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

From: Jamal MacCaffral, Triaan'i Udom Senior School, Daan'a, Kanzanea, Ziemia

To: Ambassador Kuboul Rabaransa Losaet Ingeta Ngoh dam J'salf, c/o GCU Pretentious Twaddle

Dear Ingeta,

I am afraid I feel compelled to write to you again. As you can see, my Marain is now good enough that I feel confident in writing to you in this language. I hope I am not making too many mistakes!

As you have probably guessed by now, I have another question for you. At school, and at home, I am being taught that drugs are bad - bad for me, and bad for society, both illegal and immoral. I am not taking any drugs myself, of course, but I know some people at school who are experimenting.

I am told that all Culture citizens have drug glands inside them, that they are born with them. Is this true? I also hear that any Culture person can make themselves high at any time. Is this also true? And this is all allowed, legal?

So, why doesn't everybody spend all their time out of their heads on drugs?

Thank you in advance for any assistance you can give me.

Yours sincerely,

Jamal MacCaffral (Aged 14)

From: Ambassador Kuboul Rabaransa Losaet Ingeta Ngoh dam J'salf

To: Jamal MacCaffral, Triaan'i Udom Senior School, Daan'a, Kanzanea, Ziemia

Dear Jamal,

How nice to hear from you again. I am very pleased to see that your knowledge of Marain is coming on nicely - no mistakes that I can see!

To answer your question, we first need to distinguish, as your society does, between medical therapeutic drugs - the ones your mother might get from the pharmacist, or given to you by your doctor - and recreational drugs - the kind which are illegal and you are being strongly warned against.

On your world, both kinds of drugs have side-effects; for recreational drugs, those side-effects can include short- and long-term mental issues, physiological addiction, physical damage and so on.

The Culture has been around for a very long time and, for practical purposes, our medicine has been perfect for most of that period. By comparison, your medical technology is primitive, archaic and unnecessarily dangerous. So, for now, I strongly council you to avoid taking drugs - of any kind - unless you really need to, and only where those drugs have been prescribed to you by a qualified medical specialist.

The drugs that most - not all - Culture citizens can produce on demand do not have deleterious side-effects. So, yes, an average Culture person can get a "high" just by thinking about it and can then come down without a hangover. But it's not just recreational drugs; there are drugs for many desirable and practically useful effects - increase concentration, reduce fatigue, increase strength and stamina, remove the need (at least temporarily) for sleep - the list goes on.

So, yes, a Culture citizen could spend their entire live in a drug-induced state, but most choose not to. There are lots of other interesting, indeed fascinating things to do: more useful things, more social things, more entertaining things. Indeed, it is a measure of the success of a civilization that its citizens find a great many ways to entertain themselves and experimenting with drug glands is just one of them.

Sincerely yours,

Kuboul Rabaransa Losaet Ingeta Ngoh dam J'salf
Culture Ambassador to planet Ziemia

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