The Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)

(Science Fiction, New Space Opera, Espionage, Thoughtful, Strong Characters, Unique World)

 Grade: Α – Great book, must read regardless of what Genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book

In Brief:

The third of Banks’ ‘Culture’ novels, this is tremendously dark tale of Charadenine Zakalwe, one of Special Circumstances‘ best agents. Like all of Banks’ novels, this is a stand alone book and in no way requires the reader to be familiar with any of his previous works. Furthermore, it not only has a compelling storyline set in a beautifully described and imaginative world, but is told in a manner that highlights this award winning author’s literary talents.  Indeed, I feel that it is his best novel and ranks as one of my favorite books of all time.


The Culture is a hyper advanced, galaxy spanning utopian civilization whose citizens lead an arguably hedonistic life free of concerns.  Governed by a series of hyper-intelligent artificial Minds (they are to Artificial Intelligences as humans are to single cell organisms), the citizens of the Culture live as long as they wish, have backups of their memories in case they die, can change shape (and sex) at will, can gland whatever drug or feeling they desire… can do whatever they please.

 The Culture is not, however, alone in the galaxy. In order to ensure the safety of their society, and influence others to follow a similar path, they have an organization known as Contact, and its somewhat shady covert operations division: Special Circumstances.  With Human and hyper intelligent robots called Drones as their operatives, Special Circumstances directly and indirectly influence the politics and other social development of societies around them. 

 In depth:

Recruited from a different society, Charadenine Zakalwe is one of Special Circumstances very best agents.  Though he doesn’t follow all of the Cultures’ social norms (he has, for example, been altered to be physically immortal while most other members of Culture simply choose to be exceptionally long lived), he has spent his career furthering Culture’s ends through whatever means he deems necessary.  The question is, who is Charadenine really and how did he come to be so good as what he does?

 What makes this books such a wonderful read is not just the story it tells, nor the hideously dark things that occur in it (if you thought Bank’s books The Wasp Factory or Complicity were dark…), but the way in which it is told. The chapters are titled in two sets, one that runs forward in time, the other running backwards. 

 Sound confusing? It’s not.  Banks is a remarkably talented writer whose vivid imagination is only exceeded by his skill in the craft.  The joy of reading Banks is not just in the story that is being told, but his use of language and complex concepts he engages every time he writes a book. 

 I will warn you, however, The Use of Weapons is VERY dark. For those familiar with Banks’ ‘straight fiction’ works, it makes both the Wasp Factory and even Complicity look like cheerful romps in the park. Even so, its use of dark ideas and concepts is fundamental to the story and for me at least, it remained a compelling read throughout. I highly recommend this story to anyone who likes vivid imagination, mentally engaging plots and good writing.


About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Espionage, New Space Opera, Political Drama, Post Modern, Science Fiction, Series, Strong Characters, Thoughtful, Unique or Imaginative World and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks (Orbit)

  1. Angela Rimali says:

    I picked up this book yesterday, and I really enjoy it so far. Not an easy read, but pretty cool ‘verse. Thanks for the suggestion.

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