle of the Culture, ensure that it almost never feels crowded. Citizens can choose to withdraw into large areas of primal (if ultimately manufactured) nature or into their own spacious homesteads, and tend not to live in cities unless they prefer the increased activity and the proximity of friends.Orbitals also serve as residences for 'Ambassadors' of other societies to the Culture - though as shown in some of the books, the Culture understands this term differently: the alien is fully intended to eventually consider the Culture superior to his own society and become an ambassador for the Culture.
Though many other civilizations in the Culture books live on planets, the Culture as it currently exists has little direct connection to planet life. A small number of 'homeworlds' of the founding member species of the Culture are mentioned in passing, and a few hundred human-habitable worlds were colonised (some being terraformed) before the Culture chose to turn towards artificial habitats, preferring to keep the planets it encounters 'wild'. Since then, terraforming has become looked down on by the Culture as inelegant, ecologically problematic and possibly even immoral. Less than one percent of the population of the Culture lives on planets, and many find the very concept a bit bizarre.This respect is not absolute though; in Consider Phlebas, some Minds suggest testing a new technology on a 'spare planet' (knowing that it could be destroyed in an antimatter explosion if unsuccessful). It should be assumed from their normal ethics, that this planet would have been lifeless to start with. It is also quite possible, even probable, that the suggestion was not made in complete seriousness.
Ringworld-like megastructures exist in the Culture universe but are referred to simply as 'Rings' with a capital 'R'. These habitats are not described in detail but one is recorded as having been destroyed (along with 3 Spheres) in the Idiran-Culture war. In Matter, the Morthanveld people possesses ringworldlike structures made of innumerable various-sized tubes. Those structures encircle a star just like Niven's Ringworld and are about the same size.
These are asteroids and other non-planetary bodies hollowed out for habitation and usually spun for centrifugal 'gravity'. Rocks (with the exception of those used for secretive purposes) are described as having faster-than-light space drives, and thus can be considered a special form of spaceship. Like Orbitals, they are usually administered by one or more Minds.Rocks do not play a large part in most of the Culture stories, though their use as storage for mothballed military ships (Pittance) and habitats (Phage Rock, one of the founding communities of the Culture) are both key plot points in Excession.
Shellworlds are introduced in Matter, and consist of multilayered levels of concentric spheres in four dimensions held up by innumerable titanic interior towers. Their extra dimensional characteristics render some products of Culture technology too dangerous to use and yet others ineffective. They were built millions of years ago as vast machines intended to cast a forcefield around the whole of the galaxy for unknown purposes. The species that developed this technology are now lost, and many of the remaining shellworlds have become inhabited, often by many different species throughout their varying levels. Many still hold deadly secret defence mechanisms, often leading to great danger for their new inhabitants, giving them one of their other nicknames: Slaughter Worlds.
Ships in the Culture are intelligent individuals, often of very large size, controlled by one or more Minds. The ship is considered the Mind's 'body'. Some ships (General Systems Vehicles) are tens or even hundreds of kilometers in length and may have millions or even billions of residents who live on them full time, and together with Orbitals represent the main form of habitat for the Culture. Such large ships may temporarily contain smaller ships with their own populations, and/or manufacture such ships themselves.In Use of Weapons, the protagonist Zakalwe is allowed to acclimatise himself to the Culture by wandering for days through the habitable levels of a ship (the GSV "Size Isn't Everything" described as over 80 kilometers long) eating and sleeping at the many locations which provide food and accommodation throughout the structure, and enjoying the various forms of contact possible with the friendly and accommodating inhabitants.
Dyson spheres also exist in the Culture universe but are only mentioned in passing and are simply called 'Spheres'. Three spheres are recorded as having been destroyed in the Idiran-Culture war.In Matter, the Morthanveld Nestworld of Syaung-un is a 'Sphere World' consisting of a complex, recursive arrangement of transparent tubes within tubes, all revolving around a small central star. The Nestworld is alleged to contain forty trillion Morthanveld, more intelligent beings than on all the Culture and associated worlds put together. There are also noted to be other Nestworlds, but none as big as Syaung-un.
