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4.3 out of 5 stars
Look To Windward
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 13 August 2000
I started and finished this in one morning - a full blast, mainline Culture novel. The plot has the usual drive and complexity with multiple strands unfolding new lights on each other.
I found the cast more interesting than "Excession", if not as gripping as "Consider Phlebus" or "Use of Weapons". Ultimately there was no one I *really* cared about (though a several of the minor characters are superb), but this is perhaps forgiveable in a novel which majors in plot and ideas.
As Culture fans would expect, Iain M Banks' imagination is still a force to be reckoned with - the behemothaurs make Tolkien's Ents look like mayflies, and the Chelgrian Soulkeepers and Heaven are new to me. The alternative political analysis continues to power the overall freshness of his unique brand of space opera.
If you are a Culture fan, or tired of the sameness of too much science fiction, get this.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2005
Iain Banks has single-handedly re-invented the whole Space Opera genre, and this book is his best yet. He makes Foundation, Norstrilia and Known Space - and any other fictitious universe I have ventured into - look predictable, folksy and unimaginative.
The only drawback to reading Banks is his penchant for putting at least one scene of stomach-churning nastiness into each book. Worrying about what horrors may lie in wait on the next page can make it hard for sensitive souls like me to enjoy reading him. Be reassured that in this one the scene in question comes only a few pages from the end, is very short, and is done with such a light touch that it almost fails to offend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2013
Like Roger Zelazny's "Isle of the Dead", I think this is the book that will eventually be regarded as one of Banks' best SF novels, and possibly the very best, and will stand the test of time. In the former classic, a man who is an immortal god lights a cigarette with a 1,000 year old Zippo before beginning a journey of discovery that leads to personal tragedy and loss. In the latter, an immortal tripedal alien starts the story proper by doing what we all have done and taking a stroll in the snow. The familiarity inherent in these actions grounds us, the characters surprise us, and then the stories take us onwards. In "Look to Windward" as in Zelazny's masterpiece, that journey is to an elegiac conclusion that poses deep questions. The book's dedication to the Gulf War veterans should be an indication of the shape of the lens through which, in this novel, Banks views the familiar Culture business of interference, spin and tortured self-justification. This time, the exuberant and high-handed activities of Minds who are "close to gods, and on the far side" has terrible consequences, and for two anguished souls total oblivion is ultimately the only answer.

The characters are drawn particularly well and with a very deft touch, the massive Kabe proving to be particularly engaging and sympathetic. The humour is sharp and the technology here takes a much less important role than in other Culture novels and is even an irritant to one of the species portrayed: the dirigible behemothaurs, whose strange, dispassionate forensic investigation at the end of the novel is beautifully and elegantly written and forms a wonderful little essay on the long view that history takes, millions of years after the events in the main story.

In conclusion, I think this is Banks' most satisfying Culture novel in a series that has now looked at many different aspects of his brilliantly imagined universe. I return to it often. Like "The Player of Games" it has cohesiveness, and like "The Hydrogen Sonata" it has an atmosphere of sadness and yearning, but more than anything, it has depth and a quality of humanity that will see it through the years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2013
As the light from two supernovas ignited by an ancient war falls upon a distant Culture system, the utopian, post-scarcity society must deal with the consequences of a more recent conflict; an alien civil war accidentally triggered by the Culture's well-meaning but botched meddling.

Look to Windward is a pseudo-sequel to Banks' first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas (with both titles drawn from verses of Eliot's The Wasteland). The story focuses on one of the Culture's Minds, a brilliant artificial intelligence that had inhabited a warship that both experienced and caused terrible suffering during the war recounted in the earlier book. In Look to Windward that same Mind now controls an orbital habitat that is home to billions yet still struggles with the mental trauma of combat. As it prepares to commemorate the war beneath the light of the supernovas, another veteran, scarred by the more recent civil war, arrives as an emissary whose mission may be more hostile than it initially appears.

Great sci-fi uses the expansive possibilities of the genre to thoroughly excavate the human condition. Without a human character in sight, Banks does this with his usual aplomb. The life changing impact of post-traumatic stress disorder is explored through the contrasting experience of an alien during the first rage of loss and a godlike machine haunted across centuries by his own actions. Banks is unquestionably in the top order of science fiction writers today and Look to Windward shows the same insight and thrilling creativity for which the whole Culture series has become renowned.

