Iain Banks (16 February 1954 – 9 June 2013) was a Scottish author, writing mainstream fiction as Iain Banks and science fiction as Iain M. Banks, adding the initial of his adopted middle name Menzies (/ˈmɪŋɪz/ (listen)). After the success of The Wasp Factory (1984), he began to write full time. His first science fiction book, Consider Phlebas, appeared in 1987, marking the start of the Culture series.
The Culture and the Idiran Empire are at war in a galaxy-spanning conflict. A Culture Mind, fleeing the destruction of its ship in an Idiran ambush, takes refuge on Schar’s World. The Dra’Azon, godlike incorporeal beings, maintain Schar’s World as a monument to the world’s extinct civilisation and the dangers of nuclear proliferation, forbidding access to both the Culture and the Idirans.
Horza, a shape-changing mercenary, is rescued from execution by the Idirans who believe the Dra’Azon guardian may let him onto the planet as in the past he was part of a small group of Changers who acted as stewards. They instruct him to retrieve the Mind.
During Horza’s extraction, the Idirans also capture a Special Circumstances agent, Perosteck Balveda. However, the Idiran starship on which he is travelling is soon attacked by a Culture vessel, and Horza is ejected. He is picked up by a pirate ship, the Clear Air Turbulence (CAT). He is forced to fight and kill one of the crew to earn a place. The captain, Kraiklyn, leads them on two disastrous pirate raids in which several of the crew perish. After the second raid Horza is taken prisoner by a cult living on an island on the orbital Vavatch. He escapes after poisoning the cult leader and makes his way to Evanauth, the main city of Vavatch, where he finds Kraiklyn, who is playing “Damage”—a high stakes card game.