A novel set in the Culture universe created by Iain M. Banks

Plot Summary

Impact Analysis book cover I am writing a Fan Fiction novel called Impact Analysis, set in the Culture universe, as invented by Iain M. Banks and used as the setting for many of his own works.

This page provides a summary of the plot of Impact Analysis, in chapter order. Warning: spoilers.

See also the list of characters and places which I am working on, and which accompanies this chapter-by-chapter synopsis.


1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | Epilogue

Prologue [Top]

An encounter on the Island within what we will later learn is Island Rock. Kitzean Mso and other Contact personnel are attacked by a female member of the aliens known as the Islanders. Before the Drone Schoma Xantic can intercede to protect the humans, the female is killed by another Islander known as the Matron.

The sudden brutality - and mundane typicality - of this encounter causes Mso to wonder aloud what the Culture will decide to do to about the inhabitants of Island Rock.

1: Angel Descended [Top]

The chapter opens with a flashback: a young Kitzean Mso is aboard the Culture cruise ship Just Passing Through when it was captured by the Affronter Battle-cruiser Kiss the Blade. The Just Passing Through was liberated by the ROU Progressive Intercession a few days later. Although unharmed, the formative experience causes Mso to become a highly respected Contact agent, one who asked to be Stored until until events occur where her skills and experience could be usefully deployed.

An encounter between Kitzean Mso and the widow Aneme Crossmaddows on the latter's deathbed. Mso is mistaken for an angel. Mso admits to have been watching Aneme for her entire life, but nevertheless asks Aneme for details of her life. Aneme speaks about the horrific death of her husband Jeremias Crossmaddows from the Zombie Plague and, ultimately, at her own hand.

For many years afterwards, Aneme had had a reputation as a witch, or wise woman, tended to the sick and needy; this has strengthened considerably her inate sense of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Impressed by her intuitive capabilities, Mso invites Aneme to leave her home world just before her death and join the Culture.

The chapter closes with a signal communication between the GCU Meretricious Persiflage and its home GSV Imagine A Swift Exit. The Meretricious Persiflage confirms that it has collected Mso and Aneme; the Imagine A Swift Exit advises the GCU not to rush, but be particularly cautious on its return journey.

2: First Encounter [Top]

The GCU One Hand Clapping leaves the GSV Hence, or Otherwise on what is apparently a standard Contact exploration mission. The Hence, or Otherwise is launched by the Superlifter Can't You Drive Faster?, shortly after its sister ship GCU Extended Adolescence left on a similar mission.

The One Hand Clapping has a crew of thirteen: two drones, five women, four men, one person who was in the process of changing from a woman to a man, and one other who had remained determinedly androgynous for a great many years. The human crew include Kitzean Mso, Sharo Emshala and Lezert T'wou. The drone crew members are Schoma Xantic and Quenlily Sikralis.

The One Hand Clapping and its crew make an initial encounter with Island Rock. They determine that Island Rock is unthreatening and non-sentient, despite its very considerable technological sophistication. They also observe that the Rock has an unimaginatively sophisticated hyperspace connection to the Grid.

The chapter closes with a signal communication between the GCU One Hand Clapping and the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise reporting the discovery of Island Rock. The One Hand Clapping is asked to keep the news of the Rock's discovery quiet for the time being.

3: Strange Attractors [Top]

The chapter opens with a description of a virtual debating chamber known as the Cabal, whose occupants are currently unknown, even to each other. Various communications techniques are being using to further the debate, including the production of film documentaries.

Ingeta and Sa-Aliten meet once again at a party on Q'aantar Orbital. Sa-Aliten has recently arrived aboard the LSV Thinking Things Through, while Ingeta arrived on the GSV Death And Gravity.

Ingeta is persuaded by Sa-Aliten to visit the LSV Thinking Things Through to view a short film he has made which is critical of the Culture. Ingeta is extremely impressed.

Shortly afterwards, Ingeta and Sa-Aliten meet Oscar, the newly-constructed Avatar of the Thinking Things Through.

The chapter closes with an enigmatic message exchange between the LSV Thinking Things Through and the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise, with the Thinking Things Through suggesting it wants to make a point in a larger debate.

4: Rural Idyll [Top]

This flashback chapter gives snapshots of a Aneme Crossmaddows's life: her meeting and later marrying her beloved Jeremias Crossmaddows; the death and burial of her husband's mother, her infant daughter and her husband himself; her reinvention as a "wise woman" with knowledge of medicines; her summons to the great city and the Duke, where she is asked to save the life of the Duke's only son, which requires the Duke to make peace with his neighbours.

