The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks or military action. The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought. The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people. It had once saved the woman's life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner. It believed the man to be a burnt-out case. But not even its machine intelligence could see the horrors in his past.
©1990 Iain M. Banks (P)2012 Hachette Digital
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
Iaian M. Banks writes (what I would call) philosophical science fiction. He uses his stories to raise important ethical questions and to comment on the political establishment of the day. ???Use of Weapons??? is no exception. When listening to the story it might help asking yourself ???What is the weapon(s) used in the story and by whom????
When Special Circumstances a division of Contact, the (machine-humanoid symbiotic) Culture???s ???Intelligence Agency??? uses the man, Cheradenine Zakalwe, as an agent to do its dirty work, it eventually has to come to terms with his past. Banks hereby raises the question of superpowers using unknown front figureheads and groups to do their dirty bidding in ensuring that the world is shaped according to their will. What happens if this fa??ade cracks?
The story is complexly structured. There are two numbering systems in the book, a story going from chapter to chapter in chronological order and a numeral system which consists of back flashes seemingly arranged in a reverse chronological order. The numeral chapters give the listener hints an a little bit of insight into the person and being of Cheradenine Zakalwe. When the current time and the past collides the puzzle suddenly fits and the ???aha??? moment arrives. This makes the book in my opinion outstanding.
I found that while the story that moved from chapter to chapter was straightforward, the numeral chapters kept you guessing. I enjoyed the way the numeral chapters were written; each one could be a short story on its own.
Banks makes the listener a sleuth, encouraging you to puzzle out the story before he tells you the secret at the most crucial point in the story. He definitely caught me unaware. I think this is where the brilliance of this novel lies in, the surprise.
Peter Kenny, by now synonymous with the reading of Iaian M. Banks??? audio books does an excellent job.
Be warned, it is not an easy book to listen too at first, but is you persevere you will find the gold at the end of the rainbow. It took me a few times of rewinding and listening again to some chapters, but I am really glad I did it.
???Use of Weapons??? is the third Culture novel after ???Consider Phlebas??? and ???The Player of Games.??? I propose that you listen at least to ???Consider Phlebas??? first, just to get the feel for Bank???s science fiction universe. However it is not a must, you might probably enjoy this story just as much without listening/ reading his other books.
It comes highly recommended!
"Another great book from Iain M Banks."
I'd already read this as a physical book, but I'd forgotten the title - I decided that I should just listen again anyway and I was really glad I did. Once you've read it once, then the second time you listen to it in a completely different way - I highly recommend leaving it a few years after the first listen and then listening to it again.
Anyway, it's pretty much impossible to say anything without spoiling it for others with this book so all I'll say is that it's up there with the best of the Iain M Banks books for me.
Great narration too - this is one of my favourite narrators. I made a list of them after a while so I'd be able to search based on narrator and not just author - I reckon it's that important - plus great narrators don't tend to do terrible books. I also really like Scott Brick who read Dune (amazing), Toby Longworth who read Iain M Banks - Matter, Samuel West who read The Day of the Triffids (amazing), Sean Barrett who read The Left Hand of God (really really good), and my favourite of the lot is Anton Lesser who read the Algebraist, which I didn't really enjoy - although I think I need to just try again with it and do it all over a few days and not try and do anything else at the same time.
"Iain M Banks & Peter Kenny... brilliant!"
One of my favourite authors and a top class voice actor, you cant get much better in my opinion!
"Another Great Ian M Banks Book"
The ending is a sucker-punch! No spoilers but I didn't see it coming until the last chapter. WOW!
Seriously, another great book with stunning vision from the author and a great read from the narrator!
I found the novel's construction to be quite difficult to follow. Other IMB audio-books I've gobbled in 2-3 days but this one took best part of a month. Worth the effort though and will be high on my revisit list.
The later IMB books are stunners and this is a fair taste of the madness to come.
I wish Excession was on Audible...
Enjoy Use of Weapons folks.
"Genius at the top of his game; RIP Iain (M.) Banks"
Without giving too much away, you're more or less compelled to read it [listen to it] again (a loose analogy from the film world might be "The Sixth Sense"). Indeed, I've listened to this audio-book again after having read the physical book several times.
All characters are brilliantly portrayed and "act" impeccably (true to their described personas with excellent dialogue); Zakalwe is the stand-out character as hero/anti-hero of the story.
Superb reading with helpful accents (consistent and not overdone) for character identification. I don't think a better job could have been done without a cast (and if this ever gets made into a film - it would make a great film - Peter Kenny should be given a guest appearance at least).
The ending is startling, appalling, mind-blowing (!), a revelation but at the same time transparent (no cheap trickery here) and immensely satisfying - and that just about sums-up the whole book.
A quick word on the (it is said) "confusing" but vital plot structure - when reading a book, how many times do we really take notice of the chapter numbering & titling? Pay attention!
A sad loss - he is missed.
