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Use of Weapons Hardcover – 13 Sep 1990

4.1 out of 5 stars 164 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit Book - Macdonald & Co. (13 Sept. 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0356191605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0356191607
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 949,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward with greater keenness (THE TIMES)

In many ways his best yet... rich, vivid and great fun. (VECTOR)

To say that Banks is Britain's best writer of science fiction would be to understate the case. He's simply one of our best novelists, whatever the genre. Read him (BOOK PEOPLE)

At last SF as it should be written!... If you aren't as yet familiar with these works I urge you to become so at your earliest opportunity. (CRITICAL WAVE) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A Culture novel from a modern master of science fiction - a tour de force of brilliant storytelling, world-building and imagination --This text refers to the Perfect Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Whitehead TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 April 2009
Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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').
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Use of Weapons is an odd duck of a book - structurally, it makes use of an alternating narrative that flows in two different directions of time, which I don't think is entirely effective. It's also noticeably less elegant than other Iain M. Banks books - don't get me wrong, it's still on the whole beautifully written by a very talented writer. It's just got the odd incident of clumsy refrain, awkward passage, or graceless scansion. Like an off-note in an otherwise harmonic symphony, it's all the more noticeable because of the contrast between the discords and the melody. It's also, for significant portions of the book, borderline soporific. The book structure itself is primarily to blame for this, because it interferes with the building of pace, tension, and empathy for the protagonist. The story never really gels until it gets to the end. I found myself losing focus a lot throughout, thinking about other things when I should have been pulled into the story. It became a chore to knuckle down and get back to what I was reading.

Weird then that I think it should probably be read twice by anyone interested in attempting it.

See, there is a fantastic story in here - unfortunately you get your first taste of it in the last tenth or so of the book when a brutally effective title drop suddenly brings the entire confused narrative into bright focus. From that point on, the book is a revelation - an epiphany that adds all kind of texture and context to the earlier disjointed stories. The problem is, by that time I'd already disengaged with the little character vignettes and I hadn't absorbed the nuance to the extent needed to really appreciate all the subtle inter-sectional elements that were introduced.
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