Use of Weapons (Culture Series #3)

Use of Weapons (Culture Series #3)

by Iain M. Banks


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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 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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316030571
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 07/28/2008
Series: Culture Series , #3
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 215,960
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation.

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Use of Weapons 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was first introduced to Iain Banks by reading his book 'Consider Phlebas'. Of the space science fiction genre, I found his detail and depth of imagery astounding. I recommend that book to sci-fi fans. 'Use of Weapons' could be simply described as being about a futuristic mercenary doing deeds for a powerful benevolent race. But this is not a simple book. Two story lines interweave in alternating chapters. The first is traditional, moving forward in time, following one plot line. The other goes backward in time, each chapter number counting backward as well, and touches on past events that increasingly explain events and people being followed in the upward counting chapters. This manner of story telling certainly requires a great attention to detail by the reader, but the reward at the end is worth it, as we finally discover what really is going on. After finishing the book I found myself re-reading many sections, rediscovering many things I had missed. I will be looking for what seems to be a sequel, 'States of War'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that of the Iain Banks science fiction I've read, Use of Weapons is easily his best. It's a pretty challenging read too, since it actually has two plot threads that are told starting from one point in time. One moves forward chronologically, and the other backwards to earlier events. These two threads are intermixed in alternating chapters, so as you read the book you are jumping further forward or back in time. This is confused a bit more by introducing a handful of flashbacks, but if you stick with it the rewards are manifest. The overall story focuses a skilled mercenary called Zakalwe, that works for a post-scarcity, utopian civilization known as the Culture. Asked to fight their battles, he kills so that the Culture doesn't have to dirty its hands with the bloody business of imperialism. The book slowly pieces together this man's life until he finally confronts the disturbing past that drives him to keep fighting. Use of Weapons reads a lot like Iain Banks' other Culture novels, with detailed action sequences, broader looks at interstellar society, and lots of little crumbs and twists that keep you guessing about the plot. However, it differs from the space opera feel of Consider Phlebas, or the meandering conspiracy of Excession. The scope is also smaller, where most of the Culture novels blow your mind with the scale of the galaxy, Use of Weapons focuses on smaller set pieces. The book is amazing for multiple readings too, since after you've finished it the first time you will notice many more details on subsequent readings. The end also casts a very different light on the various chapters of the book, allowing you to reinterpret things again and again. Overall I would say that if you like Iain Banks' other Culture novels, you really owe it to yourself to read Use of Weapons. In regards to the reviewer that said the cruelty doesn't advance the plot, I'm inclined to say that that person hasn't read the book.
LarryTFL More than 1 year ago
The Culture novels by Iain M. Bank are all very good but by no means 'light' reading! The plots are complicated and the author makes you concentrate on the when and where you are within the stories.
The_Wolfie More than 1 year ago
Arguably the best, richest SF galactic Empire series since Asimov, the Culture series spans centuries of time and a series of interwoven plots that truly compel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have found IAIN BANKS a challenging writer to read. Some of his stuff, like "Use of Weapons" I could not get enough of. Others, not so much. I was hoping he had created a follow on book. But apparently not. Randy
grant.libby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once you get used to the non-chronological structure it's quite an interesting story. I liked the way the author referenced certain events and motifs without explaining them until much later, it built suspense and helped link the different episodes. I also liked the revelation at the end. However, although it explores ideas and issues, and has some exciting action and cliffhanger chapter endings, it never really seemed to pick up momentum. I was disappointed by the ending, it seemed like the story just got bored and gave up. It had neither an exciting climax nor a satisfying resolution. In summary: Meh. It was okay.Libby
duhrer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Use of Weapons" is another in Iain M. Banks' series of "Culture" novels. For those not familiar with the series, the Culture is an interplanetary civilization in which disease, injury, age, material want, and even war are all things of the past. Citizens live their lives almost entirely as they choose, and information and aesthetically satisfying experience are valued above almost all else.The permanent peace is made possible because the Culture is so heavily armed that only its ideals prevent it from obtaining any goal by force. In fact, the decision makers and the vast majority of ordinary citizens are so content, well-adjusted and just plain enlightened that they must recruit individuals who are maladjusted enough to be able to enforce their ideals. These individuals work for Special Circumstances, the part of the culture that deals with first contact (as in "Player of Games") foreign relations, and espionage.Cheradenine Zakalwe is an operative of Special Circumstances. He is an immigrant to the Culture, and comes from a world steeped in conflict. As we come to understand, he is a man of action, inclined to solve problems with force. He is also intelligent enough to be a master tactician and (critically) needs ultimately to believe that he is a force for good in the world."Use of Weapons" reminds me of "All My Sins Remembered" by Joe Haldeman, in which a man is conditioned to be a deadly operative against his deeper ideals as a Buddhist. In both works, the larger conflict is for the main character to come to grips with his own identity.Both "Use of Weapons" and the larger "Culture" series (particularly the original "State of the Art" novella) are highly recommended.
