Sid Meier’s Civilization was one of the most addicting games of my life. I feel like I could have learned several new programming languages in the weeks and months I spent building pixelated empires, warring with foreign nations, pursuing brand new technology, and losing everything in an inferno of digital destruction. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Iain M. Banks shared the addiction and that his Culture novel Excession was in part inspired by it. In an interview with SFX Magazines, Banks said:
“Inventing a world where you have different laws of physics, that would be about the ultimate version of Civilization. That’s part of where the idea of Outside Context Problems came from, you’re getting along really well and then this great battleship comes steaming in and you think, well my wooden sailing ships are never going to be able to deal with that. But when I started Excession I deleted Civilization off my hard drive.”
Excession is one of my favorite Culture books and I loved the way it focused on the Minds and the mystery behind the excession itself. The humans, though, seemed like they were tacked on, unnecessary accessories that distracted from the main attraction (I especially struggled with Ulver Seich, who threw a fit for not being able to bring her furry pets on a mission for Special Circumstance). It was only when I viewed them from the context of Civilization that the book took on an entirely different meaning.