I remembered only some bizarre details about this novel.

Space pirates that are really incompetent, they try to steal some stuff from an enormous ship on an enormous space habitat... This ship is actually an oceangoing vessel on an artificial ocean? Somehow screws it up even when everything is abandoned, because everything will be blown up because of a war that is in the background, I think. Then ends up on an artificial island? With cannibals...

Just remembered this bizarre stuff, sure I read it around 2001, so published before this date. Pretty sure was a novel, not a short story.

  • Yes thank you all looks like this is the one after reading the wiki article. Also remembered a raid on a temple that also was disastrous, I think it was made of glass or crystal and their laser blasters backfired. Will try to reread and the rest of the novels also looks interesting.
    – Dan
    Jun 28, 2022 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


It sounds like you're think of Consider Phlebas (1987), Iain M. Banks' first novel of the Culture.

The protagonist is Horza, who is actually fighting for the Idirans against the Culture; he is a limited shape-changer and acting as a spy.

After one of his missions goes wrong he is picked up by the Clear Air Turbulence, a pirate vessel taking advantage of the war to prey on both sides.

As you note, though, they're not very good at it, and several of their missions go wrong, leaving several of the crew dead.

The climax of the novel takes place on the Vavatch Orbital, which the Culture is destroying to prevent the Idirans from seizing it.

The pirates try to steal some weapons from a gargantuan (water) ship, but even that goes wrong when the ship crashes into a wall of ice.

Horza ends up on an island with an apocalyptic cult whose leader is a cannibal and tries to eat Horza's fingers.

Horza escapes, and finds the remnants of the pirates at a game of "Damage."

You can read a more complete plot synopsis at Wikipedia.

  • 1
    The first Culture novel and that cannibal scene put me off reading the rest for like another 10 years. When I did I liked all of the others much more. Might go back and read it just to see if it is better in retrospect.
    – Mike Wise
    Jun 27, 2022 at 20:27
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    @MikeWise The cannibal thing did for you, but not the little white chair? There's an image I shan't forget. And don't get me started on The Wasp Factory.
    – DavidW
    Jun 27, 2022 at 20:29
  • 1
    I read the synopsis for "The Wasp Factory" and "noped" right out of it.
    – Mike Wise
    Jun 27, 2022 at 21:52

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