Haven't they heard that you don't fuck with the Culture?
So apparently the Culture series lost out to 2001: A Space Odyssey in io9's Science Fiction vs. Fantasy Round One. Now I know it's all supposed to be a matter of opinion but still, I can't accept that.
I know that Arthur C. Clarke is hugely influential and I am not here to dispute that. However, I will give my two cents.
Having read the Rama series(yeah I know but I kinda liked them) and a few short-stories, I know that Clarke was full of groundbreaking ideas and was known for posing the "big questions" about the universe, humanities place in it and what course the future would take mankind. But beyond these very broadly sweeping ideas, I have to say that Clarke's work doesn't hold up too well. It seems ideas is all there were, and if I know anything then it is that literature cannot survive off ideas alone. From what I read of Clarke, his characterizations were thin and a bit stereotypical. For instance, the cast of Rendezvous with Rama was completely forgettable, though the sequels tried to amend this by having a mostly likeable protagonist be the lens through which the events of the Rama encounter unfold around. To me, Clarke's single-minded focus on concepts and the "hard" aspects of science served both as a great strength and a weakness.
Then we have Iain M. Banks. Since I have read the first three Culture novels along with Look to Windward, I feel I have a good grasp on what Banks was about. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed with Consider Phlebas, it was seemingly more like the overlong script to some ill-fated Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster than a proper novel. Luckily for us that with Player of Games, Banks was able to find his footing. Although the Culture novels are on a grand scale and deal with uber powerful beings such as the Minds and other alien civilizations, they are essentially concerned with humanity and how we cope with the universe. This to me is what sets Banks's novels apart from Clarke, instead of being preoccupied with "predicting" the future or making a story as scientifically feasible as possible, the people within those stories are what really matter.
Well that's my opinion at least. I can appreciate the contributions Arthur C. Clarke has made to the genre but as the future continues to become ever stranger it will he Iain M. Banks who I am looking to for if not advice, the at least a good laugh.