Scrolls reviews – Use Of Weapons

Use Of Weapons by Iain M Banks (ISBN 978185723135X)

I’m very late in coming to Iain M Banks but I’m glad I’ve got here. Third in the series of stand alone novels, this is Probably the Culture book I’ve enjoyed the most so far (which bodes well for the next half dozen or so still on my list to read). The main character is Cheradenine Zakalwe, a mercenary working for the ultra-advanced utopian society called the Culture. He does their dirty work, fighting wars to seize and change hearts and minds for the sake of the greater good. Purportedly.
I thought Zakalwe was a very compelling character and the books structure well reflects his emotionally shell-shocked mind. The horrors of war are depicted powerfully, not least of which being the numbing normalisation of killing people on both the personal and chess-board scales. The more I consider the storytelling the more impressed I am, yet it doesn’t feel like an overly artful book. The prose is naturalistic and Banks’ droll humour is allowed a freer rein than in his earlier SF novels, perhaps a deliberate counterweight to the darkness of theme.
Whilst handler Diziet Sma and her sidekick the mechanical drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw suffer from a lack of character development I think that they are there more as representatives of the Culture itself which Banks constantly uses as a mirror in which to reflect upon our own culture. How they interfere in people’s lives (not least of all Zakalwe’s) and dictate morality and the overall ‘good’ without ever getting actively involved is important to the commentary being made upon us by the author. Whilst he has described his Culture as his version of heaven he is not uncritical of it and it is this ability to question and examine all sides of the drama – matched with an arsenal of talent – that raises Banks’ work to a higher level of artistry.

4.5 out of 5

Review by Dion Winton-Polak

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Published in: on 31/10/2010 at 5:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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