Iain M. Banks’ Culture Series is headed to Amazon Prime Video, with the studio snapping up the rights to “Consider Phlebas.” The TV series will be adapted by Dennis Kelly, who created TV series “Utopia,” while Plan B Entertainment, responsible for “World War Z” and “Moonlight,” will produce.
It’s an ambitious undertaking by Amazon Studios. Banks, who died in 2013, rose to fame initially in 1984 with unexpected hit “The Wasp Factory,” but it was the release of “Consider Phlebas” in 1987 which saw him expand into science-fiction. Over the subsequent 25 years it grew to encompass ten novels and stories.
Categorized as “Space Opera,” the books document a utopian society that finds itself post-scarcity, with money and space transportation no longer an issue. Humanity has encounter multiple species, some more friendly than others, and grown from living purely on natural worlds to create huge space habitats like rings. Lifespans have been extended by hundreds of years.
For many, though, it’s the artificial intelligences which give the Culture novels their strongest appeal. In the series’ mythos, AIs have expanded well beyond the capabilities of their human creators and are effectively left in charge of the habitats, governing, and other duties. Known as “Minds,” they either reside inside huge ships – with esoteric names – or drones.
In “Consider Phlebas,” one of the Culture’s civilizational foes, the Idirans, attempts to infiltrate it to locate a missing Mind, believing that it holds the secrets that could cause its collapse. Where the citizens of the Culture have moved beyond religion and war – motivated, in no small part, by a lengthy war with the Idirans themselves – the Idirans have a deeply religious society and believe Minds to be blasphemous.
The challenge for Amazon Studios will be translating a series known for its combination of arch humor, philosophical questions, and distant-future technology into something that works on TV. It’s also a long way from other recent science-fiction adaptations, like Netflix’s recently-released “Altered Carbon” based on the novel by Richard K. Morgan.
“Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to,” Dennis Kelly says of the books, “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.” Keeping a watchful eye on the process will be the Estate of Iain Banks, which will serve as Executive Producer on the production.
Get it right, and the potential payoff for Amazon could be huge. With ten books in the series, and the lingering enthusiasm for Banks’ work in general, the Culture series could easily become the company’s equivalent of “Game of Thrones” or other long-running shows.