Amazon to adapt Iain Banks' space opera

Amazon to adapt Iain Banks' space opera

Amazon will adapt the late Scottish author Iain M Banks’ acclaimed space opera Consider Phlebas 30 years after it was first published.

The company’s development arm, Amazon Studios, announced on Wednesday (21st February) that it had acquired the global television rights to the first novel set in Banks’ fictional interstellar utopian society, the Culture. Jeff Bezos, Amazon c.e.o, tweeted the news to his 456,000 followers, revealing the Culture series was a "personal favourite" of his. 

The series will be adapted as a Prime Original by British screenwriter Dennis Kelly, who worked on “Utopia” and “Matilda”, with Plan B Entertainment, of “12 Years a Slave”, “The Big Short”, “Moonlight”, slated to produce. The author's estate is attached as executive producer. The Amazon Original programme will be available to members of Amazon's subscription service which includes on-demand entertainment.

Consider Phlebas was first published in 1987 by Banks' longtime publisher Little, Brown Group, and became the first in the 10-part series featuring the Culture. If the initial adaptation proves a hit with viewers, the entire Culture series could be picked up for TV. 

Banks wrote a number of literary novels as well as science fiction works. He died in 2013 aged 59. 

An Amazon spokesperson described the upcoming adaptation as “a kinetic, action-packed adventure on a huge canvas” drawing on Banks’ “extraordinary world and mythology Banks created in the Culture”. This fictional world sees a highly advanced and progressive society ends up at war with the Idirans, a deeply religious, warlike race intent on dominating the entire galaxy.

The story focuses on a rogue agent, Horza, who is tasked by the Idirans with the impossible mission of recovering a missing Culture ‘Mind,’ an artificial intelligence many thousands of times more sophisticated than any human—something that could hold the key to wiping out the Culture altogether.

“What unfolds, with Banks’ trademark irreverent humor, ultimately asks the poignant question of how we can use technology to preserve our humanity, not surrender it,” the Amazon spokesperson said.

“The story of the Culture is so rich and captivating that for years Hollywood has been trying to bring this utopian society to life on the screen,” said Sharon Tal Yguado, head of scripted series at Amazon Studios. “We are honored that we have been chosen, along with Dennis Kelly and Plan B Entertainment, to make Consider Phlebas into a television series we think will be loved by fans for years to come.”

Kelly said: “Iain Banks has long been a hero of mine, and his innate warmth, humor and humanism shines through these novels.

“Far from being the dystopian nightmares that we are used to, Banks creates a kind of flawed paradise, a society truly worth fighting for—rather than a warning from the future, his books are a beckoning.”

“We revere the work of Iain Banks and continue to be moved by his inimitable spirit and his commitment to imagining a better future even in the darkest of times,” said a Plan B spokesperson. “Consider Phlebas, simultaneously explores the deepest questions concerning humanity and our future."

The spokesperson added: "We are so grateful to the estate of Iain Banks for the opportunity to bring his work to life, and to Amazon for the scope of their ambition to building Iain’s prescient world.”

The announcement follows Bezos reportedly tasking Amazon Studios with honing high-end drama series with global appeal.

It was revealed last week that Little, Brown imprint Orbit will publish a book of original drawings by Banks, based on the author’s vision of the Culture universe. The title will comprise previously unseen drawings, most of which are annotated by the author and many of which predate the writing of the novels themselves.