Interaction with other civilizations
The Culture, living mostly on massive spaceships and in artificial habitats, and also feeling no need for conquest in the typical sense of the word, possesses no borders. Its sphere of influence is better defined by the (current) concentration of Culture ships and habitats as well as the measure of effect its example and its interventions have already had on the 'local' population of any galactic sector. As the Culture is also a very graduated and constantly if slowly changing society, their societal boundaries are also constantly in flux (though they tend to be continually expanding during the novels), peacefully 'absorbing' societies and individuals.While the Culture is one of the most advanced and most powerful of all galactic civilizations, it is but one of the 'high-level Involved' (called 'Optimae' by some less advanced civilizations), the most powerful non-sublimed civilizations which mentor or control the others.An Involved society is a highly advanced group that has achieved galaxy-wide involvement with other cultures or societies. There are a few dozen Involved societies, and hundreds or thousands of well-developed (interstellar) but insufficiently influential societies or cultures, or those well-developed societies known as "galactically mature" which do not take such a dynamic role in the galaxy as a whole. In the novels, the Culture might be considered the premier Involved society, or at least, the most dynamic and energetic, especially given that the Culture itself is a growing multicultural fusion of Involved societies. The Involved are contrasted with the Sublimed (sometimes colloquially referred to as the Elder civilizations due to the fact that they are no longer around), groups that have reached a high level of technical development and galactic influence but subsequently abandoned the physical Reality, ceasing to take serious interventionist interest in galactic civilization. They are also contrasted with what some Culture people loosely refer to as "barbarians", societies of intelligent beings which lack the technical capacity to know about or take a serious role in their interstellar neighbourhood.The Involved are also contrasted with hegemonising swarms (a term used in several Banks' Culture novels), which are (usually) newly-arrived members of the galactic community whose primary goal is mass conquest, control, and colonisation (in a word, hegemonisation), a goal which both the Culture and the author (in his Notes On the Culture) find both quixotic and ridiculous. Typically, hegemonising swarms consist of species or groups which take it upon themselves to spread to as many regions of the universe as possible and exploit those regions and the inhabitants to the greatest degree deemed necessary to the goals of the swarm. The usage of the term "hegemonising swarm" in this context is considered derisive in the Culture and among other Involved, and is used to indicate their low regard for those with these ambitions.
Although leading a comfortable life within the Culture, many of its citizens feel a need to be useful, and to belong to a society that does not merely exist for their own sake, but that also helps improve the lot of sentient beings throughout the galaxy. For that reason, the Culture carries out "good works", covertly or overtly interfering in the development of lesser civilizations, with the main aim to bring them – often very gradually – closer to the Culture ideal in both technology and social norms. As Culture citizens see it, these good works provide the Culture with a "moral right to exist".A group within the Culture, Contact, is responsible for its interactions (diplomatic or otherwise) with other civilizations (though non-Contact citizens are apparently not prevented from travelling or interacting with other civilizations). Further within Contact, an intelligence organisation named Special Circumstances exists to deal with interventions which require more covert behaviour – the interventionist approach that the Culture takes to advancing other societies may often create resentment in the affected civilizations, and thus requires a rather delicate touch.
In Matter, it is described that there are a number of other galactic civilizations that come close to or potentially even surpass the Culture in power and sophistication. The Culture is very careful and considerate of these groupings, and while still attempting to move them towards the Culture ideal, will be much less likely to openly interfere in their activities.In Surface Detail, two more branches of Contact are described; Quietus, the Quietudinal Service, whose purview is dealing with those entities who have retired from biological existence into digital form and/or those who have died and been resurrected, and Numina, which is described as having charge of contact with the races that have sublimed.
Behaviour in war
While the Culture is normally pacifist, Contact historically acts as its military arm in times of war, while Special Circumstances can be considered its secret service and its military intelligence. During war, most of the strategic and tactical decisions are taken by the Minds, with apparently only a small number of especially gifted humans, the 'Referrers', being involved in the top-level decisions. It is shown in Consider Phlebas that actual decisions to go to war (as opposed to purely defensive actions) are based on a vote of all Culture citizens, presumably after vigorous discussion within the whole society.It is described in various novels that the Culture is extremely reluctant to go to war, though it may start to prepare for it long before its actual commencement. In the Idiran-Culture War (possibly one of the most hard-fought wars for the normally extremely superior Culture forces), various star systems, stellar regions and many orbital habitats were overrun by the Idirans before the Culture had converted enough of its forces to military footing. The Culture Minds had had enough foresight to evacuate almost all its affected citizens (apparently numbering in the many billions) in time before actual hostilities reached them. As shown in Player of Games, this is a standard Culture tactic, with its strong emphasis on protecting its citizens rather than sacrificing some of them for short-term goals.War within the Culture is mostly fought by the Culture's sentient warships, the most powerful of these being war-converted GSV – which are described as powerful enough to oppose whole enemy fleets. The Culture has little use for conventional ground forces (as it rarely occupies enemy territory, and has little territory of its own); combat drones equipped with knife missiles do appear in Descendant and 'terror weapons' (basically intelligent, nanoform assassins) are mentioned in Look to Windward, while infantry combat suits of great power (also usable as capable combat drones when without living occupants) are used in Matter.
