Iain M. Banks
A little culture
Banks leads something of a double life. Under the name Iain M. Banks he writes the best science fiction I've read in the last few years, while under the name Iain Banks he writes more general fiction. I hesitate to call his general work mainstream, as it's generally filled with the bizarre and perverse. I've read several of his "Iain Banks", not all of which have been to my taste. However, I've enjoyed the work of Iain M. Banks considerably.
Most of Banks' science fiction takes place in the context of the Culture, an ancient space-faring civilization based on equality, non-violence, abundant robotic labor, super-intelligent artificial minds, and a desire to have as much fun as possible. The Culture must sometimes deal with other civilizations, however, and this task is given to the Culture's Contact group (Normal members of the Culture find Contact rather distasteful). And then, for those special, more dangerous contacts, there is Contact's Special Circumstances section....
The Culture novels include Excession, The Player of Games, Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons, and The State of the Art. The Player of Games is a good starting point, as is Consider Phlebas. Use of Weapons is quite good, but somewhat confusing on a first reading. The State of the Art is really just a novella, and I found it less interesting than the others.
Other novels include Against a Dark Background, and Feersum Endjinn, both of which I enjoyed, though your mileage may vary.
Books by Iain (M.) Banks