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Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (1990)

by Iain M. Banks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Culture (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,191941,707 (4.04)1 / 167
  1. 40
    Gridlinked by Neal Asher (goodiegoodie)
  2. 62
    Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds (EatSleepChuck)
  3. 30
    Hard to be a god by Arkady Strugatsky (prezzey)
    prezzey: Banks seems to have been inspired by the Strugatskys' concept of Progressors. Similar theme, different perspective (Western vs Eastern bloc) - if you liked one, you will probably be interested in the other.
  4. 31
    The Skinner by Neal Asher (goodiegoodie)
  5. 21
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (TarsolyGer)
  6. 00
    A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (TarsolyGer)

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English (89)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (94)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
A completely different scenario from my previous encounter with the late Mr. Bank's Culture series, and a totally engrossing one. This novel develops on two alternating story-lines, one of them advancing in a conventional way, the other moving backwards to expose the various layers of the main character's personality and history – up to a momentous revelation. This unusual storytelling method never confused me, but rather increased the suspense as the details on the protagonist built up a widening picture.
Cheradening Zakalwe is a Culture agent who acts on behalf of Special Circumstances division – the shady entity I already encountered in Player of Games. In other words, Zakalwe is the kind of person the Culture employs for "dirty" jobs, those that its enlightened citizens are now incapable/unwilling to perform. And Zakalwe does fulfill his tasks with enthusiasm, uncaring of the dangers and the physical harm that come with the job. He rather seems to actively seek that kind of punishment, and as I read I often wondered why, especially when the slowly accumulating details kept hinting at some deep-seated guilt with its roots in the past.
The revelation I mentioned above explains it all: Zakalwe is looking for a purpose, the burning need to do something good that will wash away the horrible sins of his past. Unfortunately the Culture – or Special Circumstances, or both – are not exactly the "good guys" that can offer him that kind of deliverance and for them he is nothing but an instrument, a weapon, to be used for their purposes. No redemption attached.
At the end of the book I was surprised to discover that I still felt a measure of sympathy for Zakalwe despite the knowledge of his past sins (and they are truly terrible): I think that his desperate search for atonement, the long backward journey Banks takes his readers on, was meant to do just that – leave us in the middle of the road seeing both sides of the equation. I can appreciate very much the fact that we are left with no definite answers, because there are none indeed...

On the "technical" side I perceived a marked difference in Bank's narrative here, if compared with Player of Games: it's more convoluted and requires a greater degree of attention – not just because of the two storylines, but because of the language itself. Both of these aspects led me to believe that Banks asks a great deal out of his readers but also expects to find what he wants. And from a reader's standpoint this is quite gratifying.

( )
  SpaceandSorcery | Dec 25, 2018 |
Phenomenal. One of the best SF books I've ever read. I can see why so many people have told me this was their favorite of the Culture books. ( )
  wirehead | Sep 3, 2018 |
Very odd one - had me laughing out loud some of the time, and nearly bored at other times. I think the pacing threw me off. Very stunning ending, though, totally worth it. ( )
  _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Use of Weapons
Series: The Culture #3
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 433
Format: Digital Edition




Zakalwe, a man outside of the Culture but brought in to be used in situations where the Culture couldn't officially act, is a warrior and warleader of great ability. Given Culture longevity and weapons and support, Zakalwe is wielded by the Culture like a katanna. Not always on the side of Right or on the Winning side, Zakalwe fulfills the aims of the Culture without knowing what those aims are.

The real payment for working for the Culture is so that Zakalwe can visit his sister after each year/decade long mission and plead for forgiveness of the breach between them. The breach is a shadowy affair involving the death of their younger sister and how a family friend was involved. This was all long ago and not fully revealed until the very end.

There was a LOT of time skipping and flashbacks to various previous battles and fights. While the current battle and latest visit to Zakalwe's sister are the focus, the whole story is one interlocking cube where the past locks certain things into place that the current Zakalwe can't alter. He fulfills his mission, gets to visit his sister and then the author slams us with the fact that Zakalwe isn't Zakalwe but the family friend from long ago who killed Zakalwe's sister. Zakalwe killed himself and this friend, who had turned the little sister into a chair made of her bones, tries to take on Zakalwe's identity to do penance for what he did.

What a bloody scumbag!

The End

My Thoughts:

This is my last Culture novel. I simply don't like Banks' style or how he writes or what he writes about. For example, this time around, with all the flashbacks in non-linear fashion and all the hidden psychological crap going on, I simply felt lost. Others might love it and revel in it, good for them. For me, it simply wasn't enjoyable at all.
I liked the overall story and if things had been a straight up adventure story, I would have liked this a lot more. More linear, less hidden things, more focus, less dreamy, makes no sense kind of thing. The reveal about Zakalwe didn't surprise me, as it explained so much, I was just so lost in Banks trying to be clever with his writing that it was just one more “trick” that he used. So instead of being impressed, I was annoyed.

Unfortunately, Banks riled me the wrong way from the first book of his that I read and the next 2 books, while written well and telling a decent story, have never un-riled me. I would certainly recommend these books to others if they asked about them, but I would never recommend them on my own initiative. There are just too many things about the whole universe that annoy me and make for a non-enjoyable read.

The biggest issue is that the Culture just doesn't show humans acting like humans. Handwavium goes on in the background to explain that Humanity has “changed” but it's so much bullshit. And then every story shows certain humans acting like humans but Banks excusing it as not really representative of the Culture. I call bullshit again. I do not find the Culture believable at all, especially with what Banks reveals about certain parts of it. That disconnect is enough for me to not be able to enjoy the stories, as the overarching framework is crooked, rotted through and not able to support the stories that Banks tries to hang on it.

Glad I tried these. But they are not for me and I won't be reading any more by Banks. He frustrates me too much. The two stars denotes my frustration with the series and not that this was badly written or poorly executed. I simply didn't like it.

★★☆☆☆ ( )
1 vote BookstoogeLT | Mar 1, 2018 |
Excellent and uniquely structured. ( )
  nevuk | Feb 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Banks, Iain M.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Keynäs, VilleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walotsky, RonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Youll,PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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“Tell me, what is happiness?” (Prologue)
She made her way through the turbine hall, surrounded by an ever-changing ring of friends, admirers and animals – nebula to her attractive focus – talking to her guests, giving instructions to her staff, making suggestions and offering compliments to the many and various entertainers. (One)
Dust as usual followed them, though the young man said several times he thought it might rain. (Epilogue)
You might call them soft, because they’re very reluctant to kill, and they might agree with you, but they’re soft the way the ocean is soft, and, well; ask any sea captain how harmless and puny the ocean can be.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 185723135X, Paperback)

The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks or military action. The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought. The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people. It had once saved the woman's life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner. It believed the man to be a burnt-out case. But not even its machine intelligence could see the horrors in his past.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:07 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Ferociously intelligent, both witty and horrific, this novel from Ian M. Banks, author of 'Consider Phlebas' and 'The player of Games', is science fiction at its best.

» see all 4 descriptions

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Average: (4.04)
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1.5 3
2 42
2.5 13
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Orbit Books

2 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 185723135X, 0316030570

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