DRFP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This seemed a step back after the excellent, The Player of Games, though an effort still better than the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas.I thought the novel never quite gripped in the way it seemed it should. Zakalwe is never developed enough and the surprise near the end raises as many questions as it answers. The massive mood swings between chapters do not help: the Zakalwe of the "present" is rather happy to get on with things until near the end of the novel; by comparison the Zakalwe of the flashbacks is mired in angst and regret, which may be fair but that is hardly manifested in the present. I thought that contrast too jarring and the fact that a number of chapters devoted to his past have him drugged or in surreal situations further alienates him from the reader. Lastly, whilst we're dealing with the novel's main character, I thought Banks did a rather poor job of building suspense through Use of Weapons. We get that the chair and the battleship are big deals for Zakalwe but 3/4 of the novel had me thinking, "So what?" What the reader learns near the end does reveal a suitable horror but for much of the book it's too mystifying and you might, like me, testily wonder what all the fuss is about.Sma and Skaffen-Amtiskaw are the only other characters present throughout the novel but they're sadly under used. Sma never develops into the sort of dark character she could and, sadly, simply too little is seen of Skaffen-Amtiskaw whose (fully authorised) violent tendencies could have sat nicely next to Mawhrin-Skel's (from the previous Culture novel).If poor use of its main characters is Use of Weapons' biggest failing then the plot isn't great either. Honestly, very little reason is given to care about what happens in Beychae's system. Full scale war might break out but so what? With the greater personal involvement of its characters the small scale events of TPoG felt much more important. Even Consider Phlebas, which I am not that keen on, felt like it had a plot with more at stake (even if that book admits that's not the case).As mentioned above, Zakalwe's chapters aren't always that interesting either. Instead it's the odd good bit here and there that keeps you pushing through the novel. For instance, I very much enjoyed the all too brief time spent on the Xenophobe or the time spent with Zakalwe in the eyrie. It simply feels like there's too little imperative to the plot and the long time spent by Sma getting to Zakalwe in the present is cheapened by the fact he so readily agrees to take on the mission.Well with plot and characters already done what's left? Banks's writing is decent but it felt more jumbled than in TPoG (and what with the abundance of unneccessary semi-colons?). The author's admission that this was an old story re-written perhaps explains why. Consider Phlebas, another old novel he got published some time after he first wrote it, seemed to suffer similar problems. If TPoG was written from scratch much later than these other two Culture novels it might explain why it seems so much better.As usual, I've fallen into one of my traps - pointing out all the things I disliked without touching on the good. After all this it may seem as if I want to give UoW a mere half-star rating. Yet it is a lot better than that. The plot and characters could have done with more work but nothing in the book is bad. The story has its moments and the final revelations certainly make a lot of what came before more important, in retrospect. Possibly, when re-read the book might shine much brighter. However, I'd still like to read the rest of the Culture series first, so it might be a while before I get back to this one.