Contact is an organization that exists within the anarchist/libertarian socialist civilization known as the Culture (which forms the basis of several of his novels and shorter works).Its role within the Culture is to coordinate interactions with other civilizations, equivalent to a Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence combined in this universe. In the case of less-developed civilizations, Contact normally acts to minimise the potential culture shock resulting from contact with the technologically-advanced Culture (The State of the Art). Sometimes, where the Culture believes it can help (in some capacity), Contact directly intervenes in other civilizations (Inversions, Look to Windward). Contact is the most state-like entity within Culture and has the authority or capacity to limit access to information regarding other societies (The Player of Games). While most Contact activity occurs outside of the Culture, internal functions are hinted at in The Player of Games.Where these interventions require actions that exceed the moral and knowledge capacity of Contact, a branch of it, known as Special Circumstances, is involved. Special Circumstances is to Contact, what a Secret Service is to a Foreign Office. However it should be kept in mind that though comparisons with today's organizations are useful in describing the role played by Contact and Special Circumstances and at hinting at their prestige and reputation -"dirty tricks" in the case of Special Circumstances- these comparisons should be used only as a guide. This organization comprises some of the very best Contact members, and frequently makes use of third party agents to accomplish its aims (Use of Weapons). These agents operate "in the field" to support or suppress elements of other civilizations that the Culture deems important (normally to the citizens of the civilization concerned, but potentially to the Culture itself).While the Culture novels often take place against the backdrop of dramatically interesting interventions (usually those in which something has not gone to plan), Contact usually operates successfully, and the Culture prides itself in being able to demonstrate this statistically. Its only notable failure chronicled so far (though others are implied to have occurred) was the disastrous attempt to reform the Chelgrian caste system, which resulted in a devastating civil war.In the context of interactions with comparably advanced civilizations, Contact has more of a diplomatic function. However, during the Idiran-Culture War (Consider Phlebas), it played the role of the Culture's military arm, and Special Circumstances took the position of military intelligence.
Special Circumstances (also abbreviated SC) is a 'secret service'-type organisation that exists within the fictional anarchist utopian science fiction civilisation known as the Culture. It forms a background and plot device in several novels and shorter works of Iain M. Banks. Special Circumstances is part of a larger fictional Culture organisation called Contact, which coordinates Culture interactions with (and in) other civilisations. SC exists to fulfil this role when circumstances exceed the moral capacity of Contact, or where the situation is highly complex and requires highly specialized skills, such as in The Player of Games. Special Circumstances also does the 'dirty work' of the Culture, a function made especially complicated by the normally very high ethical standards the Culture sets itself. SC acts in a way that has been compared with the democratising intentions of real-world liberal intent on overcoming the world's (and especially other nation's) evils by benign interference.In the novels, Special Circumstances often provides the main plot device linking the Culture and other civilisations being intervened in. The 'Good Works' (for which Special Circumstances does the dirty work) are the wider plot device for allowing interaction between the advanced Culture and the 'barbaric' societies it tries to improve. In the same vein, Banks has noted that the perfect society of the Culture creates well-adjusted, content people - who are (for story purposes) rather boring. Therefore, many of the Culture novels deal with or mercenaries in the employ of Special Circumstances.Interventions by SC usually take the form of covert operations (military or otherwise) designed to strengthen or weaken factions within less advanced civilisations.Typically, the interventions aim to improve the situation of less advanced civilisations, and to get them closer to the Culture ideal. Sometimes interventions may also be intended to nip future challenges to the Culture in the bud (The Player of Games). While the Culture believes that it can statistically prove that most interventions achieve this end, operations are not always successful. Some, as in Look to Windward, may even be disastrous for the intervened civilization.Special Circumstances regularly pairs its humanoid agents with a combat drone in a long-term partnership. The combat drones are exceedingly intelligent and extremely lethal artificial intelligences. This combination is described as being famous well beyond the Culture to the point approaching a cliché as "...a partnership you could, allegedly, still frighten children and bad people with." The drone is supposed to provide protection and a more level-headed point of view to the SC agent. Circumstances does not always 'play nice' like the rest of the Culture. Their activities have been known to include assassinations, involving for example a 'terror weapon' entity. While only one is described in Look to Windward, there is reference to it being 'a' terror weapon, likely in the sense of 'one of multiple'.These entities are apparently designed to teach a form of lesson to opponents of the Culture, and to eliminate specific leaders of the enemy. During its mission, the terror weapon sadistically kills several Chelgrian enemy leaders (intentionally in public view, via a video link). This is particularly atypical for Culture behaviour, which usually eschews any cruelty – though the act may have been tailored to the expected reactions of the victims' civilisation.The weapon (which may or may not be a Culture citizen, but apparently is sentient) is a nanoform entity formed of EDust – 'Everything Dust', originally intended as a construction material. Capable of changing between wildly different shapes, from animal to dust cloud, almost instantly, as well as possessing laser and antimatter capabilities, the terror weapon is a formidable foe. However, its main ability lies within its ability to use powerful forcefield 'effectors' (as weapons, manipulators or defenses) and very advanced remote electronic warfare abilities to enable it to disrupt opposing weapon systems or turn them against each other.In times of war (as seen in Consider Phlebas), the Contact section of the Culture, and in particular Special Circumstances, acts as a military intelligence and special forces service. In general life, SC is rarely seen or heard of, and is one of the few organizations within the Culture which does not provide information about its actions, working largely in secret, apparently controlled and guided only by a number of the more secretive Minds.