Wednesday, 13 August 2003

Iain M. Banks: Use of Weapons (1990)

Use of Weapons coverEdition: Orbit, 1992
Review number: 1179

This Culture novel, the third, combines two of the themes common in the writing of Banks' other persona (the one without the central 'M'). It has the multiple interlinked narratives (just two of them; one is a series of flashbacks, nearly in reverse chronological order), and it has some sickening, unpleasant violence.

Like many of the other Culture novels, Use of Weapons is built around a thriller style operation by Special Circumstances, which is really the covert operations section of what amounts to their secret service (in the midst of the anarchy that is the apparent form taken by their government). The mission itself isn't really what the novel is about, though (Banks' treatment of it becomes extremely perfunctory towards the end); Use of Weapons is more interested in the background of the agent Cheradiene Zakalwe than anything else.

Apart from the presence of standard Iain Banks tricks, Use of Weapons is of interest for the way in which the author subverts some of the standard cliches of the thriller genre (the Culture series as a whole tends to do this with science fiction). Thus, it features the flawed maverick central character haunted by his passed, the disillusioned missing operative selected as the only one who can carry out the mission, and so on. It breaks little new ground; and, like its near contemporary, Canal Dreams, can be seen as Banks marking time as he prepares to move to a new phase in his writing.

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