'Use of Weapons' - Book Review

Use of Weapons
by Iain Banks

Possibly Iain Banks' best known novel, Use of Weapons is set in the Culture (Banks's anarchic utopian culture in which he set most of his novels). The main character is Cheradenine Zakalwe, recruited into "Special Circumstances" (think of the CIA crossed with Special Forces) as an agent to infiltrate less advanced civilizations and affect their local politics and wars. The structure of the book is non-linear, with two sets of chapters telling parts of Cheradenine's history (one of them backwards) and kind of converging to a point.

This came highly recommended by a friend - and in fact by the SF community as a whole (it's a very well known book). But I found it merely unconventionally structured, with a bit of Banks' obsession with violence and gore, and not too much in the way of surprises. The structure of the book told me very clearly that he was building to some big reveal - more than a traditionally linear book would have. But I wasn't very surprised by the big twist at the end - he'd used a couple tricky literary conventions to avoid mentioning the fate of a couple characters, to the point that I was thinking "they have to show up at the end." And they did. Which made it much more of a "oh yeah, there he goes" moment than the "oh wow" moment it was supposed to be. This may depend on your experience with reading: how much you've done it and how much you've thought about literary conventions and structures. I wasn't impressed (obviously my friend was). Better than Banks' Consider Phlebas, but still only ranks as a conventional SF adventure story to me.

I don't think I'll be reading any more Banks novels.