There are, however, problems with the novel. The multiple strands don't quite resolve with Banks' usual, satisfying neatness and the conclusion feels oddly anticlimactic. Some sections and characters feel underdeveloped and this affects the pace, which drags occasionally despite a highly addictive central plot.

Given the subject matter, this novel has less humour than his usual `M' Banks output which wasn't necessarily exchanged for additional gravitas. The complex backstories of the major characters weren't necessarily given enough depth to properly imbue the solemn importance and, when the plot is spread over relatively few major characters, this occasionally robs the plot of sustained emotion.

It would be unfair to overstate these issues as the novel is still often engaging, exciting and dripped in meaning. Given the heights that the Culture series has touched, however, Banks must be held to a higher criterion and by his own standard, Look to Windward is an average novel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 23 December 2010
"Look to Windward" is right up there among the best of Iain M Banks science fiction novels, nearly all of which are excellent. The quality of the writing in the novel is superb , the ideas outlined are at times staggering but curiously credible, while the engaging plot weaves back and forward in time and place majestically and is supremely well constructed and focused. Bank's collection of characters are all well rounded and likeable and the dialogue between them is sparkling with plenty of wry observations and humourous reflections on life. The story is about the attempt by a "Chelgrian" called Quilan ,from a technologically advanced , but socially backward race,to get revenge on the Culture for unwittingly instigating a civil war on his planet causing many billions of deaths. Quilan travels to Masaq Orbital under the guise of persuading a Chelgrian ex-pat composer to return home , but really he intends to destroy the God -like Masaq Hub and billions of souls on the articifical world. Will he succeed or will the Culture stop him in his tracks ? "Look to Windward" triumphantly describes daily life not only on a Culture Orbital- it's dangerous sports, it's "God" technologies and it's casual hedonism - but also on a bizarre airsphere world populated by "dirigible behemothosaurs" and on the planet of Chel itself where our main protagonist sets his mind upon wreaking revenge on the Culture. This author has a phenomenal imagination and this book is stylishly written in a literate manner. I for one look forward to the day where you can avoid death by backing up your personality or soul onto some storage device to be reincarnated at some later stage. All thought provoking stuff indeed !
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Look to Windward is the nineteenth novel by British SF and mainstream author Iain M. Banks, and the seventh book set in his Culture universe. Published back in 2000, there was some speculation that this would be the last Culture book, especially because the title of the novel comes from T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, as did that of the first Culture book, Consider Phlebas, and as a result nicely bookends the series. However, Banks did release a new Culture novel, Matter, last year.

Eight centuries ago, the Culture and the Idiran Empire fought a significant war after the latter invaded the Culture's territory. The weak, supposedly decadent Culture crushed the invaders in a conflict that lasted half a century and killed almost 900 billion sentient beings. During the course of the war two stars were destroyed, killing untold civilians on the worlds orbiting them. The Culture considers this act to have been a tragedy of the war they have been careful never to forget.

800 light-years from the location of the supernovae lies the Culture Orbital Masaq'. A ring-shaped artificial worldlet three million kilometres across, orbiting a gas giant (yes, Banks' Orbitals and Niven's Ringworld were the direct inspiration for the Halo worldlets in the computer game sereis), Masaq' is home to fifty billion intelligent life-forms. Amongst them is Mahrai Ziller, a composer and former native of the planet Chel. This world was formerly home to a rigid caste system that was inhibiting the planet's social development, so the Culture attempted an intervention meant to lead to a peaceful revolution. Instead, a bloody civil war ripped the planet apart. The Culture admitted its culpability, a shocking admission for a civilisation very rarely known to have failed in its goals.

The primary storyline sees the Chelgrian Major Quilan despatched to Masaq' to convince Ziller to return home. Ziller, who is busy preparing a symphony dedicated to remembering the war and the destroyed stars and planning to perform it as the light from their deaths reaches the Orbit, is uninterested. The Culture Mind (hyper-advanced sentient AI) which runs Masaq' takes a special and keen interest in the symphony for reasons that eventually become clear.

Look to Windward is an accomplished and intelligent science fiction novel written by one of the modern masters of the field. If not quite up there with Banks' best books, it is still a powerful novel which examines the morality of warfare, the dubious notions of 'acceptable losses' and 'proportionate responses' and the idea of what one person can do to make amends for the 'acceptable' acts they commit in war which in peace would have them condemned as a mass-murderer. It's a powerful theme and explored effectively. However, the book is at its heart a thriller as one person is given the opportunity to avenge two wrongs, one ancient and one fresh in memory, and whether they are prepared to go through with that course of action. As usual, Banks slips in his black humour, terrifically original starship names and his usual musings on how a true utopia like the Culture can survive and thrive.

