Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

Author: Iain M. Banks
Length: 400 pages
Reading time: 1 day
Rating: 5 stars
As a child, I was often a big fan of starting a book that was part of a series because it meant the promise of months and months of reliablely good reads. I read every trilogy, saga, quartet, series that I could get my hands on at the local library.

As an adult, I tend to be suspicious of the series, mostly because the quality and originality dies quickly due to publishing pressure and often-time over indulgent authors *ahem* Robert Jordan. So it is with great pleasure with which I have finished Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons, knowing that I am standing on the brink of possibly one of the most well-imagined, fast paced series that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.

Use of Weapons is the 3rd of a set of science-fiction novels from the Culture series. Every novel in the series works as a standalone piece, and are related insomuch that they are all stories of the Culture. It is also the best "space-opera" novel I have read since Ender's Game. Certainly Use of Weapons is the more challenging of two, having a unique story structure that may try the lazy reader's patience. However part of the impact of the story comes from such a structure, and anyone who pays attention will quickly figure out how the story evolves. Really, part of the pleasure is figuring it out for yourself.

The premise is relatively simple. The story revolves around a secret agent called Zakalwe who belongs to the Special Circumstances branch of the Culture ( a highly evolved post human society), sent in by the Culture to manipulate backwatered civilizations to what the Culture believes will be the most optimal outcome. Go here to read the back cover blurb.

Although this novel is set in the far futrue and deals with regular space opera fare; spaceships, intergallactic wars, and alien civilizations. I still hesitate to call it science fiction, since I can hear the alarm bells going off in many heads. This is not some hackneyed, formulaic story based on Star Wars. There is something here that any reader will enjoy. In fact many parts of the book read like an modern mystery/espionage novel. The difference is that the book is also incredibly thought-provoking in its entertainment, and manages to raise some excellent question about the value of intervention by a self-appointed superior society to those whom they consider inferior (a topic that has some relevancy in the world today).

At the crux of the novel, Use of Weapons is a close examination of the intricacies of war. The material is emotional, and there is a certain rawness that is exposed as the story progresses. Yet Banks is not humorless in his approach to the topic, writing moments of surprising lightness into this tense novel. While I have showered the novel with praise, I have intentionally revealed very little of the plot. The book is a much more satisfying experience, if it is read without any pre-conceived notions. The reviews online and comments on Amazon give away surprisingly more than I would hope, so be warned. I highly recommend Use of Weapons to anyone.

The book is unfortunately not available on Amazon US (go figure). However there are several mechants that sells copies here and here. I recommend book depository ltd if they have copies. They're highly reliable, and they ship incredibly fast from the UK. I got mine within a week of ordering from them.

Another resource to check is at www.Abebooks.com.

The cheapest prices ranges from 10-14 dollars including shipping.

5 comments:

CChen said...

For anyone who plays Halo, many cite Culture references and influences on the video game.

funshine said...

"As a child, I was often a big fan of starting a book that was part of a series because it meant the promise of months and months of reliablely good reads. I read every trilogy, saga, quartet, series that I could get my hands on at the local library."

can we say, NERRRRRRRRD? ^_^

CChen said...

This coming from someone who'd rather study than meet up with friends on breaks?^_^

Anonymous said...

good points and the details are more specific than somewhere else, thanks.

- Norman

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