These events are seen through the lens of a series of covert Contact recordings, viewed by Kitzean Mso aboard the GSV Imagine A Swift Exit. She agrees with the ship that Aneme's abilities are worth being coopted into Contact.

The chapter ends with a message exchange between the GSV Imagine A Swift Exit and the GCU Meretricious Persiflage, with the latter being requested to take Kitzean Mso to collect Aneme on her deathbed.

5: Backwards Chaining [Top]

The GCU One Hand Clapping and its crew further explore Island Rock and learn for the first time about the nature of the inhabitants: the Islanders. They also learn about the impending collision - in 85 years - with a star gone nova, as well as the dichotemy of the survival:

... Are they fleeing from some pogrom or environmental disaster area, or are they survivors from a war? Or, is it an escape pod for the remnants of the losers, a refuge for those who started a genocidal war, but lost? Or a prison ship, an eternal punishment for crimes too vile to be forgotten or forgiven? Are they victims, or aggressors? Refugees or criminals?...

They learn that the ship cannot be precise about where the Rock originated, but appears to be somewhere in a densely-populated region of space called the Kaligan Cloud.

Kitzean Mso and the rest of the crew are asked to keep Island Rock a secret for the time being. They reluctantly agree.

The chapter closes with a signal communication between the GCU One Hand Clapping and the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise. The GSV recommends keeping the discovery a secret for a short while.

6: Opposing Spin [Top]

The chapter opens with a continuation of the anonymized debate between unknown parties known as the Cabal, whose focus appears to be the Culture's own direction and future. The importance of voting, and the potential for societal splits is emphasised.

Aboard the LSV Thinking Things Through, the avatar Oscar invite both Ingeta and Sa-Aliten to join the LSV on what Ingeta describes as "an Adventure". They agree.

The Thinking Things Through commissions Ingeta and Sa-Aliten to make a full-length documentary film on behalf of an unspecified consortium, emphasing that it is Ingeta, not Sa-Aliten, who is in charge. Oscar states that:

".. working together, you will create a genuine masterpiece, an original work of passion and energy, a work of artistic integrity which could, nevertheless, influence the Culture as a whole or, at least, its views on an important decision which is even now fast approaching."

Oscar introduces the residents of Island Rock, showing images of a mother and daughter in a clearing. He explains the Islander's short-range "telepathy", as well as their organised cannabalism, the hunting and eating of others of their kind, the way the young eat their way out of their mother, and the origins of the few males.

The chapter closes with another enigmatic message exchange between the LSV Thinking Things Through and the GSV Hence, or Otherwise, with the Thinking Things Through announcing it has commissioned a film documentary.

7: Awakening Spirit [Top]

Aneme Crossmaddows is awakened as a young woman aboard the GSV Imagine a Swift Exit. There she meets Kitzean Mso again, first in simulation and later in the real world.

Aneme is astonished by size of the GSV and, generally, the capabilities of the Culture. Mso asks Aneme if the Culture is moral in its treatmen of both adults and children; Aneme agrees that they are.

Mso starts the process of getting Aneme into the Culture's Contact section.

The chapter concludes with a short message sequence between GSV Hence, or Otherwise and the GSV Imagine a Swift Exit. They agree to transfer Mso and Aneme to Q'aantar Orbital to apply to join Contact.

8: Cover Story [Top]

The GSV Hence, or Otherwise coordinates a search of the Kaligan Cloud for the origin of the inhabitants of Island Rock.

By chance, radio emissions are detected by the GCU Three Body Problem which gives the location of the planet originally inhabited by the Islanders. The GSV Hence, or Otherwise directs another nearby ship, the GCU Protracted Development to investigate that system. The Protracted Development finds that the home planet has been destroyed in a civil war, but there are enough remains to confirm that the planet was once populated by the Islander species.

Based on reports from the GCU Protracted Development and analysis by the GSV Hence, or Otherwise, the GCU One Hand Clapping informs Kitzean Mso and the other crew that they cannot tell which of the two sides the current Islanders originated from, nor the source of the technology forming the rock itself. That hugely more advanced technology must have been made by another civilisation, but they cannot tell who that was. As policy, the Culture would not want to anger any such advanced civilisation.

The chapter ends with a message sequence between the GCU One Hand Clapping and the GCU Protracted Development confirming there is no sign of the "..mysterious benefactors-stroke-jailers."

