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Excession by Iain M. Banks

Book cover for Excession
The Excession of the title is a perfect black-body sphere that appears mysteriously on the edge of Culture space, appears to be older than the Universe itself and resists the attempts of the Culture and technologically equivalent societies (notably the Zetetic Elench) to probe it. The Excession is what the Culture's social scientists describe as an Outside Context Problem, one which a society cannot foresee and is often fatal. A metaphor to help explain this phrase is that of a successful aboriginal culture suddenly finding ocean-going vessels on its shores for the first time.