Consider Phlebas is my first Banks read. I want to thank my buddy Bob for suggesting him. It's like regressing to my college days when you could get some great hard science fiction from Anderson or Heinlein or Asimov. I sometimes wonder what my GPA would have been if I'd spent as much time in the textbooks as I did in the paperbacks. Now it's my kindle that beckons.
Consider Phlebas is a story about the quest to capture an enemy AI that escaped to a forbidden planet. The conflict is between the Culture (mostly some form of human) and the Idirans (three legged hermaphroditic aliens). The humans appear to be the bad guys, but the distinction is ambiguous at best. Great spaceships, habitats, weapons, and aliens abound. Awesome is a highy overused term, but I'll apply it to this book. Very highly recommended.