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, and military action.
The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him toward 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 lost cause. But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past.
Ferociously intelligent, both witty and horrific, Use of Weapons is a masterpiece of science fiction.
©1990 Iain M Banks (P)2013 Hachette Audio
Say something about yourself!
This is one of the Culture Series books, best introduced by "Player of Games" if the series is not familiar. Use of Weapons has a complex, non-linear structure that can be difficult to follow in audio format. The prolog establishes an event at a particular point in time, call it time t-zero. The story then begins at time t plus 13 and is told in alternating chapters, half of them moving backward toward t-zero, and the other half moving forward from time t plus 13. You arrive at the end of the book when the backward narrative reaches t-zero just as the forward narrative reaches a climax that reveals the real meaning of the events in the prolog. It is cleverly done, but you really do have to pay attention. This one is not for casual listening while you multitask. I would also suggest re-listening to the beginning of the book after you have finished it. Knowing the whole story really changes the meaning of the events at the book's opening. Brilliantly done, and exquisitely handled by Peter Kenny, who does not just read the book, he performs the story.
The Culture series is one of my favorites, and this book is no exception (although Player of Games is still my favorite). Of the Culture books that I've read though, this one's story is the least linear and most disjointed, which, in my opinion is trickier to follow on audio.
The book is set up with an ongoing storyline in the present, with each chapter followed by a (critical) section detailing a portion of the main character's history, each section further and further into the past. It's a great way to tell a story, but I almost need to re-listen to this book now that I have a better picture of the story as a whole. Typically keeping everything straight isn't a problem for me when I just read a book and am able to speed up and slow down a little more naturally (compared to somebody reading to book to me at their pace).
That being said, if you enjoy the Culture series, I really do think that you'll enjoy this book too. Consider reading the book, and not listening to the audiobook, but either way, you'll still be pleased.
I'm a Hard SF & Space Opera-loving, alien android from the future. I bring gifts of SciFi eBooks & accessories for your leader's Kindle. Take me to him/her/it.
After over twenty years, this still holds up as a Sci-Fi masterpiece character study into the dark soul of its protagonist, a mercenary named Cheradenine Zakalwe. At first, the unusual story structure of two asynchronous story lines, alternating between the present and an episodic sequence of thirteen key moments in Zakalwe's past (revealed in reverse chronological order), can be confusing. However, it quickly clarifies, and is an absolutely ingenious way of examining the roots of the character's motives, phobias, and mannerisms in such a way that maximum surprise is extracted at each 'reveal'. Of course, as you've guessed from the profession of Mr. Zakalwe, there is no shortage of action throughout, and a good deal of James Bond 007 (I'm picturing Daniel Craig, not the other blokes). The biggest lost opportunity here was to explore, in the book's many settings and locales, some truly alien cultures, philosophies, and biologies, but sadly we see only a large collection of human civilizations in various stages of technological development. At least Gene Roddenberry slapped some prosthetic facial adornments on his humanoid aliens! Nevertheless, the story succeeds in elevating character over deus ex machina; no easy feat considering the persistent omnipotence of the Culture standing behind the mercenary, but here kept at a welcome arm's length, maintaining a high-stakes identification between the reader and the protagonist.
If your every listened to Banks novel "Consider Phlebas", well, you're in for the same kind of thing. If you want to hear a story told from the perspective of an AI persona -= THIS AINT IT. The story was well written (technique was 1st rate), but it did make me wish they would just tell me why the protagonist was so messed-up (you learn that at the VERY END of the story). Also, the narrator does a good job, as always. I have to say that I rated it a 4 (instead of a 5), because it was not up to the standard of other Culture novels such as "Player of Games" or "Surface Detail" (both 1st rate; buy them now if your haven't listened yet). But, I this novel was still a whole lot better than a lot of other stuff that I rated a 4.
Enjoy the adventure
This is a Sci-Fi novel about a mercenary. He is employed by an advanced civilization that dislikes violence, but understands the necessity of force to maintain peace. The book contains two story lines. One follows the mercenary’s current life and the other his memories from the past. Begging the question, are humans are one part now and one part past?
I read this book when it was first published and was blown away by the civilization’s technology and the physical enhancements that people added to their bodies to improve quality of life. No surprise, many enhancements are designed for pleasure. Mine would be eating all my favorite foods without getting fat.
I particularly enjoy that machines (think cell phones, androids, toasters, etc) are sentient and enjoy interacting with humans much as I enjoy hanging out with a dog. What is that idiot going to do next? Let’s throw a ball and watch the dog chase it
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This would my fourth Iain M. Banks Culture novel, and I enjoyed it well enough, though I’m not sure I understand the reverence that many hold for the man’s work. I find his books thought-provoking, but also somewhat self-indulgent and not as deep as everyone seems to think they are. Also, I’m skeptical that the Culture would *work*. Would immensely intelligent machines feel motivated to care for huge populations of human dependents, who do little besides consume resources and amuse themselves? Maybe, but it’s debatable. Personally, I’d probably get bored with maintaining a tame ant colony and dump it in the woods to fend for itself.
