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Look To Windward (Culture)
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on 17 July 2014
I have read all of Iain M Banks books, and I read Look to Windward the year it was first published in paperback in 2001.

This is a Culture book. In fact more than that it is the first Culture book. It is interesting to speculate that when Iain M Banks wrote this story he definitely was not thinking about a series or a trilogy, but as 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 Look To Windward is a story of Culture intervention that goes horribly wrong. And it is told from the viewpoint of one soldier, one Major Quilian who during the course of a very short civil war lost his one true love. And here;'s the twist, in the Civilisation of the Chel, from where Quilian originates death is no longer final. Individual can have most parts of their bodies regrown or rejuvenated, they can backup their entire being into a soul keeper, and they can also pass into a heaven where they live on in another form.

Only here's the rub: the Chel mate for life. Quilian's one and only love dies in a vicious unexpected battle, so suddenly, so completely that there is nothing, no potential body rebuild, no soul keeper, no after life. hence Quilians' despair. although despair is a word that falls a million times short of what he actually feels.

I won't say anymore about the story, and I have not given anything away that will spoil your enjoyment.

This is a melancholy tale of regret and mourning. But like a sad song on the radio it draws you in and enlightens and educates you in the darker side of life. I've always enjoyed reading and re-reading this because the characters are so beautifully drawn, and the despair of Quilian so heart-breaking.

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on 14 October 2017
My favourite of all of his books. The plot is interesting although the very final endings are disturbing and strike a slightly weird note to the book, leaving unanswered questions, that is of course part of the charm of Iain M Bank's writing style. But I loved it for the setting. Masaq' Orbital is so beautiful, I now imagine I live here when I need a place to escape to in my head. All the hints about how people actually live in the Culture mentionned in other books are indulgently explained as the reader follows a visitor to the orbital being shown around. I desperately hope some world leaders and people who can make a difference read this book and can start us on a path that leads to this vision of peace, beauty and hedonism being humanity's future.
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on 11 April 2017
Iain M. Banks delivers yet another brilliantly inventive and enthralling Culture novel. This is probably the novel that best gives you a feel for what it might actually be like living as a Culture citizen. On top of that are the trademark multiple interwoven layers of story spanning the galaxy, fantastic artificial megastructures, an array of alien species and a backdrop of "the light of ancient mistakes" from a war in which the Culture's interventions did not go as planned. Highly recommended.
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on 21 September 2017
There is a kind of outpouring of the imagination, a constant flow of ideas which is very rich in content. This stream of creativity may at times seem capricious as the scenery and plot can change dramatically from one chapter to the next. But this may not be a problem. If you look at the novel as an evolving entity and allow it to take you with it, it is quite a ride! For me the story or plot is almost not that important. It is the sheer depth and scope of the imagined worlds which make the novel interesting. When indeed the plot does thicken it just enhances the whole experience. A really engrossing novel. I will read more of his SF work!
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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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on 10 November 2013
I wasn't sure what I was going to make of this book. Having previously read and loved several M.Banks books including Consider Phlebas, I was concerned that Look to Windward might be something of a less fulfilling dour introspection. How wrong can one person be?

Look to Windward is another Banks triumph. The story handles some seriously heavy subjects; terrorism, love and loss, suicide, the aftermath of war, post colonialism and empire are all addressed with immense skill. Whilst at the same time the reader is challenged to envisage some wonderful Sci-Fi dioramas such as the dirigible behemothaurs and the mighty Masaq orbital. If ever anyone wanted to hold up an example of how Science Fiction can be relevant and important to the questions that challenge the "human condition" throughout our lives, then this is the book.

The humour is still there and better than ever, and somehow Banks manages to mix this in with some profound discourse. Some of Hubs conversations with Quilan and Ziller are wonderfully poignant and thought provoking. Hubs final scene with Quilan in particular shows Banks' talent off in superb style and is deeply emotive.

This will be one to reread along with Consider Phlebas in the future and I have no doubt that like Phlebas the second reading will only uncover more perspective and depth of understanding of the text.

I loved it.
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on 12 March 2011
This is the fourth Iain M. Banks novel I've read. It wasn't my favourite, but neither was it the worst (the awful Use of Weapons gets that award), but is nowhere near as good as the first 2 novels in the Culture series. I do have to agree with some negative reviews that this book is rambling in places and does have a rather pointless second storyline featuring a creature called Uagen, which I quite enjoyed but it didn't really relate to the main story, and it was such extreme sci-fi that the whole idea of it was a little hard to put together.

That being said, it managed to keep me hooked despite being a slow-mover with little action. The story centres around a 'Chelgrian' on a suicide mission to destroy a Culture world in revenge for the deaths of millions of his own people, and really does have more relevance today than when it was written (back in 2000 I think, before the world became obsessed with terrorism).
Much of the book is dedicated to describing the decadence and enormity of the Culture civilization and does provide a little more of its history than I previously knew. All this is written with such tremendous detail it is actually quite fascinating to read, and the Kindle pages flew by in many places.
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on 20 November 2015
This is a slow paced book, and if you are looking for an action plot, look elsewhere (even for Banks), but what it really is, is a meditation on what it means to be human, and to love life, as well as an exploration of a relationship between a loving god and the people it protects.

In my view, this is one of the most important books in Banks' Sci-fi library, and it shares a spot on my best-of list with the likes of Simak, Smith, Bester and Herbert.
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on 30 October 2016
Seldom moved to write reviews but genuinely blown away by this. Somehow - and for the first time in the Culture novels that I've read - all the elements just come together perfectly here. I found Excession remarkably tedious and unrewarding, Windward however is page turning, witty, playful, whimsical, philosophical and often very funny. If Banks had written just one Culture novel, this would have been perfectly sufficient on its own (though, having said that, it's an especially good read in the context of the previous novels).
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on 26 May 2012
As an avid Sci Fi reader, now firmly hooked on Kindle - i just read this for the second time: the first being a few years ago in paperback. Whenever I read one of his novels, especially Culture ones, I question how I ever award 5 stars to other writers. The linguistic skills alone make his writing above most others. Then there is also the originality of ideas notably social structures, alien beings and relationships all interwoven into complex plots. Fantastic.
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