I just finished Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks....I'm hooked and have a couple of questions on the Culture novels:

  • Is there an order to the novels (preferred or otherwise) ?
  • What is the timeline of the novels ?

3 Answers 3


I think the internal chronology roughly matches the publication order. But there's not much canonical information about this, most books don't contain a date. The Iain Banks Culture FAQ has a (tentative, not up-to-date) timeline.

The novels are self-contained. You can read them in any order. You might want to read the first novel first (Consider Phlebas) as an introduction to the Culture, but it's not strictly necessary.

  • 5
    You can pretty much read them in any order. Occasionally they'll mention something that happened in a previous novel, but only as a historical foot note. Sort of like how you can read about the US revolution and it might mention some historical facts about england, but you don't need to read a history of england first to still understand (and enjoy) the book about the revolution.
    – merk
    Commented Jan 12, 2011 at 18:54
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    Ideally you would want to have read Surface Detail after Use of Weapons - in fact that's probably your next stop!
    – Dan Kelly
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 12:47
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    Gilles your links are dead here!
    – goldilocks
    Commented Apr 4, 2015 at 20:10
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    @DanKelley I think I remember why you're suggesting that Surface Detail should be read after Use of Weapons. But that makes it sound like it involves a major plot point, which it doesn't, really. It's more like an Easter egg, something fun but nowhere near essential. Kind of like spotting the Enterprise in the background of a freeze frame in Battlestar Galactica. Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 17:00
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    The one exception I would recommend is "Inversions" - read it after something like Use of Weapons. If you don't know about knife missiles the climax is a bit hard to follow. Commented Oct 12, 2017 at 2:08

As Gilles has said, the order is not really important.

Personally, I would read "Consider Phlebas" before "Look to Windward".

From Wikipedia:

In some respects Look to Windward serves as a loose sequel to the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas : the GSV Lasting Damage fought in the Idiran-Culture War, and Ziller specially composes a work to commemorate the arrival of light from a supernova triggered during the war.

I found that it gave me a better feel of the "Culture universe" having been exposed to the Idiran conflict, and the subsequent timescale that had elapsed, along with the huge scope of events.


According to this wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Culture#Novels if you put them in chronological order you get (Earth dates shown):

  • Inversions - (unspecified)
  • Consider Phlebas - 1331 AD
  • Excession - 2067 AD (approximate)
  • The Player of Games - 2083 AD
  • Matter - 2087 AD (approximate)
  • Use of Weapons - 2092 AD
  • Look to Windward - 2170 AD (approximate)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata - 2375–2567 AD (approximate)
  • Surface Detail - 2970 AD (approximate)
  • The State of the Art - various (title story takes place in 1977 AD)

However, i'd recommend reading them in order of publishing, as that way you explore the universe in the same order as Banks did, and see themes develop etc.

  • Apologies for coming to you so late after your post. The Wikipedia page now lists the timeline as occurring not in the Julian calendar ("AD") but during "CE". I wonder if you are familiar with this timeline, and, by definition, am I right in thinking this would stand for Culture Epoch?
    – user60893
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 9:54
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    CE is basically a non-religious name for "AD": instead of the latin "Anno Domini", meaning "the year of our lord", it stands for "Common Era". The actual dates themselves are the same - so this year is 2017 AD and 2017 CE. It's just a secular alternative. So still purely terrestrial :) Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 14:37

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