Consider Phlebas (Culture #1)

A federated disgust, a galaxy of scorn. Us with our busy, busy little lives, finding no better way to pass our years than in competitive disdain.

All of it dust now, all of their precious humanoid civilization ground to junk under glaciers or weathered away by wind and spray and rain and frozen ice - all of it. Only this pathetic maze-tomb left.
So much for their humanity, or whatever they chose to call it, thought Unaha-Closp. Only their machines remained. But would any of the others learn? Would they see this for what it was, this frozen rockball? Would they, indeed!

Behind it, still expanding, still radiating, still slowly dissolving in the system to which it had given its name, the unnumbered twinkling fragments of the Orbital called Vavatch blew out toward the stars, drifting on a stellar wind that rang and swirled with the fury of the world’s destruction.

Besides, it left the humans in the Culture free to take care of the things that really mattered in life, such as sports, games, romance, studying dead languages, barbarian societies and impossible problems, and climbing high mountains without the aid of a safety harness.

bipedal, oxygen-breathing carboniform

…[Changers] were a threat to identity, a challenge to the individualism even of those they were never likely to impersonate. It had nothing to do with souls or physical or spiritual possession; it was, as the Idirans well understood, the behavouristic copying of another which revolted. Individuality, the thing which most humans held more precious than anything else about themselves, was somehow cheapened by the ease with which a Changer could ignore it as a limitation and use it as a disguise.

Don't you have a religion?" Dorolow asked Horza.

"Yes," he replied, not taking his eyes away from the screen on the wall above the end of the main mess-room table. "My survival."

"So... your religion dies with you. How sad," Dorolow said, looking back from Horza to the screen. The Changer let the remark pass.

Empathize with stupidity and you’re halfway to thinking like an idiot,

Everything about us, everything around us, everything we know and can know of is composed ultimately of patterns of nothing; that’s the bottom line, the final truth. So where we find we have any control over those patterns, why not make the most elegant ones, the most enjoyable and good ones, in our own terms?

Experience as well as common sense indicated that the most reliable method of avoiding self-extinction was not to equip oneself with the means to accomplish it in the first place.

genuinely annoyed that the woman could use even something so obviously a testament to the power of intelligence and hard work as an argument for her own system of irrational belief.

He could not believe that ordinary people in the Culture really wanted the war, no matter how they had voted. They had their communist Utopia. They were soft and pampered and indulged, and the Contact section’s evangelical materialism provided their conscience-salving good works. What more could they want? The war had to be the Mind’s idea; it was part of their clinical drive to clean up the galaxy, make it run on nice, efficient lines, without waste, injustice or suffering. The fools in the Culture couldn’t see that one day the Minds would start thinking how wasteful and inefficient the humans in the Culture themselves were.

Horza recalled that the Culture's attitude to somebody who believed in an omnipotent God was to pity them, and to take no more notice of the substance of their faith than one would take of the ramblings of somebody claiming to be Emperor of the Universe. The nature of the belief wasn't totally irrelevant - along with the person's background and upbringing, it might tell you something about what had gone wrong with them - but you didn't take their views seriously.

I had nightmares I thought were really horrible until I woke up and remembered what reality was at the moment.

Listen for somebody trying to talk to you....


This from that very pit of night, naked in the wasteland, the ice-wind moaning his only covering, alone in the freezing darkness under a sky of chill obsidian:)

Whoever tried to talk to me? When did I ever listen? When was I ever other than just myself, caring only for myself?

Imagine a vast and glittering ocean seen from a great height. It stretches to the clear curved limit of every angle of horizon, the sun burning on a billion tiny wavelets. Now imagine a smooth blanket of cloud above the ocean, a shell of black velvet suspended high above the water and also extending to the horizon, but keep the sparkle of the sea despite the lack of sun. Add to the cloud many sharp and tiny lights, scattered on the base of the inky overcast like glinting eyes: singly, in pairs or in larger groups, each positioned far, far away from any other set.

It was the Culture’s fault. It considered itself too civilized and sophisticated to hate its enemies; instead it tried to understand them and their motives, so that it could out-think them and so that, when it won, it would treat them in a way which ensured they would not become enemies again. The

Just before the Clear Air Turbulence went back into warp and its crew sat down at the table, the ship expelled the limp corpse of Zallin. Where it had found a live man in a suit, it left a dead youth in shorts and a tattered shirt, tumbling and freezing while a thin shell of air molecules expanded around the body, like an image of departing life.

Look on the happy side, think of the good things. Hadn't it been clever? Yes, it had.

Neeporlax presented something of a contrast.

Special Circumstances had always been the Contact section’s moral espionage weapon, the very cutting edge of the Culture’s interfering diplomatic policy, the elite of the elite, in a society which abhorred elitism. Even before the war, its standing and its image within the Culture had been ambiguous. It was glamorous but dangerous, possessed of an aura of roguish sexiness - there was no other word for it - which implied predation, seduction and even violation…No other part of the Culture more exactly represented what the society as a whole really stood for, or was more militant in the application of he Culture’s fundamental beliefs. Yet no other part embodied less of the society’s day-to-day character.

Still, the underlying point held; experience as well as common sense indicated that the most reliable method of avoiding self-extinction was not to equip oneself with the means to accomplish it in the first place.

That is the way with all of your kind… It is how you are made; you must all strive to claw your way over the backs of your fellow humans during the short time you are permitted in the universe, breeding when you can, so that the strongest strain survive and the weakest die. I would no more blame you for that than I would try to convert some non-sentient carnivore to vegetarianism. You are all on your own side.

The Idirans themselves had evolved on their planet Idir as the top monster from a whole planetful of monsters.

The only desire the Culture could not satisfy from within itself was one common to both the descendants of its original human stock and the machines they had (at however great a remove) brought into being: the urge not to feel useless.

The ship left the construction bay of the factory craft with most of its fitting-out still to be done. Accelerating hard, its course a four-dimensional spiral through a blizzard of stars where it knew that only danger waited, it powered into hyperspace on spent engines from an overhauled craft of one class, watched its birthplace disappear astern with battle-damaged sensors from a second, and tested outdated weapon units cannibalized from yet another. Inside its warship body, in narrow, unlit, unheated, hard-vacuum spaces, constructor drones struggled to install or complete sensors, displacers, field generators, shield disruptors, laserfields, plasma chambers, warhead magazines, maneuvering units, repair systems and the thousands of other major and minor components required to make a functional warship. Gradually,

The swirling mist lay in the bottom of such great bowls like a broth of dreams.

They sought to take the unfairness out of existence, to remove the mistakes in the transmitted message of life which gave it any point or advancement...

They were enemies, they had both been very close to death and the other had done little or nothing to intervene, but actually to kill her would be very difficult.

Or maybe he only wanted to pretend that he would find it very difficult; maybe it would be no bother at all, and the sort of bogus camaraderie of doing the same job, though on different sides, was just that: a fake.

Us with our busy, busy little lives, finding no better way to pass our years than in competitive disdain.