29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning
Cheradenine Zakalwe is a (non-Culture-born) agent in Special Circumstances, skilled in steering less-developed planets towards the path that the Culture thinks is best for them. Unlike most SC agents, Zakalwe's speciality is fighting and the use of weapons in both prosecuting wars, and averting conflicts. His handler is SC agent Diziet Sma who, along with her drone...
Published on 24 April 2009 by A. Whitehead
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious but flawed
I'm not as keen on this particular Culture novel as many others seem to be - I much preferred Consider Phlebas and Player of Games.
The book is structured into two strands; one strand describes the adventures of the protagonist Zakalwe forward in time, and the other strand (which is in every second chapter) reveals flashbacks from Zakalwe's eventful life as an...
Published on 26 Dec 2011 by David Clarke
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning,
Cheradenine Zakalwe is a (non-Culture-born) agent in Special Circumstances, skilled in steering less-developed planets towards the path that the Culture thinks is best for them. Unlike most SC agents, Zakalwe's speciality is fighting and the use of weapons in both prosecuting wars, and averting conflicts. His handler is SC agent Diziet Sma who, along with her drone companion Skaffen-Amtiskaw, has to set out to locate Zakalwe when his abilities are needed again.
I've read enough of Iain Banks' other work to be able to say that Use of Weapons is almost certainly his masterpiece, which is really saying something compared to the high quality of his other novels. In this book everything just works. The characters are sublimely handled, with Banks immersing you in their lives to the point where you stop thinking of them as characters and instead accept them as people. The structure of the story is inventive without over-relishing its own cleverness. The chapters alternate between a forward-moving story about Diziet tracking down Zakalwe for a new mission, and how that mission unfolds, and a backwards-moving one as we follow Zakalwe's story back to his youth. Just to shake things up, both narratives also feature flashbacks to earlier events as well. The structure could have confusingly imploded in on itself (and earlier drafts stretching back fifteen years before it was published are apparently far more complex), but in the published book it works effortlessly. The storylines may be moving in different directions and feel dislocated from one another, but they collide with impressive force at the end of the novel in a stunning final chapter.
Banks' signature creation, the Culture, has never been so convincingly portrayed or as well-handled as in this book, and its total bafflement at Zakalwe's antics (personified by Skaffen-Amtiskaw's exasperation with events) is amusing to see. In fact, there's a lot of Banks' traditional black humour running through the book, lightening the gloom that threatens to descend during some of Zakalwe's more introspective moments.
Use of Weapons (*****) is a spectacularly good science fiction novel that addresses questions of memory, motivation, guilt and conscience in a consistently entertaining and sometimes very funny manner. A masterful novel from a writer at the very height of his powers, and highly recommended. The novel is available now from Orbit in the UK and USA.
45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not for the hard of thinking,
Dark, complex, full of twists, featuring unlikeable characters in almost unremittingly bleak circumstances. Great.
Do you like heroes? Plots where good and evil are easily distinguished? Straightforward, linear narratives? That's not here.
The book is like Marmite - there are those that loved it and those that hated it. The reviews from those that hated it make the same complains - basically the reasons I list for it being a great book in the first sentence.
If that sounds like your cup of tea, buy the book, it is the best of its kind. If it's not your thing, don't buy it, it's the worst of its kind.
Personally I think it's Banks' best.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The only book that's ever made my hair stand on end,
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Many other reviews of 'Use of Weapons' will hint at its parallel linear/reverse linear narrative, the nature and occupation of the complex and not-very-nice Mr Zakalwe, the beautifully painted Culture, and the terrific hat joke, but I think they miss the visceral nature of the book.
There's a page thumbed down in my much-read edition that describes the origin and nature of a certain chair - the central metaphor of the book. Even as I write about it, my hackles are starting to rise at the thought of what this character did. And yet I liked him, loved the Culture and are lost in awe at Mr Banks' grasp of his art.
There are very few science fiction books that stand up as good literature - this is certainly one of them. Even though I had nightmares for weeks, thank you Iain, for this and for Consider Phlebas (PS I >hated< 'Canal Dreams').
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just look at the ratings...,
Just thought I'd add another 5-star review to this masterpiece. The characterisation is awe-inspiring, the progression on Zakalwe's life is compelling: his relationships, his ambitions and motives, and finally his daemons. This is a rare work of literature in the science fiction world, and really stands out from the the glut of techno-babble filled action thrillers that we find in the sci-fi sector.
Read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Culture thriller with a horrific unforeseen twist in the tail.,
I have read all of Iain M Banks books, and I read Use of Weapons the month it was published in 1990. I have a signed hardback edition which Iain signed for me in the famous Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham. I then covered the book with sticky back plastic to preserve it and of course ruined it for prosperity instead. Still its cover colours are still vibrant, and I have read it many times.
This is a Culture book. In fact more than that it is the third Culture book. It is interesting that Iain M Banks was still not writing a series or a trilogy, but again he wrote a stand alone novel.
To recap The ten books of the Culture are: Consider Phlebas, 1987; The Player of Games,1988; Use of Weapons, 1990; The State of the Art, 1991; Excession, 1996; Inversions, 1998; Look to Windward,2000; Matter,2008; Surface Detail, 2010; The Hydrogen Sonata, 2012.
The story of Use of Weapons is one of three siblings and how a golden childhood is transformed through war to barbaric sibling betrayal and murder.
