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I can't believe there's no thread for this already!

 

Use of Weapons is the third Culture novel. The narrative takes the form of a fractured biography of a man called Cheradenine Zakalwe, who was born outside of the Culture but was recruited into it by Special Circumstances agent Diziet Sma to work as an operative intervening in more primitive civilizations. The novel recounts several of these interventions and Zakalwe's attempts to come to terms with his own past.

 

The book is made up of two narrative streams, interwoven in alternating chapters. The numbers of the chapters indicate which stream they belong to: one stream is numbered forward in words (One, Two ...), while the other is numbered in reverse with roman numerals (XIII, XII ...). The story told by the former moves forward chronologically (as the numbers suggest) and tells a self-contained story, while in the latter each chapter is successively earlier in Zakalwe's life. Further complicating this structure is a prologue and epilogue set at another time entirely, and many flashbacks within the chapters.

 

The forward-moving stream of the novel deals with Diziet Sma's attempts to re-enlist Zakalwe for another "job", the task itself and the payment that Zakalwe wishes for it. The backward-moving stream describes earlier "jobs" that Zakalwe has performed for the Culture, ultimately returning to his pre-Culture career as a general on his homeworld.

 

 

For me this is not only Bank's best sci-fi but possibly his best work full stop. It's the beautiful structure that appeals mainly, and typically Banks in that we can only really understand what's happening now by understanding what's happened in the past. (Is that "American Gothic" structure?) The fact that the "final reveal" hurts so much is testament to the way Banks builds the story.

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I'm not sure whether it is my favourite Banks novel but it is brilliant. It shouldn't really be classed as sci-fi because it trancends the genre.

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Banks is always worth a read (in IMB mode) and nearly always in straight IB mode, too.

 

If you like his SF you may try the books of his friend, Ken MacLeod.

 

Then again, you probably already have.

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On 01/09/2007 at 17:58, Atom said:

For me this is not only Bank's best sci-fi but possibly his best work full stop. It's the beautiful structure that appeals mainly, and typically Banks in that we can only really understand what's happening now by understanding what's happened in the past. (Is that "American Gothic" structure?) The fact that the "final reveal" hurts so much is testament to the way Banks builds the story.

I've just re-read this.

It's good but I no longer think it is as brilliant as I once did..

However, It shows that Banks was getting comforatable enough with the genre to use it to make a few points.  Like the fuler of a world who sits on a magnificent porcelain throne.

Or this:

" 'I strongly suspect the things people believe in are usually just what they instinctively feel is right; the excuses, the justifications, the things you're supposed to argue about come later.  They're the least important part of the belief.  That's why you can destory them, win an argument, prove the other person wrong, and still they believe what they did in the first place.' ... 'You've attacked the wrong thing.' "

Or this:

" '...there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders...' "

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