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Banks' Use of Weapons

Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks

This is the fourth book I have read by Banks after The Player of Games, Consider Philebas and The Wasp Factory.  Despite the fact that this is a Culture novel the most useful comparison is not with the other two Culture Science Fiction novels, but with his non-science fiction novel The Wasp Factory.  Both of them have a strangely sympathetic protagonist with sociopathic tendencies and both of them combine light absurdest comedy (especially in conversation) with horrific violence.  Both also have a twist.  The end twist of Use of Weapons is much less surprising than that of The Wasp Factory and this book with its similar themes is very much a slightly inferior version of The Wasp Factory.

The book has two narratives going on at the same time.  One is the protagonists current mission and the other is various scenes from his past playing out outside of their temporal order.  That is handled well.  The characterization is OK, in fact superior by Science Fiction standards, and Banks is good with words.

The Culture is a fascinating place for Banks to explore.  It is very much a utopia and contrasts with the normal exploration of dystopias that Science Fiction writers normally do.  However, to get the drama to work, Banks has to concentrate on outsiders and on the Cultures interaction with other societies.  He has done that in all three of the Culture novels I have read so far, and it means that he does not really put pressure on that utopia conception at least in the first three Culture novels.

Banks' approach to the Culture novels of telling a unique story with new characters each time, is far superior to the typical soap opera approach of science fiction writers who eventually build up absurdly complicated life histories and novels that stand in series in the double digits that must be read in order.  That has ruined a number of promising Science Fiction writers and it is nice to see Banks write novels with proper story structure and character arcs.

A very good but not great Science Fiction novel.