The Culture: The Drawings

by Iain M. Banks

Hardcover, 2023



Call number




Orbit (2023), 160 pages


This extraordinary collection celebrates the dazzling worldbuilding of Iain M. Banks, one of the most important and influential writers in modern science fiction. Faithfully reproduced from notebooks he kept in the 1970s and 80s, these annotated original illustrations depict the ships, habitats, geography, weapons and language of Banks' Culture series of novels in incredible detail. 'Superb - well worth it for the hardcore fans. This is an incredibly well put-together collection of drawings, diagrams, notes and schematics from one of the all-time greats of science fiction and space opera. This book looks absolutely stunning and the quality is extraordinarily high. It was well worth the wait' Waterstones bookseller review 'The Culture: The Drawings pulls together his art work for the first time, and it's clear he was a very good draughtsman. Maps of alien archipelagos. Sketches of spaceships and guns and castles and tanks . . . This isn't an archive of ideas so much as the melting pot from which ideas came' The Times 'Banks was a dude who loved his whisky and his amateur draftsmanship has some of the character of cask spirit: raw and unrefined but heady and intoxicating' Eurogamer 'The Culture series is incredible and this book goes to show how the books could be so intricate and consistent. He designed the whole universe by hand' Reader review Praise for the Culture series: 'Epic in scope, ambitious in its ideas and absorbing in its execution' Independent on Sunday 'Few of us have been exposed to a talent so manifest and of such extraordinary breadth' New York Review of Science Fiction 'Jam-packed with extraordinary invention' Scotsman 'Banks has created one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future' Guardian The Culture series: Consider Phlebas The Player of Games Use of Weapons The State of the Art Excession Inversions Look to Windward Matter Surface Detail The Hydrogen Sonata Other books by Iain M. Banks: Against a Dark Background Feersum Endjinn The Algebraist ***Also, look out for the Deluxe 'Special Circumstances' Edition of The Culture: The Drawings. This ultimate, limited collector's edition includes an exclusive, numbered, cloth-bound edition of The Culture: The Drawings in a sumptuous presentation case, a booklet of original Culture-inspired artwork, specially commissioned 3D printing files and many other Culture-inspired features***… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RobertDay
Mainstream novelists have it easy. The settings for their stories are known to most of their readers; even if they select a particularly exotic or unusual setting, they only have to describe the features that make that setting unique, because their readers will know all the other details abut How
Show More
The World Works through the simple expedient of actually living in that world. Not so the writers of science fiction. They have to perform the task of "world-building" to a greater or lesser degree, so that their readers will understand the setting of their stories and also so that they keep their own invented worlds' details internally consistent. Even if the 'novum', the significant scientific or technological change in the story, is simple and singular, the writer still has to understand its key details and how those work out in the rest of the world before even setting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. And this not only has to be internally consistent; in science fiction, it has to be in line with either science as we know it today or explicable using speculative advances in science that the future may bring us.

The late Iain M Banks wrote a series of novels and stories about 'The Culture' - a post-scarcity, galaxy-spanning society facilitated by complex artificial intelligences - Minds - that effectively run everything, and characterised by the levels of personal freedom it grants its citizens and a penchant for engineering mega-structures, from artificial ring-shaped habitats, three million kilometres in diameter - Orbitals - to mega-sized ships - General Systems Vehicles - which transport and provide homes for millions of individuals. Citizens of the Culture want for nothing and can devote their time to whatever takes their interest, even if that turns out to be nothing in particular. The Culture has been described as "fully automated luxury space communism", though it is perhaps more properly described as "anarcho-communism".

Banks wrote his first Culture novel, Consider Phlebus in 1987, although he had been writing and trying to sell science fiction since his teenage years. He was planning another Culture novel at the time of his death in 2013, In the intervening years, his Culture novels covered a vast range of topics, scenarios and situations. It therefore came as no surprise to find that he had been engaged in thinking about his world-building for many years. This book is a manifestation of that world-building. It consists of drawings Banks prepared of ships, robots ('drones'), weapons, structures and settings from the 1970s and 1980s.

These are not idle doodles. Rather, on the strength of these drawings, Banks was a capable draughtsman (although the originals were set down, albeit with care and attention to detail - on any spare paper he came across). The drawings also include calculations setting out his ships' performance and capacity parameters, the specifications for his weapons and the capabilities of his drones. Notes and comments are few and far between, though they occasionally throw light on the novels certain ships appear in or give his thoughts on the world-building process and his own reaction to what he was doing. (One such note appears next to a diagram of shift patterns on a General System Vehicle and comment that "this is verging on the obsessive - no-one has to work anyway!") Banks shows his ships to be generally featureless geometrical shapes (the novels make occasional reference to this), in contrast to the baroque designs of science fiction cover artists such as Chris Foss or Peter Jones, with ships covered in fiddly detail and sporting large numbers of windows. This is not to say that Banks did not have an eye for detail, or fought shy of depicting it; there is one rare spaceship shown with all the traditional accoutrements of the "wide-screen baroque" designs of others, which Banks describes as a "cruise ship" for "tourists", and he observes that there should be "no standard designs" but that they should "tend to the silly and/or impressive".

There are nearly 150 pages of drawings. Not all this world-building appeared in the pages of the novels, but that which we didn't see was still there, in the background of the narratives and in the novelist's head. It was this fully-formed nature of the Culture that enabled Banks to write with such assuredness. For instance, Consider Phlebas opens with a sequence where a sentient starship is escaping from an attack on its shipyard, and the very first words of the novel are "The ship didn't even have a name." It would not be until the later novels - and in particular the fourth Culture novel, Excession - that we began to understand quite how much trouble ship Minds put into selecting their names, and how off-the-wall those names could be. Yet at the very beginning of his exploration of his Culture universe, Banks already knew that when he started writing the first novel. That is serious world-building, and these drawings were an integral part of that process.

The book is a large-format, landscape, case bound volume on good art paper. My one criticism is that early announcements by the publisher suggested that Banks' essay Some Notes on The Culture, in which he talks in more detail about the Culture, its background and nature, would appear in this book. In fact, this has now been held back for another year. We have to wait a little longer to have that essay n print (although it has been available online for some time now).

Nonetheless, this is an important addition to Banks' canon and gives a fascinating insight into his creative mind.
Show Less


Hugo Award (Nominee — 2024)
Locus Award (Finalist — 2024)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

160 p.; 14.25 inches


0356519422 / 9780356519425
Page: 0.7652 seconds