dir3wolf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just love this kind of books, flashback style, where you have to assemble the big picture from the fragments of the character's memories. Somehow seems more artistic.
clong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After being very disappointed with Against a Dark Background, I was somewhat sceptical about Use of Weapons. I am happy to report that I found it to be a far superior book. The characters are interesting and complex, especially the protagonist Zakalwe, a special agent for the Culture who is sent to various planets to engineer desired political outcomes through military action, political intrigue, dirty tricks, or whatever may be necessary. The book follows three deftly interwoven storylines: one from Zakalwe's youth, one that follows recollections of his recruitment and early missions for the Culture, and one from the book's present. Use of Weapons certainly raises important ethical questions, including questions about whether ends can justify means (set in a very Machiavellian universe where evil people can do good things and good societies can do evil things). And, the writing is quite good. Don't expect a happy ending.
psiloiordinary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Now well into his "Culture" universe stride.Clever, violent and intensely ambiguous at times, Banks is now perfecting his technique. Time in the story always seems to pass at "real time" rates for me. Perhaps it's because the writing draws me in and I end up whizzing through the book very quickly, perhaps it is the fact that his descriptions are so realistic and almost diligent without being unduly detailed.A slightly confusing mixed up narrative flow with flash backs and flash forwards, didn't add anything to the read for me.He now starts to touch on morality with a deft flourish which he will use more in later works.A cracking good read
gaspodog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Banks takes a risk with this one, structurally speaking. Thankfully his plan pays off in the end rather than falling flat on its face in confusion. The interleaved narratives make for an interesting read and an interesting take on the technique overall. In this novel, following Consider Phlebas and the Player of Games, the Culture is fleshed out some more. Banks' points do not go unnoticed though he does not labour them. All in all an exciting, satisfying - and in places mildly unsettling - book.
anduin13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favourite Iain M. Banks book, and one of my favourite books of all time. I was thoroughly surprised by the book, and the ending was by far one of the most unexpected twists in literature. I was literally reading with my mouth open for the last 20 pages or so.
reading_fox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Way too much of a flashback structure for me. At no point is it clear when is now. This can be an interesting writing style to read, but Banks hasn't achieved it. A strugle and not really worth it in the end. Sufficiently poor to put me off reading any more of his work.
llasram on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
/Consider Phlebas/ left me wanting more Banks, and I already had this one, so I dove right in. I usually prefer SF novels that only work as SF, but this is a relatively strong example of a work which just uses genre trappings for a grand setting I loved the backwards-forwards structure of this novel and the intensity of the ending left me with literal chills -- which ending suggests that a reread might be fruitful. I don't think the novel's core character study is quite good enough to stand on its own, but delivers quite nicely a genre novel.
IshwaraYoga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
3/5 .. moments of comic excellence, excellent sci fi imagintion, ultimately let down, for me, by a weak resolution
trandism on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cheradenine Zakalwe is a mercenary, an expert on soldiering and commanding armies who works occasionally for Special Circmustances - the Culture's equivalent of Secret Services - interfering incognito into the affairs of other lesser civilizations. His price stays the same throughout the years. Money, youth and the chance to meet his sister Livueta, a ghost from his past.His latest mission involves finding and bringing out an old scholar who lives like a hermit in the University of an old City. He is the key figure in order to avoid a full scale war, ideological at its source, between those who believe machines have souls and those who don't. A war that threatens to drive a whole Cluster of stars and planets to chaos.But Zakalwe's past is full of horrors that haunt his very existence. Missions from the past, the way he got Contacted by the Culture's agents and above all his family story and a war he fought himself - his first war -, not for the Culture, but for the existence and prosperity of his own people.A superbly written story with an unexpected twist in the end. Space Opera at its finest!
jonathon.hodge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great Culture novel and an impressive character study, with an ending that will stay with the (astute) reader long after you close the cover
faganjc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book tells its story two ways, as if it were two separate books: one book with chapters going forward, the other with the chapters going backwards. Use of Weapons alternates between the two. This technique is surprisingly not confusing but simply allows the author to reveal character and plot insights with additional power. Be ready to read the last chunk of the book in one fell swoop.