9: Phase Space [Top]

The anonymous debates continues. The key point focusses on the Culture's morality: would the Culture take a moral stand, even if it put its own civilisation at risk, or would it step away from a moral choice to safeguard its own existence? Attempts to answer this question with models and simulation run up against the Simming Problem.

Back on the the LSV Thinking Things Through, Ingeta and Sa-Aliten learn more about the natives of Island Rock from the avatar Oscar. Specifically, they learn that the Islanders are under a death sentence, colliding with the nova in 31 years.

Ingeta and Sa-Aliten learn about the moral dilemma presented by the Islanders: should the Culture intervene and save the Islanders, allowing them to live indefinely, but risk the displeasure of an unknown but technically powerful civilization; or should the Culture protect its own interests and stand back, allowing the grotesque and replusive Islanders die? Sa-Aliten identifies this as a potential Outside Context Problem. It is the kind of moral question which should be answered by a vote by the entire Culture problem.

Ingeta and Sa-Aliten now understand that the reason they have been asked to make this film is to inform the debate in the larger Culture society. Oscar insists that the humans have complete editorial control of the film's contents.

The LSV Thinking Things Through departs from Q'aantar Orbital with Sa-Aliten and Ingeta aboard. The ship states it will reach Island Rock in about two weeks.

The chapter closes with another message exchange between the LSV Thinking Things Through and the GSV Hence, or Otherwise, with the LSV announcing it has recruited its film crew and is now on its way.

10: Orbital Insertion [Top]

Aneme Crossmaddows and Kitzean Mso leave the GSV Imagine a Swift Exit aboard the GCU Friendly Feature Set. The two women arrive at Q'aantar Orbital where they are greeted by on the Hub's Avatar, as well as the old drone Quenlily Sikralis.

Aneme formally asks Dn Quenlily Sikralis to join Contact. Normally, it can take months or years to be accepted into Contact; to everybody's surprise, Aneme is accepted immediately and unconditionally.

The chapter concludes with another short message sequence between the GSV Hence, or Otherwise and the GSV Imagine a Swift Exit. It is the GSV Hence, or Otherwise that had set up the "trip-wire" to admit Aneme into Contact, as a contingency against unknown future possibilities.

11: Created Image [Top]

Kitzean Mso and Sharo Emshala, accompanied and guarded by Schoma Xantic meet Matron in a clearing inside Island Rock.

While guarding her daughter, Matron recounts a mythological account of a vast battle ages before, a story which aligns very closely with the events inferred by the GCU Three Body Problem and the GCU Protracted Development.

The chapter closes with a message exchange between the GCU One Hand Clapping and the GSV Hence, or Otherwise. The GCU wonders about the probability of a story like that being handed down so accurately over a thousand generations.

12: Remote Entanglement [Top]

The chapter opens with further debates amongst the mysterious known as the Cabal. The still-anonymous disputants have agreed to set up an experiment to test the moral character of the Culture as a whole, and have delegated some of their number to this task. The remainder debate how to put the question to the whole population, and whether various parts of the Culture Ulterious should be included.

The LSV Thinking Things Through with Ingeta, Sa-Aliten and the avatar Oscar arrive at Island Rock. Ingeta and Sa-Aliten have spent the intervening weeks planning and preparing for their film, as well as becoming friends and lovers.

The LSV Thinking Things Through rendezvoused with the GCU One Hand Clapping. Ingeta and Sa-Aliten go aboard with Oscar, where they are greeted warmly by Sharo Emshala and the rest of the GCU's crew, including Lezert T'wou, Schoma Xantic and Quenlily Sikralis.

The crew help Sa-Aliten and Ingeta set up their archaic film equipment on the ship, and Sa-Aliten starts to shoot his fist segment: an interview by Ingeta of the crew members that were orignally aboard when Island Rock was first discovered. A few moments into filming, they discover that one crew member is unexpectedly absent: Kitzean Mso.

Mso had left the day before, aboard the GCU Friendly Feature Set for an unspecified destination. For some reason, the LSV Thinking Things Through and Oscar failed to inform Ingeta and Sa-Aliten.

During the fuss, Oscar returns unnoticed to the LSV Thinking Things Through and the LSV leaves the vicinity of Island Rock immediately. The One Hand Clapping informs Ingeta and Sa-Aliten that the GCU Friendly Feature Set will be returning in 50 hours, with Mso and Aneme Crossmaddows aboard.

The chapter closes with a message exchange between the One Hand Clapping and the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise. The GSV confirms that it sent the GCU Friendly Feature Set and Mso to collect Aneme, stating that it believes the indepdendent assessment will be worthwhile.

