Amazon cancels TV adaptation of Iain M. Banks’ sci-fi Culture series

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Amazon has canceled its planned adaptation of Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, the first novel in the author’s acclaimed sci-fi Culture series. Amazon Studios acquired rights to the book in 2018 as part of an effort to create shows with “global appeal” for Amazon Prime Video, but multiple sources say development is no longer happening.

Utopia creator Dennis Kelly, who was adapting Consider Phlebas for the streaming screen, told Den of Geek earlier this week that work on the project had stopped.

“We’d talked about it for two or three years and it went a certain way along,” said Kelly. “I’d written probably 20-30 pages of the bible, but once I got a sense that it wasn’t going to happen, I had to stop writing because you become emotionally attached to the work.”

Kelly suggested the decision was down to Banks’ estate. “In the end, I just think the estate didn’t want to go through with it. It wasn’t the material,” he says, “it was just because I think they weren’t ready to do it, for whatever reason. I’m a little mystified myself, to be honest.”

The estate confirmed the news to The Guardian today, saying that the “timing wasn’t quite right” for an adaptation. In a statement, Banks’ estate said that “the interest and devotion that Iain’s work continues to inspire is a testament to the enduring relevance of his ideas and imagination” and that it was “hugely grateful for all the care and creative energy that went into the early stages of the project.”

Banks’ estate offered no further explanation for the project’s end. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment on the news and will update this story if we hear back.

The cancellation will certainly be a disappointment for sci-fi fans. Banks’ Culture series is one of greatest works of modern science fiction, encompassing a variety of stories involving xenophobic aliens, super-intelligent AIs, and virtual hells. The freewheeling nature of the books is in part down to the genius of Banks’ setting: the eponymous Culture civilization, which is a post-scarcity society run by AI Minds. Citizens of Culture, freed from the burdens of work or aging, are free to indulge in hedonistic pleasures, intergalactic intrigue, or just drop out of space and time altogether.

The Culture series is beloved by today’s tech titans, too. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called the series a “huge personal favorite” when the adaptation was announced, while SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk named a drone vessel after one of Banks’ AI ships: “Just Read the Instructions.”

Banks’ work spanned both sci-fi and literary fiction, with the latter category including his breakout debut novel, 1984’s The Wasp Factory. He wrote his first Culture book, Consider Phlebas, in 1987 and penned a further nine novels between then and 2012. Banks died in June 2013, aged 59, just two months after announcing he had inoperable cancer.

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