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Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (original 1990; edition 1992)

by Iain M. Banks (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,290991,713 (4.03)1 / 179
"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 and 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 lost cause. But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past"--From publisher description.… (more)
Title:Use of Weapons
Authors:Iain M. Banks (Author)
Info:Time Warner Books Uk (1992), Edition: New Ed, 434 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990)

  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 (94)  Italian (2)  French (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (99)
Showing 1-5 of 94 (next | show all)
Just brilliant. Where's it going and in the end you get there! ( )
  PhilOnTheHill | Sep 8, 2019 |
At first impression a standard but sharply written space opera war adventure, the cracks in the protagonist's psychology increasingly nag at the reader until the finale reveals exactly what he needed redemption for. Banks was often introspective about his utopian Culture's use of people from "lesser" societies as tactical assets, but this is the novel that really puts lie to the Culture's - and by extension our own - ideas about necessary violence and hypercompetent warrior figures.

Interviews with Banks implied that this was the story the Culture was originally created for; in my opinion, it's the definitive work in that series.
1 vote sockatume | Jun 17, 2019 |
What a mess. Love the first two books, hate this one. Could not care less about the characters or the conflict, and the big reveal at the end? So what? Highly rated but I just don't get it. Painful 1 star. ( )
  NormalMostly | May 20, 2019 |
A re-read of Banks's third Culture novel. I was immensely impressed when I first read this 1990 book, soon after publication. A bit less so this time.

Banks's Culture is a utopian, advanced interstellar civilization, spanning a good part of our Galaxy. Its citizens have access to essentially unlimited resources throughout their long lives; work is optional. Their very bodies have been engineered for long lives lived well. Fully automated luxury gay space communism, per the meme. Banks is excellent at situating his utopia within a vastly diverse universe, filled by polities at all levels of technological and intellectual sophistication, from near-peer cultures, to small-scale galactic empires of a few thousand stars, to spacefarers who lack even primitive versions of FTL drives, to single-planet states, finally to neolithic groups who think the world is flat.

That part of the Culture that deals with exploration and other civilizations is called Contact. As the Culture looks out at the less-sophisticated parts of the galaxy, it sees so much unnecessary misery and cruelty. War, despotism, disease, violence. Occasionally, the opportunity arises to help - discreetly, with carefully placed interventions. That's when Special Circumstances gets involved.

Cheradenine Zakalwe is one of Special Circumstances' most capable agents. Originally from a single-planet civilization riven by war, he can function effectively in what Culture natives would think impossibly primitive situations. An extremely resourceful commander and tough fighter, he has repeatedly, with the Culture's backing, forged a path to what the Culture regards as the least-bad outcome possible for lesser worlds. In Zakalwe's hands, absolutely anything can become a weapon. Zakalwe himself is a weapon used by the Culture.

But the use of any weapon raises moral questions.

At the start of the book, Zakalwe's Culture handler, Diziet Sma, finds she needs him to leave retirement for one last job, to avert a looming interstellar war. The chapters wherein she locates him, briefs him, and helps him with the new mission alternate with ones about his earlier history, both before and after meeting Sma and the Culture. The history chapters move backward in time, converging on the shattering event that made Zakalwe the deeply wounded - and frightening - person he is. A retrospective chapter in the middle of the book tells the story of four children: Cheradenine and his sisters Livueta and Darckense, the heirs to a great family on Zakalwe's home planet, plus their adopted brother Elethiomel. The four play and squabble as children do, not understanding how their world is building to a war. As the history chapters move further back, the reader comes to realize that something terrible happened between these children in that war, something connected with the image of a chair, and that Zakalwe's life is lived in the shadow of that terror.

That event is revealed near the book's end. Zakalwe is motivated by the fridging of one of the sisters. Coming about a decade after this book's publication, Gail Simone's analysis of women characters who exist only so their death and suffering can motivate a man forces my reevaluation. What seemed before to be a gripping turn now feels more routine, another example of standard plotting, if a striking one.

