The Plate-class General Systems Vehicle (GSV) Sleeper Service was introduced in the Culture novel Excession by Iain M. Banks. The Sleeper Service features as a reclusive Eccentric which had separated from the Culture proper over four decades previously, wandering. Later on, it becomes clear that it had never really left the employ of the Culture's secret services, and investigates the titular Excession, using its "artificial ecology" as a secret weapon.
Fan rendering of the GSV Sleeper Service.
|Class||General Systems Vehicle (GSV)|
|Auxiliary craft||512 Abominator Offensive Unit (prototype)|
2,048 Torturer Rapid Offensive Unit
|Defenses||Field technology, specifics unknown|
|Top speed||233,500 × lightspeed|
|Length||53 (90) km|
|Width||22 (60) km|
|Height||4 (20) km - physical and total including fields listed|
As is the case with all GSVs in Bank's Culture universe, the Sleeper Service started out with a standard three-Mind grouping, and was known as the Quietly Confident. In this form, it was a part of the earlier lives of Byr Genar-Hofoen, and Dajeil Gelian, main characters in Excession, before they went to the water-planet of Telaturier. However, by the time the GSV was seen in the novel, it had a lone Mind. The common understanding was that after a dissent, the other two Minds had unusually agreed to abandon control of the GSV to the lone Mind and take smaller crafts for themselves. However, a popular story was that after said dissent, the lone Mind defeated the other two, wresting control from them and declaring Eccentricity.
The Sleeper Service was somewhat renowned for its odd penchant for using its stored passengers in tableaux and set-pieces to match artworks, scenes from history, etc. This became something of a cult phenomenon, with many wanting to be Stored aboard the Sleeper simply to have been part of its work.
The Sleeper Service was home to a variety of flora and fauna from different parts of the galaxy, hosting all within an approximation of their natural habitats; the only two sentient beings aboard were Dajeil Gelian, ex-Contact officer and recluse, and Gravious, a sentient bird planted as a spy within the Sleeper Service two decades before the story starts, coding its messages on bacteria left on Stored bodies that were due to be offloaded. However, its spying was unsuccessful - the Sleeper was aware of the messages, and allowed only those to pass that would not pose any threat to itself.
Whilst it appeared that the Sleeper Service had been Eccentric for 4 decades, it had in fact been a dedicated, if secret, military resource acting on behalf of a sub-set of Special Circumstances Minds known as the Interesting Times Gang, to be drawn upon in the event the Culture was ever seriously threatened. To facilitate this, the Sleeper Service made preparations such that it could, on very short notice, fill all its General Bays, a large part of its internal space, with additional engine capacity, making it able to outrun any ship in the Culture, as well as creating a fleet of approximately 112,000 semi-slaved Offensive Units of varying types based on standard Culture models. A sub-group of the Interesting Times Gang intended the Sleeper Service to be the main (and utterly overwhelming) weapon in the war they wished to manufacture between the Culture and the Affront. However, upon becoming aware of this conspiracy, the Sleeper Service declined to play its part and used its resources to bring the war to an end and expose the conspirators. The Sleeper Service then left the Culture and headed out of the Milky Way intending to travel to its satellite galaxy Leo II.
The ship, with its dual existence as a starship and a character in the novel, has been used as an example of characterization by several literary critics. David Seed remarks on how it adopts the role of an 'amateur gumshoe', complete with a changed style of speech – which Banks employs to offset it against that of other characters. The character was also noted in how honour plays a central role in the space opera genre, with the ships instigating a complicated plot solely to reconcile two former lovers in whose violent split the ship played a role.
Schoene-Harwood remarks on the implied femininity of the ship, whose 'suspended gestation' (the significant change to prepare itself for events like combatting the excession, while outwardly appearing like a harmless eccentric) is compared to the pregnancy of Dajeil, the sole living soul on board not in suspended animation – a woman who has kept her own pregnancy unfinished for decades due to her emotional turmoil.
Banks has stated that he used the Sleeper Service's activities (forming tableaux of famous paintings with the bodies of the beings stored within) to emphasise how artificial intelligences would not be so dissimilar from humanity - i.e. having the ability to get bored, and having a liking for games - and therefore turning to simulations and hobbies.
- Edinburgh companion to contemporary Scottish literature, The - Schoene-Harwood, Berthold, Edinburgh University Press, 2007, Page 207
- The book describes the outer walls as a sheer cliff with foliage strewn over the lip.
- Excession - Banks, Iain M., 2003, Page 437
- Excession - Banks, Iain M., 2003, Page 247
- Excession - Banks, Iain M., 2003, Page 239
- A Companion to Science Fiction - Seed, David, Blackwell Publishing, 2005, Page 563
- A Companion to Science Fiction - Seed, David, Blackwell Publishing, 2005, Page 564
- Interview with Iain Banks - Final Frontiers, May 1996, via 'www.futurehi.net'