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GCU Grey Area

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GCU Grey Area
First appearanceExcession
Last appearanceExcession
AffiliationThe Culture (Ostracised)
General characteristics
ClassGeneral Contact Unit
PropulsionWarp drive

In the novel Excession by Iain Banks, the GCU Grey Area is a General Contact Unit (a self-aware spaceship dedicated to the task of exploring the universe and interacting with other species) of the fictional Culture society that has turned eccentric. It has the dubious distinction of being one of the few Culture ships to not be listed in official records by its chosen name.

The Grey Area has a fascination with war, genocide and pain and the methods of inflicting it. Its interior is a museum containing devices that inflict pain and documents detailing their use. The ship has been described in reviews as "psychopathically righteous",[1] and as a good example of Banks' not letting technological terms and SF-staples stand in the way of describing interesting characters.[2] The descriptions of the ship's actions are also cited as examples of how Banks uses both elaborate and plain language to underscore his points.[3]

The main reason Grey Area is despised by its peers is that it has chosen to ignore the Culture's taboo on non-consensual mindreading. It is for this reason that the ship is more commonly known among the other Culture Minds as Meatfucker,[2] a highly charged expletive among the Culture's artificial intelligences (one by which Banks alludes to less utopian subtext in the relationship between the Culture's Minds and its human members, in which undue intimacy between these is seen as akin to bestiality). In the novel Look to Windward it is explained that the denial of a Culture Mind's chosen name is viewed as a grave insult and mark of disapproval by its peers.

In Excession[edit]

During the events of Excession, the Grey Area pauses its historical research into a very comprehensive incident of genocide to help deliver Byr Genar-Hofoen to the GSV Sleeper Service. It travels within the Sleeper Service to the Excession, and near the end of events appears to allow itself to crash into the energy grid near the Excession and is presumed by the Culture to have been destroyed, though this is not the case, with the ship apparently having transcended some sort of boundary between universes or else having been assimilated into another consciousness.


  1. "Excession by Iain M. Banks". Waterstones. Archived from the original on 2012-10-10. Retrieved 2016-11-06. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Iain Banks writes books about sex and drugs. Iain M Banks is a sci-fi nerd. Are they by any chance related?". The Guardian. 1997-05-20. Retrieved 2016-11-06.
  3. A Companion to Science Fiction - Seed, David; Blackwell Publishing, 2005, Page 562

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