Use of Weapons by Iain M Banks

Sally Ann Melia

Sally Ann Melia, SF&F
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S A Melia is an English SF&F writer based in Surre
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.
 

Rodders

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Use of Weapons was my first foray into Iain M. Bank's work. I was a member of the SF&F book club and i was drawn to the cover, so i bought it on a whim.

I loved it and the ending blew me away. I've read it a couple of times since and it's genius hasn't dimmed.
 

Vertigo

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Thoughts from my recent rereading:

A second reading of this excellent book from Iain Banks. The Culture might be a very peaceful organisation when looked at in the large but, when encountering developing races, they are not above interference, and often quite violent interference, to try and ensure those cultures’ development run along lines acceptable to the Culture. And if that requires war and death for some to gain a benign future for all then that’s when Contact and, more specifically, special Circumstances will step in and push in whatever way necessary to achieve their desired goals without, of course, revealing their hand in those interferences. And doing that requires a special kind of operative, increasingly hard to find in the peaceful, some might say decadent, population of the Culture. Cheradine Zakalwe is just such a person; a specialist in war, a supremely able fighter and tactician. Use of Weapons is his story told from the middle outwards; one thread working forward to a final climax and the other working back in time to the long ago climax that started him on his current path. We see how he uses whatever weapons are available to him as well as how the Culture use him as their weapon.

A brilliantly clever story in the way it uses the reverse timeline to steadily reveal everything the reader needs to know as they work through Zakalwe’s story, and I defy anyone reading it for the first time to anticipate the final revelations of the book. Along the way Banks’ character development, plotting and action is brilliantly balanced keeping the reader turning the pages. This is Banks’ third Culture, and indeed science fiction, novel and his growing confidence in the Culture setting he first created in Consider Phlebas is clearly obvious. It’s also satisfying, and interesting, to find a science fiction author prepared to play around with one or two experimental literary tricks that I find so rare in this genre. Not completely absent by any means but most SF does tend to be literarily rather simple. Of course by this time he had already done considerable experimental writing in his non science fiction work but it was good to see him applying similar innovation to his writing in science fiction.

Once again, as I continue my re-read of his Culture books, it pains me that he died so comparatively young when he should have had so many more productive years of writing ahead of him.

5/5 stars.
 

picklematrix

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Agreed, this is one of Banks most creative works, narrative-wise.
It took a while to sink in after my first reading, and for the pieces to truly fit together.
 

picklematrix

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Not sure they fully fitted until this second reading and, who knows how I'll feel after a third reading!
The entire narrative structure is deliberately off kilter.
Its a good contrast to Player of Games, as thats a book I believe anyone could vety likely enjoy.
 

Av Demeisen

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I agree it's one that keeps getting better and better. But then, I love complexity in music as well. Art should challenge you.
 

Vertigo

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I agree it's one that keeps getting better and better. But then, I love complexity in music as well. Art should challenge you.
That's one of the things I like about Banks is that he is not shy of challenging his readers. He doesn't always do it all that overtly but sometimes, particularly in his non SF stuff, it is very much in your face. In his non-SF book Complicity the scenes from the (unknown) killer's perspective are written in the second person which is remarkably unsettling to read:
You crouch down in front of him and make a deep downward incision into his left thigh, opening the artery to the air. The scream comes down his nose as he shakes the chicken-wire frame. The bright blood pumps out and up, spattering onto your gloved hand
And even in science fiction he has books like Feersum Endjinn which is most certainly a challenging read and not to everyone's taste.

There are few of his books that haven't impressed in one way or another.
 
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