They have ships that can travel really fast and really far, but galaxies are big. Have they spread to more than one galaxy?

Is the name of the galaxy known? And how far is it from the Milky Way (if it is a different galaxy)?

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    The question has been answered, but just to add something: Galaxies are big, yes. The Milky Way (where the Culture lives) is about 100,000 light years across. However, the Andromeda galaxy, our closest neighbor, is about 2.5 million light years away.
    – tobiasvl
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:22
  • Similar to scifi.stackexchange.com/q/85572/31220
    – goldilocks
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:43
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    @greuze That's true, and the GSV Sleeper Service did in fact leave the Milky Way, though not for Andromeda but for a closer dwarf galaxy in the Milky Way's orbital system, Leo II. Spreading the Culture across our satellite galaxies might be feasible. Spreading it to different distinct galaxies like Andromeda would perhaps not be feasible while maintaining one distinct mono-Culture. (I forget, is there FTL communication in The Culture?)
    – tobiasvl
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:52
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    @tobiasvl - That's actually dealt with in the "Notes on the Culture" if you feel like asking.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:53
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    @greuze - another half remembered fact - I think there is reference somewhere made to the sparsity of the energy Grid between galaxies, which makes travel between them difficult and may reduce that speed significantly. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 11:02

3 Answers 3


The Milky Way

The Culture novels are set in the Milky Way galaxy.

Iain M. Banks wrote the following in an essay called "A Few Notes on the Culture" that was posted to a newsgroup by his friend Ken MacLeod:

The galaxy (our galaxy) in the Culture stories is a place long lived-in, and scattered with a variety of life-forms. In its vast and complicated history it has seen waves of empires, federations, colonisations, die-backs, wars, species-specific dark ages, renaissances, periods of mega-structure building and destruction, and whole ages of benign indifference and malign neglect. At the time of the Culture stories, there are perhaps a few dozen major space-faring civilisations, hundreds of minor ones, tens of thousands of species who might develop space-travel, and an uncountable number who have been there, done that, and have either gone into locatable but insular retreats to contemplate who-knows-what, or disappeared from the normal universe altogether to cultivate lives even less comprehensible.

No mention in any of the books is made of the Culture having a permanent presence in another galaxy, but they have been shown to visit other galaxies. For example Jernau Morat Gurgeh in The Player of Games travels from the Culture to the Empire of Azad in the Small Magellanic Cloud, about 200,000 light-years away, it takes Gurgeh about 2 years to make the trip.

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    Cheers @tobiasvl - I was trying to find a non broken link to that essay and it looks like we found the same one :) Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:22
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    Probably doesn't count as spreading, but I'm sure I remember a throwaway reference to an expedition to Andromeda, with reference to it not getting there yet and the vast distances (not the Sleeper Service). Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 11:00
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    Parts of The Player of Games take place in the Small Magellanic Cloud.
    – Simon
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 11:21
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    @Simon I just assumed that was where the Empire of Azad was based, not The Culture, I'll change accordingly though Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 11:23
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    The Milky Way? That's my galaxy! Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 20:14

I don't recall seeing any reference to the Culture having spread to more than one galaxy, but they apparently are in our Milky Way galaxy,

as they have visited Earth, in The State of the Art.


We have proof-positive that it's the Milky Way Galaxy (e.g. our own galaxy) in Excession. The GSV Sleeper Service decides that it's going to take a long trip out of the galaxy to one of its nearest neighbours.

'Have you decided where we're going yet?' Zreyn asked.
The avatar nodded. 'I think… Leo II,' it said.
'Not Andromeda?' Zreyn said.
Amorphia shook its head. 'I changed my mind.'

Simplified map of the Milky Way, with Leo II and the Andromeda Galaxy circled in red

And as has been pointed out, the Culture actually make first-contact with Earth in the late 1970s in The State of the Art.

By the spring of the year 1977 AD, the General Contact Unit Arbitrary had been stationed above the planet Earth for the best part of six months. The ship, of the Escarpment class, middle series, had arrived during the previous November after clipping the edge of the planet's expanding electro-magnetic emission shell while on what it claimed was a random search.

  • Nice map, we can see all of our neighbors :)
    – greuze
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:50
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    @greuze - And I bet you never even wave. That's why they don't come to visit...
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 10:52
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    "first-contact" is kind of a 'sorta'. They visit, spend some time incognito, and then decide Earth is pretty much best left alone for everyones sake and they take off again. They don't announce themselves (other than perhaps the GCU Arbitrary trolling BBC radio) and as for leaving anything behind, best not spoil it.
    – Shayne
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 22:13

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