A timeline of Iain M Banks’s The Culture novels

Using this timeline from The Culture Wiki, I created a to-scale visual timeline of major events in Iain M Banks’s Culture novels. It requires a bit of scrolling.

Dates are approximate. Where the original timeline gave a range, I’ve put the event in the middle of that range. The present events of Use of Weapons, for example, could fall shortly after Player of Games, not before.

It’s interesting to note that Matter happens earlier than I assumed, and Surface Detail happens a lot later than everything else.

14 thoughts on “A timeline of Iain M Banks’s The Culture novels

    • It should be a bit later, but not much. I was following the linked timeline. Where the date given there is a range, I placed it in the middle. It says Matter is 19th century CE, so I placed it at 1850 CE. However, it can be dated more precisely:

      1. Excession states that it’s 500 years after the Idiran War, so about 1875 CE
      2. Matter states that it happens 20 years after Excession, so about 1895 CE
    • Short answer: basically yes. The Idiran-Culture War occurs during Earth’s late medieval period, the GCU Arbitrary visits during the 1970s, and Windward, Sonata and Surface Detail happen in our far future.

      Longer answer: the numbers correspond to the BC/AD dating system, or rather the Common Era which is exactly the same, but makes no claim about the historical birth year of Jesus, which most scholars now believe happened a few years earlier. However, neither the Common Era system nor the BC/AD system has a year 0. Jesus’s birth was traditionally supposed to have occurred in 1 BC, which was followed immediately by 1 AD. So technically, by including a 0 on the scale (for mathematical neatness), I’ve added a year. But given that we’re talking about rough dates on a scale of thousands of years, it doesn’t matter.

  1. Hi – great effort – thanks for that. However surely the Azad events are earlier. There is clear reference in Excession of the “Azadian debacle”

    • Interesting! The timeline that I based this on justifies placing Player of Games after Excession on the basis of these two quotes:

      “This was different. Nothing like this had been seen in the galaxy since the worst days of the Idiran war five hundred years earlier…” – Excession

      “The Limiting Factor was ‘Murderer’ class General Offensive Unit number 50017, and as such was one of the last built, constructed seven hundred and sixteen years earlier in the closing stages of the Idiran war, when the conflict in space was almost over.” – Player of Games

      If Excession refers to the events of Player of Games in the past, then between them those three quotes create an internal inconsistency in the Culture’s timeline. That’s always the risk with this kind of exercise!

  2. Started with Matter before realizing it was a whole series now I’ve read Player (loved it) and just finished Phlebas (hated it).
    This timeline is really useful thank you!!

  3. I read them all in order of publication date, except for ‘State of the Art”, which I had a bit of trouble obtaining. To me it has always seemed that the culture is so vast and the overall sweep of events so enormous that pinning them to a certain date is superfluous. The one book that seemed to require some specific timeline was “Excission” where the circular nature of events had to be accounted for.
    So while I appreciate this effort and the clarity it provides over the “whole” of the Culture Series it is not crucial to my appreciation of the vision Banks created.

    • It’s not mentioned on the timeline that this is based on, so my guess is that there’s no information in the text to date it at all. That would make sense, given the way that it’s written.

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