“Use of Weapons” Iain M. Banks

I’m reading through the Iain M. Banks in “the order they are on the shelf” which I have a suspicion might be random. Most (all?) of the half a dozen or so that we own are standalone I believe, so this should work out OK. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of them before but sufficiently long ago that I can’t remember what happens.

Use of Weapons is set in Banks’s Culture universe – a far future human & AI interstellar, well, culture who are very much post-scarcity. They are one of the more technologically advanced civilisations in their era & part of the universe, and they benevolently interfere in the affairs of other civilisations to make sure things go the way they feel they should. To do this they often hire members of other civilisations to do the dirty work, and Zakalwe was one of these operatives. He’s retired, mostly, but Special Circumstances (the interfering branch of the Culture) think he’s the only man for this particular job and Diziet Sma (a human Culture citizen) and Skaffen-Amtiskaw (a drone, an AI Culture citizen) are dispatched to persuade him to join them.

The story is told in a very non-linear fashion, and it’s not always entirely clear where the episode you’re reading fits into the narrative but it doesn’t feel confusing. Towards the end it begins to coalesce into a coherent whole, but it’s not until the last (pre-epilogue) scene that you get the final piece of information that makes it snap completely into focus. And not the focus you might’ve expected.

In some ways it reminded me of The Wasp Factory (post). Not in terms of gruesomeness, Use of Weapons wasn’t short of gruesome but it wasn’t as much front and centre as it was in The Wasp Factory. But it reminded me of it because of the way the very end of the book changes how all before it looked, yet you’re left feeling like the clues were there and you just didn’t see them. It did feel a bit like Banks cheated tho – there’s a couple of sections where the reader is misled as to whose point of view we’re seeing it from in a way that isn’t possible to figure out till after the fact. Despite that the conclusion feels satisfying.

I’m sure I missed a lot of the stuff that’s going on underneath the surface of the story, it felt like there was a lot of complexity there if you paid attention to it. Stuff to think about about identity, and atonement. But I’m not sure I’ve got my thoughts sufficiently sorted out to articulate any of them. Particularly not in a non-spoilery fashion, and it’s a book it would be a shame to spoil – worth a first read through not knowing where it ends up I think.

This will stay out on the shelves, I enjoyed reading it and it’s definitely worth a re-read (hopefully before I’ve forgotten what it was about again!).