Book: Use of Weapons - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Use of Weapons
Wednesday, 28 January 2004 at 04:17 pm
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Author: Iain M Banks

Details: (c) Iain M Banks 1990; pub 1998 Orbit; ISBN 1-85723-135-X

Verdict: Although Use of Weapons is clever and beautifully written, I found it somewhat confusing.

Reasons for reading it: I got very, very excited about The Player of Games, and several people recommended that I should read UoW next.

How it came into my hands: lethargic_man lent it to me.

I can really see why people are enthusiastic about Use of Weapons, but it didn't wholly appeal to me. I think in many ways it is a victim of its own success, from my pov. It is a very cleverly worked mystery story (of an unusual type; the mystery is not 'whodunnit', but 'what did he do'), but as such, the amount of information deliberately withheld from the reader made it hard for me to follow the story.

It's not helped by the fact that it's very brutal; the violence and suffering are so powerfully evoked that I was reluctant to engage with it at all. I half-deliberately read it too fast because I didn't want to take in the events it was describing, and as a result, I didn't manage to keep track of all the jumping about between different time frames, and characters and events not being what they originally seem. The violence is very necessary, very much the point of the book, and quite the opposite of gratuitous, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't enjoy reading about violence. Zakalwe's fear of remembering the horrors of his past is so intensely portrayed that it made me reluctant for the mystery to be resolved, rather than eager for the dénouement. In fact, when the mystery is resolved, I didn't find that everything that had confused me slotted into place, I was just more confused.

That said, the quality of the writing is absolutely amazing. Even though I was somewhat repelled by UoW, it created intense impressions of scenes, and characters, and feelings. The romantic interlude between Zakalwe and Shias Engin is one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever read, but rock-solid plausible in a way that almost no literary romance ever manages. I fear I'm being a bit of a girl here: I don't like all those nasty gory battle scenes and assassination attempts and torture, but there's a really nice love scene!

One thing that UoW does have in common with The Player of Games is that the background and world feels impressively detailed and real. It's very cool to get Zakalwe's outsider's view of the Culture, and even though the Culture is very much in the background of the story, I could hardly remember that it's an entirely fictional society. Diziet Sma is a wonderful character, too. (Am I remembering this wrong, or is 'da' Marenhide' in her name a reference to something of Le Guin's?) There are moments when UoW gets slightly preachy; there are a couple of speeches put into the mouths of characters that seem to be telling the reader what to think more than I'd ideally like. Mostly, I could see for myself what questions the setup is raising about how Utopian the Culture's foreign policy really is; indeed, that's the major strength of UoW. I didn't need this point to be spelt out in the dialogue, especially not at the expense of the plausibility of characters' voices.

I think I may have another try at reading UoW at some point. Even though I didn't wholly enjoy it, it's pretty amazing in lots of ways, and I think I'd like it a lot if I could get over my squeamishness enough to work out exactly what's going on.


Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: Purcell: Dido & Aeneas (on radio)
Discussion: 10 contributions | Contribute something

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From:791_43
Date:January 31st, 2004 06:07 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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It's not helped by the fact that it's very brutal; the violence and suffering are so powerfully evoked that I was reluctant to engage with it at all.

I found with Banks, time and time again, that the brutality doesn't fully sink in for a while. I'd finish a book, put it aside, and then it would HIT me full-force and I'd be reeling for days; that's why I hugely admire his books but am reluctant to re-read them.

Having said that, have you read Whit yet?
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livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 31st, 2004 07:03 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 08:03 pm (livredor's time)
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I found with Banks, time and time again, that the brutality doesn't fully sink in for a while. I'd finish a book, put it aside, and then it would HIT me full-force and I'd be reeling for days
Yeah, I can see how that might happen, and I suspect I'd have been very disturbed by UoW if I'd read it slowly enough to actually take in what was going on. It's quite likely an indication of the power of the writing, in a way; a lot of the time fictional violence just seems cartoon-y, I can't take it seriously, but this stuff really got to me, emotionally.

