5 things that can go HORRIBLY wrong adapting The Culture

Damien Walter
4 min readFeb 21, 2018
https://iain-m-banks-culture.deviantart.com/art/Banks-Orbital-178660874

I don’t consider myself a true fan of many things, but I am an unapologetic Iain (M) Banks fanboy.

Which is an easy thing to be. Banks is a brilliant, brilliant writer. A storyteller in the class of Neil Gaiman, with the muscular prose abilities of J G Ballard, and the conceptual imagination of an Asimov or Le Guin. I read his Culture books in my teens, his literary novels in my twenties, and re-read nearly all of them in my thirties. Just this year I’ve been working my way through Peter Kenny’s spot on audio adaptations.

So, like all true fans, I’m a little worried by news of a tv adaptation. Banks was fairly outspoken about his decision not to allow movie or tv adaptations of the Culture novels. I totally respect any decision his estate makes on this, and nobody doubts Amazon have the cash to make it happen? But do they have the skill, creativity and imagination?

How many ways could a Culture tv adaptation go wrong? Let us count the ways.

ONE: Television SFX Don’t Cut It

Even when they are good, tv special effects aren’t cinema grade. Shows like Altered Carbon get a lot of positive feedback, but to me they still seem second rate. The Culture is a VERY visually demanding universe. Can tv sfx do justice to a 30 km long General Systems Vehicle? Or a ringworld / Orbital?

On this score I expect the answer is: yes. Amazon have money to burn, and to pay for the very best.

TWO: Great Writing Doesn’t Translate To Screen

Banks was a truly great novelist. Adaptations of his writing have been fair to middling at best. Great prose fiction is very hard to adapt. Books like Game of Thrones adapt well in part because their limited writing style means not much is lost in the transition. Can Bezos put a team in place with the skills to adapt Banks?

On this second point I also think the answer is yes. The Culture books are Banks at his most cinematic, there’s plenty to put on screen here.

THREE: The Culture gets whitewashed

The Culture are a pan-human civilization who can look however they want. But their standard…

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Damien Walter

I tell stories about the future, technology and culture. Published by The Guardian, WIRED, BBC etc.