Having read and enjoyed book eight of the Culture Novels, Matter, I have returned to book one and am smug with self satisfaction for having started reading the books of Iain Banks. The man delivers the groceries, and they are indeed exotic goods. Consider Phlebas ((1987, 2008) we are so fortunate to have the series re-released and in the US) is just a wisp of what is to come, but the story is fully engrossing, amusing and thoroughly thought provoking. The protagonist is not a Culture man, and, is in fact at war with them, and in league with the Idirans. The Iridans are an insectile alien race, growth economy driven, and at heart a bunch of jihadist religious zealots out to subjugate, and maybe do a little business with, everybody and everything they encounter. You might want to walk quickly by any mirrors and not look too closely at yourself or your culture while reading this author, he does not wear colored glasses. Banks is brilliant at painting the human condition, writ large, on a false background. Science Fiction, at its very best.
Music to stir your gray matter.