Question about Cheradenine Zakalwe (Spoilers! Read Use of Weapons First!)

Jakwox

New Member
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Jan 14, 2013
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1
#41
I just finished UOW and am very glad to have found this forum/discussion.

I don't have much to add - most of the wise things have been said already. Here's my interpretation:

Elethiomel was at war with Zakalwe. Zakalwe was clearly very good at war, and so was Elethiomel. He was very good at using weapons: turned his boat into a fortress, and had a well planned counter attack ready, and then figured out an 'unthinkable' way of heavily increasing his chances of winning (it wasn't clear to me whether he did win or not - intentional no doubt). He was obsessed with winning at the time, and Darckense is in town and probably hates him anyway now. He's already put millions of people to death during the war in one way or another. As others have said, how does her life compare to all of them? Those soldiers of his whose lives he'll preserve using this extreme method? He probably had someone else kill her painlessly before making the chair.
I suspect we've all got screws loose somewhere. I don't think he needed any mental disorders when he did this - he just needed to be incredibly ruthless.
However, afterwards (probably when the war was over) it caught up with him and messed him up. He tries to kill himself while drifting in space etc. Joins some random war on the icebergs.
Interesting that, if the culture didn't know his past (at least the drone, Sma and the ship didn't) then they must have head hunted him based on his antics on the icebergs, but he was merely some kind of pilot there...
That aside, someone mentioned the culture conditioning and it's referred to in the book. This, and the trauma on the icebergs (which sounded rather significant) could have led to some mental system whereby he was able to bottle up his most troublesome thoughts, use them as a source of motivation perhaps, and not be destroyed by them.
However, maybe they were coming through and distorting his self image. Maybe he was developing some elements of split personality. This would only really make sense in the context of cultural conditioning - split personality is a contraversial diagnosis and may not actually exist (especially in the sort of high functioning state it ends up being portrayed as in fiction).
The other possibility is that he assumed the names and that perhaps those reverse order chapters about Zakalwe himself are not meant to be interpreted as Elethiomel's invented memories. The paragraphs about blowing up the summer house - it could relate to something Elethiomel knew about or guessed (they're quite brief). The chapter about the bone chair is another thing though. It's definitely something Elethiomel didn't witness. Perhaps Iain Banks decided to break what we assumed was a rule (that all those chapters were memories of Elethiomel's) because, at the end of the day, he is the author and he can do what he wants and it makes for a more surprising ending. I think that's an acceptable reason to break the rule. It's got everyone discussing on this forum!

As for what I thought about the twist, though I think the books of his I've read are great (Player of games, Consider Phlebas and this one), I don't like the culture. I'd hate to live there - would feel so pointless! THe machines do everything and most of the people are disgraceful wasters. So any culture sponsored protagonist is not automatically someone I root for - I guess I inevitably root for them but not as strongly as I'd want to.
For a lot of UOW I imagined the twist (and I sensed something was coming) was that 'Zakalwe' was actually one of the two sisters, having had a culture sponsored sex change. That he was Elethiomel was on my list of options. This result did annoy me, but then I'm not sure if I'd be that much happier were Zakalwe to have been himself. Whoever he was he seemed pretty miserable running and running and running all his life. In fact at least Zakalwe proper probably lived an honourable life until he killed himself. It is more tragic if Elethiomel died on the stabarinde but left Zakalwe so messed up he became the hero of this book!

Does Iain Banks do any happy endings? I suppose telling me what to read would be a spoiler in itself, but I (personally) don't mind.
 

TheTomG

Thomas M. Grimes
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Aug 9, 2011
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#42
In general, Iain Banks books always have some awful tragedy that befall the characters, even if the ending is "happy" in some respects. That is, the big ticket item affecting hundreds or millions or trillions gets sorted out for the best, but the individuals involved usually end up the worse for wear.

This is true in his non-SF too. I always have an ongoing sense of dread reading his books, knowing that somewhere, sometime, something awful and deeply tragic is going to happen.

That said, life seems to be exactly like that, for me at least.
 

Tintin

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Feb 2, 2011
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#43
I would say that Banks' books tend to vary quite a bit along the "direness" scale. As a reader, it raises the stakes, because you know he as a writer is unafraid to turn the story in very dark directions, indeed. Some of his books are so dire I find them hard to read. But this threat is not always carried out, and some of his SF novels end up being almost jaunty by comparison, in particular the ones that focus largely on ship minds as some of the central characters. I may be in the minority (?), but I quite like the novels where ship minds take center stage; their calming influence seems to deliberately steer the action away from the direst possibilities, and they seem to offer a bit more hope, even if that hope is not embodied in human form.
 