Look to Windward (****½) is a terrific science fiction novel and well worth a look.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2000
This is a fine addition to the Culture canon. It's written from the viewpoint of outsiders - principally the Homomdan ambassador and the various Chelgrians. It's a thoughtful novel, quite quiet in many places, dealing with a series of moral dilemnas - to seek revenge? or how to proffer apologies and remorse for a decision that went tragically and horribly wrong. Most of those facing them are non-Culture, although one is a Culture mind, and it's the resolution of these dilemnas that is the heart of the novel.
Most interesting to existing Culture fans, however, is the fascinating picture we get of the Culture as seen from outside. As before, human Culture citizens come across as spoiled semi-adolescents, interested simply in pleasure and gratification, and generally behaving fairly ridiculously or stupidly - for example, spending ages talking into a comm device and getting alarmed because the Hub mind wasn't responding, when in fact the 'comm unit' was just a piece of jewellery, not a disguised comm unit at all. But why shouldn't the citizens behave like this way, since they live in a society where nothing but seeking pleasure is necessary or expected? Culture drones appear as somewhat pompous (as before). It's the minds that come across as the most interesting characters, together with the entities from other civilisations. Their hardest task is making sense of the Culture, and accepting that the silly, hedonistic, human Culture citizens do in fact add a vital ingredient to the overall Culture signature - the quality that, by the time this novel is set, has kept the Culture as an in-play 'Involved' for longer than expected, and with more enthusiasm than most.
As I said, it's a thoughtful novel, and it may seem that not much in the way of typical Sciffy action takes place - there's nothing like the battle scene early in Excession, for instance. This novel's qualities are different. It may in fact be a much more approachable novel for his non-sciffy audience than was, say, Excession. At the same time, although quieter in tone, it's definitely larger in scope than Inversions. I enjoyed it greatly; it's a satisfying read. And a good summing-up of the Culture; which is just as well, as I feel it will be a long, long time, if ever, before he returns to the Culture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2013
I never normally read science fiction and only bought this book because it's an Iain Banks and I try to challenge myself occasionally with something different. I confess I found it hard going to start with (and not knowing anything about the Culture etc) and got a bit lost with the fancy names somewhere in the middle but would urge anyone to give this a try. I won't try to summarise the plot - largely because I'm unsure I've got it properly - a bit like a spacebound John le Carre novel.
The characters are very well drawn - the Chalgrians Ziller and Quilan and Kabe the Homomdan in particular. There are a lot of minor characters such as Uagen Zlepe and Praf who have little bearing on the plot but are colourful diversions.
The ending is very well written with a quick pen portrait of the main characters and their outcomes.
My only slight criticism is that the complexity is a bit uncalled for at times, and borders on the self absorbed with continual use of the word "sentient".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2001
Banks never seems to give much away, his "Culture" can only be fully understood by reading every one of his novels. Several novels back we were given "Excession", a hardcore sci-fi fest almost completely exempt of organic life. "Inversions" gave us the opposite, displaying the subtle effects of their civilisation tweaking, without once stating "Culture Involvement" in the narrative. "Look to Windward" gives us the middle-ground back, as in earlier novels such as "Use of Weapons" focusing mainly on the alien Agents of "Contact". Many may find the story weak, but lying beneath it is an extremely effective look at the Culture's, perhaps misguided, humanitarian nature.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2002
The setting is Masaq; an Orbital (a man-made space station housing millions of people and machines), where the light of an exploding sun hundreds of light years away can now be seen. This is celebrated with a festival of music by all on the Orbital. But behind all the celebrations, a grizzly and sinister plot is being played out, which would mean the inhabitants of Masaq never seeing the light of a second supernova, they are all eagerly waiting for.
Look To Windward, along with all the other books written by Iain M. Banks is staggering to say the least. Once again you're taken into the seemingly limitless depth of Banks' mind, with the subtleness and almost poetic nature that only he has. The story is cleverly cut up and rearranged, which makes the story slowly reveal itself, to brim up to a timeless climax. Read this book.
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