Gutted at the death (sublimation?) of Banks, I find myself wondering if anyone else will take on The Culture. I doubt it, but I can hope. I'd love to see Charles Stross have a go as I think he'd be marvellous. Reynolds too.
Anyway, I had an idea for a Culture fanfic novel/story but I have neither the time nor the skill to write it sadly, so I thought I'd piss it up against this particular wall in the hope that perhaps someone else might. Or perhaps more realistically that someone might find it entertaining, add to it, take it apart, fill in gaps, etc.
The story takes place during the process of contacting two planetary civilisations, something Banks never wrote about and about which I've often wondered. These two civilisations are predominantly primitive but have made great strides toward sociological unity amongst themselves and have begun basic rocket powered space flight. However, due in the first instance to a massive population burden and in the second instance to the planet's limited natural resources, both these civilisations have no chance of developing further. Their civilisations are locked on course to implode under their respective weights (imagine oil running out or population reaching 10bn in 1970s earth) with their respective nations divided and ready to strike at each other. Worse, the predicted paths of their downfalls will cause massive destruction to their planets' ecosystems which are considered unusually rich and diverse though already damaged to the point of fragility.
A consortium of Contact minds has thus made the decision that to preserve both the species themselves and their planet's ecologies these civilisations will be contacted and granted culture citizenship to those who accept it and unlimited food/energy resources to those who don't. Given the fragility of their predicaments contact must be swift and total, with the means of their self-destruction removed immediately (nukes displaced out). This is covered in an initial pre-amble as a conversation between minds, implying that this has been done many times in the past and is not expected to be difficult, but is a step they are reluctant to take unless absolutely necessary due to the difficulty of maintaining preservation of freedom choice and the distinctiveness of the cultures of the contactees. Some (a minority) of the Minds would rather leave the civilisations to their own means as there is always a small chance that some portion of them might survive, some other Minds forward the opinion that minor intervention, ie displacing away the nukes only once the button has been pressed, may allow conservation without interference which may be unnecessary. However, the civilisations' have each come so close to elevation and yet fell so short for reasons arguably outside of their ability (at this stage in their development) to overcome, and this tips the balance.
Contact section facilitate the transition by simultaneously displacing spherical green (a colour which represents peace in both civilisations) drones into a grid formation 50ft apart across all inhabited areas of each planet - these drones remain immobile and explain to all who ask exactly what and who the culture is and what their intentions are, prevent anyone from harming anyone else and arrange supplies/energy/shelter to be displaced from the orbiting GSVs as needed. These are tasks they accomplish almost perfectly using their own resources and that of the GSV in orbit. This is the second narrative, told from the point of view of the contactees. Some take to Culture life almost immediately and leave the planet for the GSV to explore the new world open to them, some rage uncontrollably and require medical attention, but these extremes are very much the minorities. Key will be building up the backgrounds to these two civilisations, highlighting their contrasts (cultures) and similarities (conflicts).
Culture human citizens begin to make themselves known on the planets, some of whom have newly arrived in protective but unarmed suits with peaceful greetings, and some of which it transpires have been present for generations and have even achieved fame and/or public office. The general consensus is that the culture has been steering their societies toward faster development and/or a peaceful transition, but conspiracy theories are rampant.
The main story follows two contactees, one on each planet, whose back stories are similar in that they have been involved in violence in their respective nations (one as a soldier and one as a terrorist/guerilla/freedom fighter) and have suffered deep personal losses. Lets call them Soldier (male) and Guerilla (female). Due to their actions before and during the initial contact phase, and due to the losses they have suffered, they have been identified by the GSVs attending as in need of special support and also as potential trouble-makers. Each befriends a Contact Culture Citizen who, each protagonist suspects, is there as much to keep an eye on them as to befriend them. Lets call them the Soldier's Warden and the Guerilla’s Wardon.
These two main protagonists are introduced early during the contact phase but the story proper then follows each in turn, chapter by chapter, in chronological order but with occasional “flashback” narratives to their prior conflicts before contact.
By this time most contactee citizens are resolved to the fact that their new overlords (as they see them) appear benign, that they are now reliant upon them, and that they themselves appear free to do anything they wish with the exception of continuing the combat both protagonists have been embroiled in. This causes issues to our protagonists who harbour fantasies of vengeance despite their culture citizen friends/ambassadors being able to show them detailed and convincing accounts of all which has transpired on both sides of the conflict in the past (as the GSV has been there for decades), and even take them to visit the homelands of their enemies and meet the people they previously fought (all now in total Culture bubblewrap safety). Although all are now well fed and have access to culture medical tech, some have refused treatment and maintained their blindness/crippled limbs/burned faces in protest against their unsettled scores.
The narrative follows each protagonist with their respective Contact warden/friend as they come to understand more deeply the other's point of view, with the wardens themselves beginning to understand their ward's anger at the injustice of their situation. The bonds between them also become partially sexual. This is heightened in the case of the Guerilla's Warden, who seems to identify more closely with the issues at hand and half way through the story it becomes apparent that the Guerilla's Warden is in fact the Soldier, with several hundred years separating the two storylines during which the Solder has integrated into the Culture, been approached by Contact, and agreed to the assignment to assist the other planet's contact phase.
The story follows the Guerilla being able to partially complete her vengeance fantasy in a fashion which could not have been possible had the Soldier (her warden) not willingly turned his head, though the Soldier does intervene at the last minute as the feasibility of the scheme becomes apparent. This vengeance is only partly successful as the only fatality is the Soldier himself who is promptly resurrected and confides in the Guerilla that both he and the prior Soldier (now deceased) were copies of an original who is still in storage. They agree to part ways, concluding that they are each damaging to the other, though each appears to have resolved (or at least buried) their vengeance fantasy.
The story concludes with the resurrected Soldier watching over a different group of contactee Guerillas, more distantly this time and apparently with the aid of a Contact drone close by who is in fact there to watch over him as much as the contactees. The Guerilla is then revealed to be the narrator talking to a drone friend some time in the future, having been more successfully integrated into the Culture than the Soldier and in the process of declining to assist similar efforts herself. She acknowledges that the GSV's use of the Soldier copy as Warden in the first place could be justified given her long life since, though she has no way to repay or pay forward this debt. She concludes that as she is no longer partially broken, she is perversely no longer useful and decides to enter storage with the same awakening criteria as the Soldier – that they be awakened only when the Culture decides to sublime.