TimONeill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Probably Bank's best science fiction novel and one of his best works generally. Cheradinine Zakalwe, Diziet Sma and Skaffen Amiskaw are, together, his most interesting group of characters.The structure of this novel makes it worthy of note on its own. Written in interwoven chapters, it is made up of two alternating narrative streams - one indicated by Arabic numerals and the other by Roman ones. One moves forward chronologically, while the other moves in the opposite direction; yet both are about the central, tragic character, Cheradinine Zakalwe.Despite being the third of Banks' "Culture" science fiction novels to be published, he wrote a much more complex version of this story in 1974, before any of his books saw print. He later said it was so complex it "was impossible to comprehend without thinking in six dimensions". He credits fellow Scottish author Ken McLeod with getting him to sort this baroque novel into a publishable form.Zakalwe is a rogue, a military genius, an assassin, a sad case and an utterly sympathetic character all at the same time. A mercenary shaped by his experiences as the perfect soldier, he's taken, refined and utilised by the supposedly benign and pacific Culture for their nastier dirty tricks operations. The moral ambiguity and ethical contradictions of this are not lost on Zakalwe himself or on his Culture handler, the "Special Circumstances" operative Diziet Sma.Gloriously grostesque, sharply observed, bleakly satrical and written with Baink's unique ability to make the most vile aspects of war and violence lyrically beautiful and richly ironic at the same time, this is the great Scottish master at his finest.A book to loan to anyone who thinks science fiction is "dumb".
mgreenla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another Culture novel. Once again the focus is on a non-culture agent for "Special Circumstances" (the culture's dirty tricks department). Banks uses a intertwined set of three stories, now, the past as a SC agent, and the far past. It's one of those things were you will either like it, or be totally put of by some times know knowing where in the timeline you are in the dialog.The story was a gripping one (for me at least) with plot twists when needed, at no time did things seem to drag. The ending was a bit of a shock, but no spoilers here!
LizzieD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh my! I finished Iain M. Banks's Use of Weapons yesterday, and I'm still blown away. I enjoyed it as much as [u]Excession[/] which had been my favorite up to this point and for different reasons. *E* is much more "about" the Culture. This book is "about" the Culture indirectly in how it manipulates other cultures in their wars and government. Cheradenine Zakalwe (I'm trying to spell these names without looking at the book. Didn't work; I got it wrong. Like other good writers Banks makes characters' names just that little bit unlike naturally occurring syllables in English which gives them an alien edge.) is the weapon of the Culture's Special Circumstances division that handles "moral espionage." His handler is Diziet Sma, who with her snarky drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw, puts him into and pulls him out of military actions. Through flashbacks which occur every other chapter, we learn more and more about Zakalwe's past, and so learn more and more about what has shaped him. The appeal of this book is in the character of Zakalwe. He isn't necessarily appealing, but I did find myself pulling for him and hoping that he might find some peace in the end. The climax came as a complete surprise. If I had five stars to give, I'd give this one six!
JudithProctor on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a very well-written book, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I had difficulty sustaining my interest long enough to finish it.(The hopping back and forth in time didn't help)
voodoochilli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well I really wanted to like this book. It just didn't hold up as well as the others in the series. Additionally the ending was predictable (to me at least). Although written later, Reynold's Chasm City had a similar plot twist and maybe that's how I spotted the end before it happened. Reading the next in the series, Excession, and it seems much better so far.
Zare on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When it comes to Banks there are only two things that truly annoy me - unpronounceable character names and insistence on some weird elements of the future society. Fortunately this is not the case in this novel.Like "Consider Phlebas" this one is action packed novel following a rather tragical character used as gun-for-hire by the Cultures equivalent of secret service. Story line is broken into two - one that goes from point A into the future and one that goes from the point A into the past - but nevertheless it is not difficult to follow and understand.Excellent adventure. Highly recommended.