In a lot of ways it is a direct sequel to the first Culture book, 'Consider Phlebas', even taking its name from the same line of the infamous T.S Eliot poem 'The Wastelands'. Reading the culture novels has established Banks as my new favorite author, as well as one of the most capable authors I've read. The whole thing reads like Banks' wasn't quite happy with the end result of 'Consider Phlebas' and decided to take a crack at covering the same moral message in a better story.
Banks phenomenal Culture series of space opera set in a post-scarcity universe where humans are the most powerful known species. Books in the Culture series are standalones and do not need to be read in any order*. Like most Culture book, Look To Windward has a complicated (but not convoluted) plot which is hard to summarize. Banks was a more literary writer than most sci-fi authors, he has also published successful novels in the mainstream. The Minds (gigantic sentient AIs) and the drones (highly advanced sentient robots with full legal rights as citizens of The Culture) are always great to come back to the series for. In this book, we are also treated to weird new alien species and cultures. Character development is often lacking in sci-fi novels (not always to the books detriment, some books just dont need it), but Banks never skimp on this, his central characters are always complex and believable. Pacing issues notwithstanding, Look To Windward is another good read from the Culture series, it does require some patience and commitment but if you have read a few Culture books beforehand you will come to trust Iain M. _____________ * Some Culture novels are better starting point than others. Consider Phlebas is the first book in the series, I like it but Culture fans tend to regard it as a poor start to an excellent series. Fortunately, he was quite prolific and if you are just starting on the Culture series you are in for a treat and I kind of envy you. For some reason whenever I finish a Culture novel I start thinking about which Culture novel to read the next time I come around to the series again.
Look no further if you're looking for a tale of fantastically huge sources and end results of regret, suicide, the negation of life-affirmation, exploding suns, and excellent tales of love between non-humanoid sentients and nearly god-like Minds. This is a Culture novel. The rest of the novel might have benefited from some tightening, as a whole, but in general, I loved being on the planet that would celebrate survival and a symphony just as the light of a few novas finally reached their star system, commemorating the end of an enormously costly conflict between themselves and the Culture as it finally caught up to them at light-speed. This is a rather freakishly impressive novel on several levels and it marks a serious return to huge scopes in the series, but some things did still kind of drag, unfortunately.
Brad: If you were a GSV (General Systems Vehicle), what would you call yourself? Brad: Because you can't review this book. Brad: Because of all the Culture books it is the least accessible. Brad: But you've read the preceding Culture books. Brad: I'd rather just keep this book for mark and me. Brad: G'night, Cerebrovascular Accident.
the topics on display include suicide and suicide bombings, terrorism, genocide, imperialism/cultural colonialism, the nature of war, the afterlife...
My second Culture novel after The Player of Games, and I think I'm at a point where I'm going to be ravenously devouring them. And as always, his aliens are a delight; the airsphere chapters and behemothaurs are some of the most interesting things I've ever read.
Say hello to Kabe (pronounced Ka - beh), a tripedal, three-and-a-half meter tall triangular bulk of politely plodding philosophical awesomeness, who can stand so perfectly still while lost in thought that silly humans often mistake him for some sort of humongous, statuesque work of art. Kabe looked around, then quickly did a little hopping, shuffling dance, executing the steps with a delicacy belying his bulk and weight. He spends pages locked in philosophical debate with Ziller (a cantankerous misanthrope and composer living in exile on a Culture Orbital which is a ring-shaped world with the surface and continents of a planet, a bit like Halo), and Kabe listens, pondering his surroundings with a prodigious sense of humor. One thing, I got through almost half the novel before I realized how totally awesome it was, and went back to re-read many parts a second time with a much deeper appreciation for the characters and subtle waves below the surface.
The first is a moving love story between completely non-human extraterrestrial creatures; I think it's the only successful example I've ever come across. I think he said somewhere that he completely rewrote Use of Weapons after a first draft that he was very dissatisfied with, and the final result is indeed one of his best books.
Iain Banks died earlier this year, and what a huge loss to the science fiction community it was. That being said, this was a beautiful book with all of the splendid prose and quirky, funny, and caring characters that readers have come to expect from an Iain Banks novel.
2019 reread: thoroughly enjoyable, and I'd forgotten enough of the plot-points (and twists) that it seemed like a first-time read.
Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction. In an interview in Socialist Review he claimed he did this after he "abandoned the idea of crashing my Land Rover through the gates of Fife dockyard, after spotting the guys armed with machine guns." He related his concerns about the invasion of Iraq in his book Raw Spirit, and the principal protagonist (Alban McGill) in the novel The Steep Approach to Garbadale confronts another character with arguments in a similar vein. Interviewed on Mark Lawson's BBC Four series, first broadcast in the UK on 14 November 2006, Banks explained why his novels are published under two different names. To distinguish between the mainstream and SF novels, Banks suggested the return of the 'M', although at one stage he considered John B. His latest book was a science fiction (SF) novel in the Culture series, called The Hydrogen Sonata, published in 2012. The Scottish writer posted a message on his official website saying his next novel The Quarry, due to be published later this year*, would be his last.