That out of the way, I've been told that Use of Weapons is one of Banks’s best books, and I think that's probably true. The protagonist is a sort of 007-ish super agent named Zakalwe, whom the Culture has recruited to run coups and proxy wars in less advanced states that it’s trying to gradually bring into its benevolent sphere. Just as most Americans don’t pay much attention to the various dirty deeds the CIA does in the name of keeping them safe and comfortable, most Culture citizens are too wrapped up in their hobbies/drug use/grotesque parties to notice. However, all the wars are blurring together for Zakalwe and he’s getting a bit unhinged. A culture agent named Diziet Sma and the snarky drone that accompanies her (drones are a feature of all these books) manage to recruit him for another mission.
This novel is really a character study of Zakalwe, who is an expert warrior, but is haunted by events in his past, events which shed light on why he does what he does. And why he wants to stop, but maybe can’t. Towards this end, Banks wrote the book with an unusual structure. There are two narratives, the first moving forward in time, and the second moving backward (on a chapter-by-chapter basis -- think Memento) from the point where the first begins. Gradually, we get more and more hints about who Zakalwe really is, until a twist in the last pages puts what we know in a different light.
And here, I get to the arguable weaknesses of the book. First, readers seem divided on whether the twist is shockingly brilliant or just forced. I lean in the latter direction and would have liked the character motives to have been developed just a bit more. And while the twist raises some worthwhile questions about the moral meaning of one's actions, as well as about the Culture and its choices, it's the only really interesting thing going on in the plot. Everything else that happens until then is either just set-up or repeated expression of the theme that war is ultimately kind of meaningless. As in Player of Games (the Culture book you should start with), I felt that the point could have been made with a shorter novel. Lastly, I got a little bored with Banks’s use of societies that were basically just stand-ins for 20th/21st century Earth countries, with similar attitudes and patterns of life. Couldn't the aliens have been a little more, I dunno... exotic? Does everyone really proceed through the same technology tree?
I'd hardly call this a bad book, though. Banks was an undeniably intelligent and witty writer, and I'd give UOW a solid 3.5 stars. But, it often felt like the world-building, characters, and storytelling played second fiddle to the things the author wanted to get off his chest. As usual, I "read" this one in audio format, which, given the odd structure, requires paying close attention, but it's doable.
A Sci Fi junkie who occasionally goes slumming to read other literature.
Banks' novels just don't excite me. They are OK, but I'm not seeing what a lot of other SF fans are seeing (obviously, from the ratings). Are there some interesting ideas? Yes. Are there some interesting sub-stories? Yes. But overall, this novel seemed plodding and dimensionless. Also, Banks' writing is bland. I do my best with every novel to keep in mind when it was written and state of the art at that time, so I give Banks some credit there. But overall I have to say it was only slightly better than OK.
Peter Kenny is a fantastic reader with a range in voices, inflection and intonation that I love. I've gone on to listen to other authors just because they're done by Peter Kenny. Thank you, sir, for being awesome.
I found this story because it was in a list of the Top 10 Best SciFi Twist Endings... I read those types of lists skeptically so when I saw other truly impressive stories on the list... you know, the kinds that instantly come to mind when you say "shocking twist ending that messes with your head" and you answer, "All You Zombies"... well, this was in that list and several others I respected were in the list so I gave Use of Weapons a try.
IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT.
Even knowing that it was supposed to have a twist left me guessing at each turn what might be the surprise and I was rewarded with several.
However, as a master of suspense and delivery, Ian Banks knows how to reward a reader, not in the last chapter, not in the last page, but in the last sentence at the last words of the whole novel he will blow your mind.
There was a scene near the beginning where a mercenary killer, who you are introduced to over the course of the book, must deliver vengeance (or was it justice?) to a despot and during this, he outlines how he will let the man off, giving him hope for a decent future despite what he deserves... and then crushes that hope. It was a perfect outline for the character's personality and outlook.
Please don't read up too much on this story, don't accidentally spoil the ending for yourself, it truly is a worthwhile, enjoyable suspense.
Banks' Culture novels are richly complicated and evocative stories from a universe that might be ours, in somewhere and sometime. The individual novels aren't really a series; they're more like a complementary set of stories stretched over millennia.
I am a latecomer to the series but I've been devouring these books nonstop since October. I find that Banks' books require some concentration to get all the details in hand - but the stories are so astoundingly intricate (and I just love his female characters!) that it's worth the effort to savor every detail, particularly when you've finished a story and everything clicks into place. Banks' death is a real loss to literature, well beyond the speculative fiction genre.
So they're all great stories; but of all the Culture books, 'Use of Weapons' is my favorite. I consumed this book in two days via Whispersync Audible/Kindle, and I am still re-reading sections to pick up nuances and foreshadowing passages. The finale kicked me right in the gut - I couldn't sleep after finishing the last chapter and stayed up way too late rereading the last 100 pages or so. Confusing at first, then it captures your attention and doesn't let go, and after you're done, it's haunting.
The Audible production is quite listenable, too.
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