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I’ve just now needed to look back at something I wrote in Iain M. Banks, and I was reminded again how complex the chronology of his work is. The order in which his books were published is not the same as the order in which they were composed, and both differ again from the internal chronology of the Culture sequence.

So here, just for the record, and just to keep things clear in my own mind, are the three chronologies (for extra clarity, I’ve highlighted the Culture novels):

Order of composition

The Top of Poseidon (unpublished)
The Hungarian Lift-Jet (unpublished)
The Tashkent Rambler (unpublished)
Use of Weapons
Against a Dark Background
The State of the Art
The Player of Games
The Wasp Factory
Consider Phlebas
Walking on Glass

O (unpublished)
The Bridge
Espedair Street
Canal Dreams
The Crow Road
Complicity
Feersum Endjinn
Whit
Excession
A Song of Stone
Inversions
The Business
Look to Windward
Dead Air
Raw Spirit
The Algebraist
The Steep Approach to Garbadale
Matter
Transition
Surface Detail
Stonemouth
The Hydrogen Sonata
The Quarry

Note the long gap, more than a decade, between writing Consider Phlebas and the next Culture novel, Excession. The gap doesn’t look so huge when you consider the next chronology:

Order of Publication

The Wasp Factory (1984)
Walking on Glass (1985)
The Bridge (1986)
Consider Phlebas (1987)
Espedair Street (1987)
The Player of Games (1988)
Canal Dreams (1989)
The State of the Art (novella, 1989)
Use of Weapons (1990)
The Crow Road (1991)
The State of the Art (collection, 1991)
Against a Dark Background (1993)
Complicity (1993)
Feersum Endjinn (1994)
Wilt (1995)
Excession (1996)
A Song of Stone (1997)
Inversions (1998)
The Business (1999)
Look to Windward (2000)
Dead Air (2002)
Raw Spirit (2003)
The Algebraist (2004)
The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007)
Matter (2008)
Transition (2009)
Surface Detail (2010)
Stonemouth (2012)
The Hydrogen Sonata (2012)
The Quarry (2013)

Here, the long gap in the composition of Culture novels is less apparent, but what does become noticeable is the stutter in the first decade of this century, when various personal issues broke up the smooth sequence of a book a year.

But the order in which the various Culture novels should be read is different again:

Internal chronology of the Culture novels

Consider Phlebas
Excession (500 years later)
The State of the Art (100 years later)
Matter (60 years later)
The Player of Games and Use of Weapons (both around 55 years later)
Look to Windward (75 years later)
The Hydrogen Sonata (200 years later)
Surface Detail (500 years later)

The whole sequence, therefore, covers some 1,500 years. These time periods can be calculated from internal evidence, usually references to the war in Consider Phlebas, (for instance, Look to Windward is built around the 800th anniversary of the war) though there are direct connections between The State of the Art and Use of WeaponsInversions is the one Culture novel that does not have any obvious dating information.

 

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