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#44
Oh Zakalwe. You poor tormented genius. Almost Christ-like, bearing the sorrows and horrors inflicted by the Culture Minds to do good in their greater perspective.

I've just finished the book and it was a great reading. I wish my English was better though. For some reason the Culture books aren't translated to Swedish yet (I haven't found any at least).

I did not see the twist coming, but I think the logic of it worked out perfectly. Elethiomel seems only bettered by the greater Minds of the Culture in executing the cold logic of warfare to reach victory. War is about strategy and sacrifices and he had to made a devastating decision early on. It's quite clear he must have had feelings for Darckense.

The chair making stuff is explainable without need to resort to madness and cruelty - he wanted to maximize impact to ensure "decapitation" of the opposition. He's extremely rational when it comes to it. He of course knew Zakalwe as brothers they were. He probably built the chair himself to also feed his self-hatred and disgust for what he had needed to do. He's trying to cope with this ever after... Picking Zakalwes name doesn't seem so crazy either. He's choosing names all the time. He wants to forget and not to forget at the same time.

I think the greater ship Minds (also Xenophobe) knew his background. They somehow found him and seemed to have no problems finding his stepsister back on Couraz. His actions prove that he is capable of understanding high-level warfare and foremostly execute the cold logic of the Minds.

What I haven't seen discussed in this thread yet is what we should make of the prologue and epilogue. The references to baldness mean that the scenes take place after the revelation of "Zakalwe's" true identity, I believe. Or am I wrong? If I'm right, then what has happened in the interim? Did the Culture reconstruct his mind as Zakalwe? Does the opening definition of happiness mean that Sma finally gave in to his advances?

I haven't re-read the book or even the prologue/epilogue in detail, but I'm curious what others make of it.
Your're right, I didn't make that connection first but maybe Sma finally gave in . I am also mystified by the prologue/epilogue. Does he now fight on the opposite side or is it some other war/planet? There's some mentioning of "high command" in the epilogue. I'd like to think he grabbed himself together yet another time without too much Culture magic and continued doing the agonizing dirty-work for them. Business as usual...
 

TheTomG

Thomas M. Grimes
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#45
And it's not the last we see of Zakalwe either :) No more said as it would have to go under spoilers under the other book title.
 
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Apr 21, 2013
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#50
this is my favourite banks book. it's interesting reading people's thoughts on it. whilst it's a while since I read it I never had the feeling it didn't fit together. I also didn't consider any split personality aspect. more that he uses the name as a reminder and in some sense a weapon against himself, almost as a punishment. as a concept, carrying that guilt through the ages makes it so powerful. by the end of the book you sense that he's a much changed person from his younger self, that maybe whilst still a brilliant strategist, he's no longer capable of the ultimate monstrous act.

the title is just so apt for so many elements of the book.
 

sassy1

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Apr 14, 2007
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#51
I remember when I read Use Of Weapons I kept getting baffled when it skipped between times, and in and out of dreams. I don't know whether that just me because I have such a terrible memory that when a book throws loads of characters or places at me I get lost (I should start keeping lists). Books always make more sense to me the second read through, maybe I should read it again....

I do remember that when we found out he wasn't really Zakalwe, I was like 'eh?' and thought it didn't make much sense... but reading how other people interpreted his actions kinda makes it all fit more. think I will definitely go and reread it again.
 

AndrewT

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Jan 21, 2012
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#52
This is my third Culture read as I'm reading them in order. I liked the first two but I have to admit I am very baffled by the weird sequential dreamlike scenes. It has about the same effect on me as if I tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle with a bunch of the pieces missing or wrong pieces from another puzzle mixed in. I am getting discouraged with Banks now and I am wondering if the future books like Excession are more of the same or are they like book two which I enjoyed.
 

Grunkins

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Jan 18, 2012
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#53
Each of the Culture books is new and different from the last. Banks rarely, if ever, retreads ground. In UoW the chapters alternate, one forward in time, the next backward in time. It's important to the story, and the eventual payoff is large. If UoW is not for you, you can look forward to Excession, which is a very different book (and my favorite of the series). It is the most space oriented book in the series, also the most Mind heavy...and you get the Affront trying to stick their tentacles in one another's anuses.
 

