‘A Gift From The Culture’ by Iain M Banks
Banks is the UK version of Lois McMaster Bujold: massively critically and commercially successful in their own country and the definitive space opera writer of the period but nowhere near as well known on the other side of the Atlantic. Like Bujold, he also hasn’t write very much short fiction. Despite the Culture universe being the single most influential setting in British science fiction for over twenty years, this is one of only two Culture stories he has written (the other being the titular novella from his single collection, The State Of The Art). And ‘A Gift From The Culture’ isn’t even set in the Culture; like his debut SF novel, Consider Phlebas, it depicts it from outside.
In this section of the anthology, H&C go to considerable lengths to set up and then knock down a US/UK divide. To this end they even drag out an irrelevent quote from “New Space Opera writer” M John Harrison (whose fiction doesn’t actually appear, obvious). I’m not sure why they got the bit between there teeth – misplaced national pride in response to perceived misplaced national pride? – but it isn’t a very profitable avenue of thought. That said, Wrobik, the narrator of this story makes a stark contrast to Miles Vorkosigan: she is a pathetic, self-deluding addict who commits mass-murder as the easy way out of the decision she’s found herself in. It certainly sets the tone for the Culture novels but doesn’t really add anything to them.