Many of you will be familiar with the Culture novels, the universe of Banks Orbitals.

While not always central to the plot, they're always making maximum use of the universe - hyperspace jumps, millisecond engagement times and massive devastation.

I'm curious as to some ideas of tactics that might unique to Banksian space warfare.

  • Ships are far beyond human intelligence
  • They are able to pass in and out of hyperspace at will (perhaps some clarification of the rules of Banksian hyperspace?)
  • Actual sessions of engagement are short and sweet, but massively damaging

In particular I'm interested in the tactics made possible through breaking general relativity, as we understand them.

  • $\begingroup$ What are the limits on hyperspace entry and exit? How precisely can you choose exit point. Is there anything that limits how a ship in hyperspace moves? What happens if a ship exits hyperspace into the same space that there is already something else? $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Aug 10 '16 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ How fast is hyper space? Truly instantaneous or some thing like 10x the speed of light? $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Aug 10 '16 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ My reading of Iain Banks' Culture universe is that FTL travel was at velocities of 100,000 to 200,000 c. No mention of entering or exiting hyperspace at specific points, so it's safe to assume it can be done almost anywhere. With exception of too deep into gravity wells, like inside stars and planets. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 11 '16 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ FTL travel is via a hyperspace with a kid of energy grid that Ships run along. Ships enter and exit this hyperspace, then travel through it in continuous motion. Not hyperspace jumps as discontinuous travel. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 11 '16 at 3:37

Ships can move almost at will everywhere (We once meet one basking in the corona of a star) and this very fast. Effectors allow to 'hack' less powerful or sophisitcated ships. Since there's hardly any cover in space, it doesnt matter if the weapon is 'displacing' some antimatter into your foe via targeted wormwhole or some FTL-hyperspace laser like thing or an (FTL, hyperspace) missile. What matters is wether the target has the fields to fend this off. AFAIK in the culture-verse, ships engines that propel them through hyperspace and fields are linked on a deep technological level, so if a civilsation masters one it will be good at the other.

For battles in deep space there's not much scope for tactics, the combination of better engines, fields, weapons and effectors wins (Unless of course one side gives their ship to one of those meatbrains). Decisions to be made are whom to shoot first, and with what. I think this is what we see in the novels.

There are exceptions, near the ends of Hydrogen Sonata and Matter ships use physical structures that extend into hyperspace to some effect, IIRC in Consider Phlebas some unarmed culture ships hide in stars coronas or so because their enemies can't follow there because of inferior field technology.

To your specific question, "In particular I'm interested in the tactics made possible through breaking general relativity, as we understand them":
Again, no new tactic. Breaking relativity means there's no absolute speed limit on anything, speedds of communication or travel are purely contingent on the technology available.

So in the end, in the Cultureverse there's no real scope for clever tactics but for one grand strategy: Be the technologically most advanced civlization around, with the best engines, fields effectors and Minds. Which boils down to have the best Minds, who will develop the other things and even better Minds. It is a testament to Iain M. Banks storytelling that he built a universe where history is driven by anonymous progress and excentric Minds, and still tell relatable stories where all meatbrains and other people matter.

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  • $\begingroup$ Brilliant answer. Very good knowledge of the Cultureverse. It occurs to me now that the ship called I said, I've Got A Bigger Sick might be a deliberate jest by the Culture mindset that they (mostly benevolently) dominate the galaxy. $\endgroup$ – ktyldev Aug 17 '16 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ I just realised I made a couple of typos in that last comment. The ship was actually called the "I Said, I've Got A Bigger Stick", and there was emphasis placed on the name being written in subscript. A very Banksian thing to do. $\endgroup$ – ktyldev Aug 18 '16 at 14:36


  • If a ship exits hyperspace into already occupied by another object the two objects combine in a explosive mess.
  • A ship can enter hyperspace many times in a day
  • It takes less than a second for a ship to enter hyperspace
  • computer operated ships can respond in less than a second
  • It is difficult to predict where another ship could choose to exit hyperspace based only on what can be observed when it jumps.


Flicker probes,

Using light or radar to "see" you enemy is a bad idea it is too slow over any significant distance. You want to see that he is warning up his engines to jump next to you and blast you. If he is 30 light minutes away from you, you won't see him warming up till 30 minutes after he does it because the light won't reach you till then. Much better to have several small probes that jump near an enemy look at them and jump back and tell you. Of course then everyone will then try to destroy each other's probes but so be it.

Shoot and Scoot

Jump next to a enemy fire everything you have and then jump away to a hiding place to recharge. This will be the dominant method of engaging

Rubble shield

Surround your ship with a clustering of rubble or smaller ships that do not leave a large enough gap for an enemy ship to jump safely. This will force you enemy to jump in further away giving you more time to dodge or fire back.

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