The next obvious step, however, is Banks's non-genre writing. I don't know if I'll be as inspired to write about those books as I was by his SF--I've never gotten the sense that his mainstream writing was as groundbreaking as his work in genre--but time will tell.
(Also absent from this list is the collection The State of the Art. I probably will get to it, but it feels less essential to this list--I've never heard anyone list any of the stories in it as definitive on the level of the novels.)
The Culture Novels
- Consider Phlebas (published 1987, reviewed 2006, full-length review) - Part of me wants to revisit this novel, which isn't very good but is so very important to setting the tone and preoccupations of the Culture sequence. The other part of me remembers what a dour slog it was.
- The Player of Games (published 1988, reviewed 2010, full-length review) - In hindsight I think my review of this book, though generally positive, ends on a more negative note than it deserved. It's a fantastic novel with a great plot, and a necessary counterpoint to the negativity of some of the other Culture novels.
- Use of Weapons (published 1990, reviewed 2006, full-length review) - I wrote recently that Use of Weapons is a perfectly-formed novel undermined by a ridiculous final twist. That's undeniably true, but this is still one of the most important, and best, Culture novels.
- Excession (published 1996, reviewed 2008, short review) - Of all the Culture novels, this is the one that probably most deserves a second look. In hindsight its importance to the overall tone of the series (and particularly the later novels) seems obvious, and I'd like to revisit it and maybe give it the consideration it deserves.
- Inversions (published 1998, reviewed 2014, short review) - This, on the other hand, has probably gotten all the consideration it's going to get. A stealth Culture novel, it's an interesting experiment but doesn't do much that the other books don't do better.
- Look to Windward (published 2000, reviewed 2013, full-length review) - It's hard to call this my favorite Culture novel since it is so bleak, but it's definitely one of the best, and this is probably my favorite Banks review.
- Matter (published 2008, reviewed 2009, full-length review) - The first of the three later, and lesser, Culture novels, and in hindsight the best of the unimpressive bunch.
- Surface Detail (published 2010, reviewed 2011, full-length review at Strange Horizons) - The only time I've reviewed Banks for an outside publication. I wish it could have been a review of a better novel, but Surface Detail is baggy and unfocused.
- The Hydrogen Sonata (published 2012, reviewed 2015, full-length review) - The last of the Culture novels and, sadly, the worst. There's still a lot here to enjoy but it's not the ending the sequence deserved.
- Against a Dark Background (published 1993, reviewed 2013, short review) - This was the first Banks I read after his death, and that perhaps fueled an overly-negative reaction. It isn't great--it revels in its bleakness and is much too long--but the knowledge that there were only so many of his books left for me to read made it seem worse than it was.
- Feersum Endjinn (published 1994, reviewed 2006, very short review) - Like Inversions, this feels like an experiment, and though it's probably a more successful one, there's also not much to say about it. There's a giant castle. It's neat.
- The Algebraist (published 2004, reviewed 2005, full-length review) - Where it all started. My first Banks, and in hindsight my favorite of the non-Culture novels. I don't know how well it would stand up today, now that I'm more familiar with the tropes of his writing (in fact looking back I'm not certain why Banks felt the need to create a new universe for this story; perhaps he simply felt the existence of the Culture would make the novel's events impossible). I might end up revisiting it as well, though that feels less urgent.