How Will Iain M. Banks' Culture Translate To The Big Screen?

Iain M. Banks' Culture novels helped energize a whole new movement in vast, thrilling space opera. But the news of a big-screen Culture adaptation makes me nervous. Will the celluloid version of the Culture lose its Minds? Spoilers below.

Reading the news that Iain M. Banks' story "A Gift From The Culture" is being adapted by the writers/directors of the "psychobilly" thriller White Lightnin', I begin to understand why some people are such purists about seeing their favorite books adapted to the big screen. Not that that story, in itself, is my favorite — I don't think I've read it at all. It's in the anthology The Space Opera Renaissance, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, which I never managed to pick up a copy of. (And generally, Banks' short fiction hasn't worked for me as well as his novels — I read his story collection State Of The Art, and was non-plussed.)

But Banks' books, and especially his Culture novels, loom so large in my science-fiction cosmology that I'm terrified that a movie version will tone down the strangeness of the Culture. Consider Phlebas, the first Culture book, was also the first book I'd ever read which contained an interstellar society so advanced, it was almost unimaginable — and yet still managed to spin out a story that was exciting and made sense to my puny Human 1.0 brain. It would be a shame if the Culture movie left out, or toned down, the Culture's "Minds," the super-powerful A.I.s that do a lot of the heavy lifting in this super-society. Or the Culture's propensity for extreme body-modification, among other things.

(We posted a great primer to the Culture last year, which you can read here.)

The plot synopsis for "A Gift From The Culture" doesn't reassure me that much, since it could easily be turned into a standard "alien among us" thriller. Basically, it centersaround Wrobik, a member of the Culture in exile, who's now living among humans as one of us. Wrobik used to be a woman, but became a man as part of her exile — but he still prefers men, so he's in a gay relationship. He incurs some gambling debts, and to pay them off, the thugs want Wrobik to commit an act of terrorism — using a gun that only a member of the Culture can fire, to shoot down a starship. Wrobik decides to flee town instead, but then the thugs take his boyfriend hostage, upping the stakes. Will Wrobik choose to save his boyfriend, or destroy the spaceship?

I don't know how the story ends, except that SF Signal complains in its review of the anthology that Wrobik's dilemma "probably could have had a more satisfying resolution." (Update: As various people have pointed out, this story was also in State Of The Art. And in fact, I have read it. It just made very little impression, and it's been years.)

This film could be utterly fascinating, if they keep both the same-sex relationship and the fact that Wrobik used to be a woman. And even a few big-screen glimpses of life inside a General Systems Vehicle would be amazing. I just hope our first (and probably only) cinematic look at the Culture doesn't turn out to be a waste. [Screen Daily via Slashfilm via SF Signal]