As such this book is one of true horror, and this is an amazing thriller, Iain M Banks keeps you in suspense until the very end, and then there is such an explosive reversal, such an unforeseen twist, that the reader is left reeling. The force of this book left me breathless the first time I read it, and it took me a while to revisit it.
The story is episodic, following each of the three siblings, and when I did revisit it, I took it slowly, one sibling at a time checking I had not missed anything, looking for clues early on. As always iain M Banks the master plot maker does leave tiny bread crumbs along the way, but no real clue.
A stunning shocking horror story. I have only given it four stars because even today the twist in the tail makes my stomach churn with anxiety and dismay, but that's only my opinion...
I dare you to read it.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The human weapon,
Iain (M) Banks third Culture novel in some ways mirrors his previous novel The Player of Games. As with that novel this story is concerned with the Culture’s use of a human agent to influence the direction of another society, but this time featuring a man of war rather than a more benign games player. Use Of Weapons is primarily an exploration of this agents character and the dark secret that lies in their past. This is above all a brilliantly constructed novel, with alternating chapters exploring the character in two different narratives – one moving forward with the characters latest mission for the Culture, and the other moving backwards through numerous previous missions, all the time hinting at some dreadful secret – it is only in the final chapter that this secret is finally fully uncovered, with a beautiful twist ending that changes the nature of much of what came before (and – unlike The Wasp Factory – a twist that I hadn’t spotted a hundred pages earlier).
Quite a dark and sombre novel, Use of Weapons nonetheless has enough action to keep the reader interested, while the books focus on character over hard-sf technology and heavy plotting makes this an excellent choice for readers of Banks non-genre work interested in sampling his science fiction output.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably Bank's Best Science Fiction Novel,
As "The Bridge" set the tone for all the mainstream fiction Banks was to write, so this set the bar for all his subsequent science fiction. And it set that bar quite high.
Like all his novels, genre and otherwise, it revolves around a protagonist with a back story that slowly unfolds - but this is really quite a stark and horrific back story. It is about war and the evil that men do in the name of war, ideology, religion and power, and in a curious way how some men seek to atone for the sins of war through further violence.
At that level this could be a mainstream novel, so that while the science fiction backdrop gives Banks more room to manoeuvre, it is secondary to its exploration of the character and origins of the central protagonist, Zakalwe. In him we look into the heart of how and why wars are fought, and our own darkest motivations.
The novel also introduces us to two of Banks's more memorable Culture characters - the Special Circumstances arch manipulator, Diziet Sma and her coleague/handler/bodyguard, the anarchic and irreverent drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw. The latter's much talked about "hat joke" is genuinely funny yet cruel.
But as all three protagonists use others as weapons in the wars they fight in the name of the Culture's high mined principles, they are themselves just weapons being used and discarded as needed by the Culture' quasi military intelligence Special Circumstances section.
The echoes with current wars being fought by the West are strong, but this novel was written over a decade before The War on Terror began. This is science fiction at its most adult - exploring ideas through character development rather than crash bang action, which puts it ahead of the field not just in contemporary SF, but against much of Banks's subsequent writing.
Oh, and it is well worth reading more than once.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic if you know the Culture,
By A Customer
This book is by far the best book I've ever read. My copy is seriously well worn. I don't know anyone who has been able to read this book only once!
However, I would recommend anyone planning on reading this book make sure they know a bit of Culture background by reading a couple of his other books such as Consider Phlebas and the excellent Player of Games before undertaking this fabulous story.
Having read his entire series of books, I find myself at a loss. I search desperately for another series of books that can come even close in quality to either of the Banks series (sci-fi or contempory) and as yet have failed. So I have to hang around for a year reading garbage until the next Banks book comes out... Keep 'em coming Iain!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entering the whirlpool ...,
As the first strand of the narrative rushes forwards in the present, the second strand twists backwards, into the past and into the formative episodes of Zakalwe's life. When it reaches the core of his past, you see that the story you thought you'd read has another, and very different, cast to it, like a face-or-vase illusion.
A disturbing, haunting, and fascinating book that demands to be re-read from time to time. Banks has one hell of an imagination.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Greek Tragedy. In Space.,
Getting the job of describing an alien culture out of the way so you can begin to tell the story is the unfortunate burden of anyone who touches this genre. Banks slips the reality of The Culture in so seamlessly and even gorgeously that you feel quite comfortable. You are not being saddled with a primer in alien history. You are immediately caught up in it. You can then relax into the perfectly observed personal foibles of his characters. Banks is magic with his characters, rendering dialogue and interactions so realistic you feel you are watching an expertly acted film about someone's life. It's that good. And this is science fiction, folks. Not generally The Land Of Quality Dialogue. So relax and enjoy the attention to detail here but don't relax too much. Banks' stories often have a twisted coolness to them. An uneasy, not-always-subtle thread running through them that makes you scratch your head and wonder how he comes up with this stuff. Anyone who read his first novel The Wasp Factory will recognise what I mean and wonder if the guy did not accidentally fall asleep while watching a documentary on serial killers some long ago evening. There is violence and betrayal here in this glitteringly real other world. It will shove you right back into the bleak reality of how deeply people are capable of hurting each other. Greek Tragedy. In Space. Cool characters. Amazing settings. Tightly written.
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Use of Weapons: Culture Series, Book 3 (Unabridged) by Iain M. Banks