Having said that, have you read Whit yet?
Nope, just this and The Player of Games so far. I think I was put off Whit cos it has a picture of a double helix on the front, and I can't really be bothered any more with reading stuff about how scary and evil genes are. I'm sure it's not really like that, but I formed that rather prejudiced impression ages ago, and now I've actually read some of his Iain M Banks stuff I'm a lot more keen to investigate.
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From:791_43
Date:January 31st, 2004 07:26 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry

Re:

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Nothing to do with scary and evil genes, I promise! Just a remarkable and highly likeable main character, very weird family, and meditations on faith. Doesn't that sound appealing? :-)
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:January 31st, 2004 08:56 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 09:56 pm (livredor's time)
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Just a remarkable and highly likeable main character, very weird family, and meditations on faith. Doesn't that sound appealing? :-)
Oh, absolutely, you've sold me completely. Yay. Added to reading list!
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(no subject) - compilerbitch (1/31/04 08:28 pm)
livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:January 31st, 2004 09:12 pm (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry, 10:12 pm (livredor's time)
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I have found with many Banks books that the plot only really fully clicked into place on the second or third reading. But that's OK -- it makes them stand up to second and third readings so much better.
Thing is, I very, very rarely reread anything. There's just too much new stuff out there I want to taste. But as I commented I'm quite tempted to have a second go at UoW, just because the writing is so outstanding, and I think it's going to impress me if I do manage to get my head round it.

UoW is incredibly violent, but not gratuitously so, and as you say it is necessary for the story.
Yes, completely. The violence is totally necessary, and totally effective. The problem is that it's too effective for my taste; it's my issue, not a criticism of the book.

You should read Against a Dark Background.
You've already convinced me of this!
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lethargic_man: reflect
From:lethargic_man
Date:February 1st, 2004 01:08 pm (UTC)
20 hours after journal entry, 02:08 pm (lethargic_man's time)

Use of Weapons

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I half-deliberately read it too fast because I didn't want to take in the events it was describing, and as a result, I didn't manage to keep track of all the jumping about between different time frames, and characters and events not being what they originally seem.

That's a shame, because it's very clever the way Banks has the two interleaving sets of chapters, with different numberings, the one going up and the other down, with the backtracking set going further back into the past, and yet it's only when you reach the end of the book you realise the first of them was in the future from the other set, and shows that Zakalwe survived all along. And also, of course, the way both sets inform each other as they go.

I also had a strong sense of the incidents that were distant memories at the start becoming stronger and more vivid as the backtracking set grew nearer to them; there was a deep sense of immediacy the first time I saw Staberinde referred to in italics, as the name of a ship, rather than as a non-italicised vague proper noun.
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livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:February 4th, 2004 08:05 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 09:05 pm (livredor's time)
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it's very clever the way Banks has the two interleaving sets of chapters, with different numberings, the one going up and the other down, with the backtracking set going further back into the past
I think I could actually make a lot more sense of UoW in the light of that information! It's pretty shameful that I failed to spot something as simple as the chapter numbering. Thanks for pointing it out, though.
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rysmiel: words words words
From:rysmiel
Date:February 2nd, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:11 am (rysmiel's time)
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The thing that makes Use of Weapons for me is that it plays entirely fair throughout; the novel-redefining twist at the end plays off expectations of what appears to be in the text at least as much as anything that's actually in the text. Which I think is as close as I can get to describing it without complete spoilers.
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livredor: bookies (thanks to darcydodo)
From:livredor
Date:February 4th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)
4 days after journal entry, 09:08 pm (livredor's time)
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it plays entirely fair throughout
That was very tactfully put, I'm impressed. I do feel I could get a lot out of Uow even knowing the ending. Though even reading it as unfairly as I did, I found the twist satisfying, I did not feel that I had been cheated.
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