Ayn Marx

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Jun 16, 2017
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#54
Butting-in very late, but:

I read the book years ago, and formed the impression that
  1. ...the title referred both to "Zakalwe"'s ability to recognise and use any weapon available and
  2. ...the Culture's ability to do the same with him, and particularly
  3. ...the Culture's use of him, in his intense self-loathing, to lend to any side which they wish to lose.
As to his being alive nearly a millennium later, it's stated explicitly that he has opted for Culture-unusual (potential) eternal life and youth; I've always assumed that this was in order to punish himself longer, even if he wasn't aware of the reason.

Is any of the above severely at variance with any details I forgot or never got at all? Thanks.
 
Joined
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#55
You all been snookered by Banks Hidden Until Obvious Trope.
Let me break it down.
The real Zakalwe’s father executed Elethiomel’s father as a traitor and sits on a throne made of the metaphorical bones of his father.

Elethiomel merely returned the favor in a way that was just as literal and metaphorical but reversed.

Bones for Blood. A Chair to match your throne Cheradenine Zakalwe. You deserved to blow your own ****ing brains out.

Are you sure who the victim and who the monster is now?

Here is my the analysis of the Chairmaker Anomaly.

Use of Weapons: Reprisals (a deconstruction and reconstruction)

©️ Steven D Lidster

Two men play chess in the park every day.

One sits on a chair he stole from the other’s father and plays white.

The other always stands at attention as soldier and plays black while they play their daily game.

One day the man who normally stands shows up early and sits on the chair stolen from his father.

The other man arrives and sees his opponent has moved first without making a move by trading places with him.

The former soldier now sits before the Black pieces and beckons his former commander to play.

The old man stands in front of the white pieces, as he always has. and he tips over the White King and concedes, then commits suicide by blowing his brains out.

The man in the Chair knocks over the the Black King and concedes, a drop of his enemy’s blood on it stains his finger, then gets up and takes the White King and places it in his pocket.

He walks away but can never forget the memory of sitting in that chair for a moment when his opponent sat in it for a lifetime.

His moment at the end of his enemies life become polar opposites which, when inverted made them two sides of one sentient coin playing Heads I Win, Tales You Lose with itself.

There is only one Chair, but both sat upon it.

Who is the Chairmaker?

White, Black, Both?

The Chairmaker is an Empty Chair that beckons you to sit and play a game that ends in a bloody Stalemate!
 
Last edited:
Joined
Jul 12, 2018
Messages
2
#56
You all been snookered by Banks Hidden Until Obvious Trope.
Let me break it down.
The real Zakalwe’s father executed Elethiomel’s father as a traitor and sits on a throne made of the metaphorical bones of his father.

Elethiomel merely returned the favor in a way that was just as literal and metaphorical but reversed.

Bones for Blood. A Chair to match your throne Cheradenine Zakalwe. You deserved to blow your own ****ing brains out.

Are you sure who the victim and who the monster is now?

Here is my the analysis of the Chairmaker Anomaly.

Use of Weapons: Reprisals (a deconstruction and reconstruction)

©️ Steven D Lidster

Two men play chess in the park every day.

One sits on a chair he stole from the other’s father.

The other always stands as they play their daily game.

One day the man who normally stands shows up early and sits on the chair stolen from his father.

The other man arrives and sees his opponent has moved first without making a move by trading places with him.

He stands in front of the white pieces and he tips over the White King and concedes, then commits suicide by blowing his brains out.

The man in the Chair knocks over the the Black King and concedes, a drop of his enemy’s blood on it stains his finger, then gets up and takes the White King and places it in his pocket.

He walks away but can never forget the memory of sitting in that chair for a moment when his opponent sat in it for a lifetime.

His moment at the end of his enemies life become polar opposites which, when inverted made them two sides of one sentient coin playing Heads I Win, Tales You Lose with itself.

There is only one Chair, but both sat upon it.

Who is the Chairmaker?

White, Black, Both?

The Chairmaker is an Empty Chair that beckons you to sit and play a game that ends in a bloody Stalemate!
He calls himself Zakalwe because noble Elethiomel stopped to the level of Bastard Zakalwe.
 

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