Contact (The Culture)
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In the science fiction of Iain M. Banks, Contact is an organization that exists within the anarchist/libertarian socialist civilization known as the Culture (which forms the basis of several of his novels and shorter works).
Contact's role within the Culture is to coordinate interactions with other civilizations: equivalent to a Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence combined in this universe. In the case of less-developed civilizations, Contact normally acts to minimise the potential culture shock resulting from contact with the technologically-advanced Culture (The State of the Art). Sometimes, where the Culture believes it can help (in some capacity), Contact directly intervenes in other civilizations (Inversions, Look to Windward). Contact is the most state-like entity within Culture and has the authority or capacity to limit access to information regarding other societies (The Player of Games). While most Contact activity occurs outside of the Culture, internal functions are hinted at in The Player of Games.
Where these interventions require actions that exceed the moral and knowledge capacity of Contact, a branch of it, known as Special Circumstances, is involved. Special Circumstances is to Contact what a Secret Service is to a Foreign Office. However it should be kept in mind that though comparisons with today's organizations are useful in describing the role played by Contact and Special Circumstances and at hinting at their prestige and reputation -"dirty tricks" in the case of Special Circumstances - these comparisons should be used only as a guide. This organization comprises some of the very best Contact members, and frequently makes use of third-party agents to accomplish its aims (Use of Weapons). These agents operate "in the field" to support or suppress elements of other civilizations that the Culture deems important (normally to the citizens of the civilization concerned, but potentially to the Culture itself).
While the Culture novels often take place against the backdrop of dramatically interesting interventions (usually those in which something has not gone to plan), Contact usually operates successfully, and the Culture prides itself in being able to demonstrate this statistically. Its only notable failure chronicled so far (though others are implied to have occurred) was the disastrous attempt to reform the Chelgrian caste system, which resulted in a devastating civil war.
In the context of interactions with comparably advanced civilizations, Contact ordinarily has more of a diplomatic function. However, during the Idiran-Culture War (Consider Phlebas), it played the role of the Culture's military arm, and Special Circumstances took the position of military intelligence.
Surface Detail states that Contact has, within the last few centuries, reorganized and established at least three specialist sub-branches akin to Special Circumstances:
- Restoria, nicknamed "Pest Control", has charge of "the management, amelioration and - if necessary - obliteration" of "hegemonizing swarms", technological (or even cultural) entities that exist to convert as much of the universe as possible into more of themselves, as with grey goo.
- The Quietudinal Service, or Quietus, is tasked with interacting with virtual Afterlives.
- Numina, tasked with dealing with the Galaxy's Sublimed civilizations