Content warning here for images of extreme violence against women. Poor Darckense is sketchily characterized as the fearful one. When the war comes, the adult Elethiomel fights on the opposite side to his former adoptive family. To distract Zakalwe at a crucial moment, Elethiomel kills Darckense and makes a small, white chair out of her bones, delivering it to Zakalwe just before a battle begins. Again, in the right hands, anything can be used as a weapon, including love.

This image is less shocking on the second reading. The book is built around it, and it's not as original or clever as it seemed in 1990. The SF field has, in some sense I guess, moved on.

Banks throws in a further twist at the very end. We learn that the man we've known as Zakalwe throughout the story is, in fact, the murderous Elethiomel. The actual Cheradenine was killed in a battle with Elethiomel's forces. Elethiomel's impersonation may originally have been meant to aid in dodging punishment for his rebellion; later, it serves as a sort of penance for his crime. He is living Zakalwe's life, the life he cut short, instead of his own. Every ambiguously positive mission undertaken for the Culture stems from his guilt - or does he just enjoy his work? Banks furthers this twist by a bit of narrative point-of-view trickery; reader, be alert. A prologue and a couple of epilogues add a little bit to the whole.

As Zakalwe's story proceeds, we visit a wide range of planets. In maybe a dozen instances, Banks makes vivid some civilization, place, or person with but a couple of pages of description. These bits are the bulk of the book, and do fascinate. The city in the canyon where lies Zakalwe's mission is especially well and lovingly drawn; I'd love to visit. Diziet Sma and her robot sidekick Skaffen-Amtiskaw are drolly funny. Banks raises the question of just what business the Culture has in interfering - helping other societies seems to go along with imposing the Culture's values on them.

Banks's Culture novels are a major part of contemporary SF. [Use of Weapons] is a fine read, but diminished in light of its now-patent flaws, and not the place to start with this writer. ( )
2 vote dukedom_enough | Apr 9, 2019 |
The third book in Bank’s Culture science fiction series and a book that I had read perhaps twenty years ago. Unfortunately as soon as I started reading I remembered the twist at the end and so that element of the novel held no surprise for me. However knowing the ending enables the reader to search for clues as one reads, but I did not discover much that was new. Having read the first two books in the series I was able to appreciate the world view of the Culture and how it operated. A force for good perhaps where humans species are heavily reliant on the thinking machines that they had created, but who now seemed to be used by the machines rather than being in control themselves. Much like the previous two books the story concerns a human agent who is employed by the Culture to carry out missions in the galaxy, he has little knowledge of the bigger picture and his objectives are not always clear. Banks has created an interesting scenario in which to place his stories and his hero’s struggle to make sense of what they are trying to achieve, but know that the superior technology of the Culture may be able to whisk them away if events turn very nasty.

Cheradenine Zakalwe is the agent in this story and his minders are Diziet Sma a human operative and the drone (highly sophisticated thinking macine) Skaffen-Amtiskaw as in other books in the series the humans have a love/hate relationship with the machines. This particular novel in the series is more concerned with telling an exciting story than exploring the relationship between the humans and the machines. Banks fills in the back story of Zakalwe by telling stories within the central story of some of his previous missions and they are exciting tales in their own write and build up to the climax of the final twist in the tale. Banks is a good thriller writer and his hero’s have to undergo extreme physical privations; usually viscerally described before they can be allowed to escape: in this novel Zakalwe is decapitated before eventually being rescued.

It has to be said that some of the stories are starting to get a bit familiar, but perhaps the strong central story is enough to see this book through. I was hoping that Banks would explore further the relationship between the machines and the humans, but apart from a conversation between Zakalwe and Tsoldrin (the man who he is on a mission to rescue) any deeper probing gives way to the adventure story with Zakalwe shrugging his shoulders and saying “I never try to second guess the Culture” There was enough in the imaginative writing of Banks to keep me interested, but only just for this second reading of the novel. Twenty years ago I would have probably rated this novel as 3.5 stars but today only three. ( )
3 vote baswood | Apr 4, 2019 |
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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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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)
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Orbit Books

2 editions of this book were published by Orbit Books.

Editions: 185723135X, 0316030570

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