13: Pastoral Care [Top]

The chapter opens with a description of an (unnamed) old couple on an (unnamed) martial planet visiting the Euthanasia Centre, as observed as a hologram by Aneme Crossmaddows aboard the GCU Meretricious Persiflage.

The planet has been engaged in total war (although not yet nuclear) for generations. The GCU Meretricious Persiflage has been unable to identify a successful Contact strategy until Aneme suggests the introduction of a Messiah to the warring societies.

Later, Aneme is waiting in a graveyard for Kitzean Mso. Mso arrives and persuades Aneme to come away with her; she agrees. They board a module which takes them to the GCU Friendly Feature Set.

The chapter ends with a message exchange between the Friendly Feature Set and the GCU One Hand Clapping. The Friendly Feature Set complains about being asked to rush off at short notice, like a taxi.

14: Shell Dynamics [Top]

The chapter opens with a discussion of the impact of the discovery of Island Rock on the Culture as a whole, and the debate over the appropriate action. Understandably, the need for a vote is itself widely debated. The Peace Faction and other parts of the Culture Ulterior form the view that this has nothing to do with them. Similarly, alien societies appear to have no interest.

Ingeta and Sa-Aliten set up their archaic film equipment inside Island Rock, assisted by the crew of the GCU One Hand Clapping, including Lezert T'wou, Schoma Xantic and Sharo Emshala.

The puzzling construction of Island Rock is debated by members of the Compass Alignment Group, without a consensus apparently being formed.

Once the film equipment is set up and the crew return to the GCU One Hand Clapping, Ingeta and Sa-Aliten film an interview with Matron. Matron compares their society's hunting and cannabalism with those of the Culture's inhabitants, or at least ancestors: drinking of mother's milk; hunting, breeding and then killing and eating animals.

The GCU One Hand Clapping informs Ingeta and Sa-Aliten of the imminant and unexpected arrival of the LSV Some Revision Required. This is a surprise, since the Some Revision Required was thought to be on the far side of the galaxy. Quenlily Sikralis suggests that the Some Revision Required, which appears to have no crew, has converted much of its interior space into engines to get to Island Rock so quickly. The One Hand Clapping suggests that the LSV Thinking Things Through has done the same.

The chapter ends with a terse message exchange between the LSV Some Revision Required and the LSV Thinking Things Through, each appearing to threaten the other.

15: Inspection Visit [Top]

The chapter opens with the final debating session of the mysterious group known as the Cabal. They agree to cease their anonymity, and reveal their identities and locations to all of the group.

Kitzean Mso returns to the GCU One Hand Clapping aboard the GCU Friendly Feature Set, having retreived Aneme Crossmaddows from her previous Contact assignment. Mso briefs Aneme extensively about Island Rock and its inhabitants, as well as the moral dilemma faced by the Culture.

Mso introduces Aneme to the crew of the One Hand Clapping, who are watching events unfold on Island Rock. Aneme decides she must make an immediate visit to the Rock.

Aneme and Mso visit Island Rock together. Ingeta and Sa-Aliten are filming another interview with Matron. Aneme notes that the Islanders don't seem to smell at all. Matron makes a surprisingly insightful remark about Aneme's role, which Aneme impresses Ingeta and insists that she is included in the film documentary.

The chapter closes with a message exchange between the One Hand Clapping and the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise, confirming that Aneme was delivered on time, but expressing surprise that the Friendy Feature Set decided to take off so suddenly after delivered Aneme.

16: Emergent Property [Top]

Three members of the previously anonymous group known as the Cabal are revealed to be the GSV Hence, Or Otherwise, the LSV Some Revision Required and the LSV Thinking Things Through. All are now members of the Compass Alignment Group.

Aneme Crossmaddows sits alone aboard the GCU One Hand Clapping viewing the introductory section of Ingeta and Sa-Aliten's film about Island Rock. Her internal sense of rightness appears to have failed her, giving no guidance on which of two courses to pursue.

Aneme has a brainwave and asks the One Hand Clapping to invite all the crew to join her for a meeting, including Ingeta and Sa-Aliten, to debate the way forward. Aneme asks all the crew and the One Hand Clapping not to communicate with anybody outside the ship until they have come to a decision.

17: Final Judgement [Top]

Epilogue [Top]

Aneme Crossmaddows continued her good works with Contact. Eventually she returns to Q'aantar Orbital and gives birth to a daughter.