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Use of Weapons (Culture) Paperback – July 28, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 256 customer reviews
Book 3 of 10 in the Culture Series

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Editorial Reviews


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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation.

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Product Details

  • Series: Culture
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; Reprint edition (July 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316030570
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316030571
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (256 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard R. Horton on August 23, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Use of Weapons is set around the edges of Banks' utopian star-civilization the Culture, which is featured in a number of Banks' books. Cheradenine Zakalwe is not a Culture citizen, but he has been employed by the Special Circumstances branch of the Culture's Contact section as a mercenary, trying to influence conflicts on a variety of planets to be resolved in the direction the Culture prefers. As the main action of the story opens, Zakalwe has "retired" from SC. Diziet Sma, who has been Zakalwe's "control" in the past, is rudely summoned from her latest (quite pleasurable) assignment in order to find Zakalwe and recruit him for one more emergency mission (involving a situation with which Zakalwe was previously involved).
From this point, the novel progresses in two main directions. The main branch of the story follows Sma forward in time, as she pursues and eventually finds Zakalwe, and as Sma and Zakalwe accomplish, in general terms, the mission on which the SC branch has sent them. This involves convincing a retired politician who supports the "right" side (anti-terraforming, pro-Machine Intelligence) of a conflict in an unstable star cluster to return to the arena and forestall a coming war, and then also involves some intervention in a "brushfire" which has broken out as a precursor to the war. This story is exciting and enjoyable, with plenty of Banksian action, Banksian scenery, and Banksian humor, the last as usual particularly embodied in the character of Sma's drone assistant, Skaffen-Amtiskaw. (Banks' machine characters are inveterate scene-stealers.
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By A Customer on January 4, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have been reading SF for more than 30 years, yet this book was without doubt the most compelling, ingenious, best crafted and best characterised that I can remember ever reading (and I have read all the 'greats'). Work out Cheradinine's motivation (half way through the book I had to stop and cry 'Why does he keep putting himself through all this?') if you can - it's a real stunner when revealed. Oh so clever, so interesting, so shocking - if I never did anything else in my life but write a book even half this good, I would die happy. To confirm what another reviewer said, if you haven't read science fiction before, don't start with this - Player of Games will be more understandable and will give you a frame of reference for Use of Weapons. Interestingly, although the book deals, at first sight anyway, with the business of war and of being a mercenary, of all the people I have recommended this to, women seem to get more out of it and are more enthusiastic then men - who have just enjoyed it rather than raved about it. If you like books that make you think, that need sustained concentration, that need you to be able to remember things from one chapter to the next, yet which are still an enjoyable read - read this, or any other Iain Banks book - you won't be disappointed.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The majority of the Culture novels are uniformly excellent, with the only problem in some of them that the final twist is so odd that the book loses some of its impact, or the plot becomes so knotted that the book loses some of its coherance. Not so in this case. This novel tends to deal only peripherally with the Culture, but at the same time their presence infuses and infests the entire novel. Mostly it's the story of a non-Culture fellow who works for them in Special Circumstances (what a great euphemism) doing all the stuff they'd rather not admit to, starting wars, ending wars, waging wars, stuff that he's unfortunately good at. What makes this novel so brilliant is the tight and inventive structure, alternating between the main story itself and scenes from the character's past. All of it is wonderfully written and together they give not only an excellent view of the character in all his possibly dysfunctional glory, but also the rest of the characters (even the most minor character feels three dimensional), as well as a good cross-section of Banks' universe, both of the Culture and the civilizations that aren't part of the Culture. The final twist will change everything and sharp eyed readers will probably figure it out long before the end, although Banks is so good at misdirection and distraction that it barely occurred to me even as it came crashing down on the characters. Definitely his most consistently brilliant work, for once both structure and plot combine to create something that ranks as both first class SF and first class reading, period. If you've got a friend who's been hesitating on discovering Banks' works, give them this one and if that doesn't convince them, well then perhaps nothing will.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I just finished reading Use Of Weapons, and I have this horrible sinking feeling that I shall be reading it again very soon. The book has a very Bankian structure, with the prologue happening somewhere in the middle of his life, and then the chapters that advance the plot alternating with his mercenary adventures going backwards until they reach the moment with The Chair, and The Ship... and the moment when Zakalwe became Zakalwe.

The structure and pacing of this novel is quite similar to that of Banks's first book, The Wasp Factory. The ending twist is not as well handled, but the horror event that precipitates is every bit as disturbing, perhaps even more horrific, than the one in The Wasp Factory, and mercifully the twist in Use of Weapons is left doubly ambiguous. We may never know who was telling the truth. And that's probably for the best.

Use of Weapons is a literary masterpiece, Banks can draw pictures of misery, horror, indulgence and excess with a minimum of effort, and he succeeds somehow in making it all fit together. It's not the clockwork mastery of Bujold, but something more organic, more humane, even while you realize that his underlying themes are as ruthless, vicious, and inhuman as any you can imagine.

A lot of Banks's later works, like the almost irrelevant Excession, don't deserve much attention. But Use of Weapons is Banks at his best. The Wasp Factory had a happy ending, of a sort; I can't say that about Use of Weapons. The Wasp Factory stayed with me for a long time, though, and made me feel depressed and horrified at the state of the world, despite the discoveries its plucky and interesting protagonist went through. I highly recommend Use of Weapons for the same reason I recommend The Wasp Factory, but be prepared to be depressed for a long time afterwards.
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