"Deep & Complex - well worth the effort"
The first thing you need to know before listening is that this book consists of 2 timelines, one running forward in time, the other in reverse. Both timelines revolve around the same main character, the reverse timeline delving deeper & deeper into his past.
Each chapter alternates between the timelines - but the prologue & epilogue take place after both timelines!
Knowing this in advance I was obviously a bit dubious about how easy the story would be follow, but it's actually fine and not at all difficult to follow, a sign of the great writing and flawless narration by Kenny. This complexity adds to the reward at the end of the book - basically the ending is astounding, a genuine corker.
Compared to Banks other books it's quite dark and restrained, not a lot of space-opera-style romping about in spaceships - most of the plots take place on various planetary war-zones.
On one level it's an enjoyable sci-fi action thriller, but it's really a deep study of the nature of man and how the culture uses its tools of manipulation. You could read this many times and always discover more stuff here.
Recommended and well worth the effort.
"Another good story from Iain Banks"
I moved onto this with some anticipation after finishing the first in the Culture series and was not disappointed.
The story was again well told, helped by Peter Kenny's excellent narration. I have to admit to having a few false starts with it but I think that was more down to the lateness of my listening, meaning I kept falling asleep when listening and losing the thread of the plot! Once I got into the story I was able to move on and enjoy it!
I have downloaded the next book and am ready to try this now!
"Not as good as I was led to believe but not bad at"
I'd put it in the upper third. I read other reviews claiming it to be Mr Banks' finest culture book but, although the story is good, maybe I expected too much.
Due to it being sci-fi in nature, it's hard to compare to other books. Naturally, it can be compared to other culture books but, if anything, I think it could easily be the kind of thing I'd have seen from Douglas Adams if he committed himself to serious science fiction rather than humorous.
Peter Kenny is superb, as usual. A smooth, steady reading speed combined with well realised characterisation of the character's voices.
I don't think the book in itself was particularly moving really. There are aspects that could be considered as emotional but not moving.
The story is written in a form where half the book is written in reverse order and the other half is written chronologically. These chapters (or parts) and interlaced alternately. So we'd have Chapter 1, Part 13, Chapter 2, Part 12, etc. This is probably quite effective in print but can be quite distracting in audio form possibly leading to my not rating the book as highly as others.
A really great story with a top performance, it left me with a lump in my throat.
A highly recommended listen.
"Unconvincing apart from a few good moments"
Without spoilers: This is two separate stories, alternating a chapter of each, about a mercenary working for The Culture. One is his latest, and perhaps final, mission. The other goes backwards in time through disconnected episodes in his life, gradually revealing the secret of his past and the reason for his (believe it or not) fear of chairs.
For me, the high point of the book was "numeral 4", which contains a wonderful speech on the merits of simple work, and some excellent philosophy on the nature of machine intelligence (I confess this is my professional field but I recommend this short section to anyone).
Unfortunately, despite that little highlight, overall I found the book uninspiring and lacking the excitement and imagination of the previous books in the series. At the end I felt unsatisfied. The final revelation was so unconvincing as to be a complete let-down, though I guess it did explain the chairophobia. It's supposed to be a surprise so I won't give anything away.
The book contains several weak episodes with irrelevant loose ends. There were also a lot of passages describing altered consciousness caused by pain or drugs. Some readers may like these. I found them rather annoying and pretentious and nowhere near as good as the fantastical descriptions of a man in a coma which comprise 90% of his prize-winning novel, The Bridge.
Overall I am not sure what to think about The Culture series. I greatly enjoyed The Player of Games. Then I read Consider Phlebas and this one, both of which I found a let-down, so I probably won't read any more from the series. If anyone understands my point of view and liked other books in the series, I would be delighted to hear your comments and recommendations.
"Whatever he was trying to achieve? He failed."
First off, I call bull on that whole "Iain Banks vs Iain M. Banks" thing. If you'd search-and-replace'd all occurrences of "spaceship" with "ship", and "artificial intelligence" with "familiar", you'd have a fantasy story, so this may be sci-fi, but only just. You don't really get anything in the way of hard sci-fi, or social commentary, or character-driven space opera -- seeing as the "characters" mostly seem ciphers to drive along the plot. The plot in turn drags on and ultimately has two reveals (which, in all fairness, makes Banks one better than M. Night Charlatan), one macabre, the other ... well, not terribly original, but it could have been serviceable in the hands of a more talented writer. As it is, you get bland characters and a gimmicky timeline that tries to gloss over that the story lacks originality. All in all, it's sophomoric, from the uninspired story to the underwhelming writing, with a macabre plot point thrown in that only a thirteen year old would consider "cool."
Between "Walking on glass", "The Wasp Factory", and "Use of Weapons," the hallmarks seem the same -- an attempt at literary fiction, a penchant for the macabre and/or weird children, hard to relate to characters, and a plot that borders on the absurd. To be a trailblazer, to inspire, it's not enough to be different -- it also takes talent, skill, and inspiration.
Recommended to those who read other books by the author -- from what I can tell, it's more of the same. Not recommended to anybody else.
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