Use of Weapons (The Culture #3) ★★☆☆☆

useofweapons (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Use of Weapons
Series: The Culture #3
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 433
Format: Digital Edition

 

 

THIS BOOK IS PREDICATED ON THE READER NOT KNOWING CERTAIN FACTS, READ FURTHER AT YOUR OWN RISK DUE TO SPOILERIFIC’NESS.

FINAL PARAGRAPH IS A SPOILER FREE SUM UP OF MY THOUGHTS.

 

 

Synopsis:

Zakalwe, a man outside of the Culture but brought in to be used in situations where the Culture couldn’t officially act, is a warrior and warleader of great ability. Given Culture longevity and weapons and support, Zakalwe is wielded by the Culture like a katanna. Not always on the side of Right or on the Winning side, Zakalwe fulfills the aims of the Culture without knowing what those aims are.

The real payment for working for the Culture is so that Zakalwe can visit his sister after each year/decade long mission and plead for forgiveness of the breach between them. The breach is a shadowy affair involving the death of their younger sister and how a family friend was involved. This was all long ago and not fully revealed until the very end.

There was a LOT of time skipping and flashbacks to various previous battles and fights. While the current battle and latest visit to Zakalwe’s sister are the focus, the whole story is one interlocking cube where the past locks certain things into place that the current Zakalwe can’t alter. He fulfills his mission, gets to visit his sister and then the author slams us with the fact that Zakalwe isn’t Zakalwe but the family friend from long ago who killed Zakalwe’s sister. Zakalwe killed himself and this friend, who had turned the little sister into a chair made of her bones, tries to take on Zakalwe’s identity to do penance for what he did.

What a bloody scumbag!

The End

 

My Thoughts:

This is my last Culture novel. I simply don’t like Banks’ style or how he writes or what he writes about. For example, this time around, with all the flashbacks in non-linear fashion and all the hidden psychological crap going on, I simply felt lost. Others might love it and revel in it, good for them. For me, it simply wasn’t enjoyable at all.

I liked the overall story and if things had been a straight up adventure story, I would have liked this a lot more. More linear, less hidden things, more focus, less dreamy, makes no sense kind of thing. The reveal about Zakalwe didn’t surprise me, as it explained so much, I was just so lost in Banks trying to be clever with his writing that it was just one more “trick” that he used. So instead of being impressed, I was annoyed.

Unfortunately, Banks riled me the wrong way from the first book of his that I read and the next 2 books, while written well and telling a decent story, have never un-riled me. I would certainly recommend these books to others if they asked about them, but I would never recommend them on my own initiative. There are just too many things about the whole universe that annoy me and make for a non-enjoyable read.

The biggest issue is that the Culture just doesn’t show humans acting like humans. Handwavium goes on in the background to explain that Humanity has “changed” but it’s so much bullshit. And then every story shows certain humans acting like humans but Banks excusing it as not really representative of the Culture. I call bullshit again. I do not find the Culture believable at all, especially with what Banks reveals about certain parts of it. That disconnect is enough for me to not be able to enjoy the stories, as the overarching framework is crooked, rotted through and not able to support the stories that Banks tries to hang on it.

Glad I tried these. But they are not for me and I won’t be reading any more by Banks. He frustrates me too much. The two stars denotes my frustration with the series and not that this was badly written or poorly executed. I simply didn’t like it.

★★☆☆☆

bookstooge

 

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Consider Phlebas (The Culture #1) ★★★★☆

considerphlebas (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Consider Phlebas
Series: The Culture #1
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 545
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

There is War between the Idirans, a culture of 3 legged beings with religious mono-mania and The Culture, a decadent collection of self-serving beings who live for pleasure and are ruled by AI and their machines.

We follow the story of Horza, a humanoid with the ability to change his face and body, a Changer, who is allied with the Idirans, as he attempts to capture a Culture Mind that has done the impossible and * insert super science term * jumped onto a planet, against all known rules of everything.

The Iridians want to capture the Mind to learn it’s tricks or at least to prevent The Culture from learning how it did what it did and The Culture wants it to learn how it did what it did. Unfortunately, it chose to jump onto a Dead World, a world that is supervised by a vast, intellectual non-corporeal being. One that brooks no interference or even cares about the differences that the Iridians and The Culture have.

Horza goes from one bad situation to another right up unto the end where he is betrayed by the Iridians, who view the Changers as no more than vermin even while using them. In the process he loses his lover and newly conceived baby and most of his Changer compatriots.

The book ends with everyone involved dying in one way or another and a history of the war and it’s conclusion. Bleak stuff.

 

My Thoughts:

Whereas the Player of Games really struck me as a dishonest take on the idea of Utopia, this book felt more honest and how humans would actually react. This was a novel about The Culture from it’s enemies perspective. That allowed us the reader to see things that we couldn’t in Player of Games. I would definitely recommend reading this one first just so Banks can’t sell you on the idea that The Culture is a true Utopia.

I ended up feeling bad for Horza for most of the book. He’s rescued from a death sentence only to be tossed out of an Iridian spaceship that’s about to go into battle. He’s then captured by pirates and has to kill a crew member to join. He then participates in several failed piratical ventures and in the final one is stranded on a Orbital that is going to be destroyed by The Culture in 3 days. He does escape and make it back to the pirate ship and takes it over as it’s captain. But a Culture agent is on board. The same agent who got him the death sentence at the beginning of the book. He then makes his way to the Dead World and gets permission by the Overmind to land. Only to have Iridian Covert Ops teams try to take him out even though he’s on their side. And while all the Iridians die, they also manage to kill everyone except Horza and The Culture agent. And it gets better. Horza dies just as he’s taken to a ship with the medical facilities to heal him. The Culture Agent can’t handle the guilt and so she goes to sleep for 300 years only to commit suicide when she wakes.

Now normally that much bad stuff would depress me. But this time around? It simply re-affirmed my faith in human nature, ie, that we’re a bunch of no good sinners who can’t pull ourselves up by our bookstraps. I love it when Utopia minded people get a good dose of fallen nature. Wake up and smell the coffee you idiots.

So far, all threats to The Culture have been external. I’m wondering when Banks will write about some local, internal threat that wants power. While the AI’s might be in charge, it’s definitely not as pronounced as it is in Neal Asher’s Polity series. I’m also still not convinced of The Culture as something real or viable. No central authority, no defining characteristics. It just doesn’t jive with my understanding of humanity.

What makes this a 4star book is the fact that the author is aware of everything that I’ve mentioned and takes it into account. I might think he’s wrong, but he’s not oblivious and it takes some good writing to promote something even while mainly showing its flaws.

★★★★☆

bookstooge

 

The Player of Games (The Culture #2) ★★★☆ ½

playergames (Custom)

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, Librarything & Tumblr by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The Player of Games
Series: The Culture #2
Author: Iain Banks
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: SF
Pages: 417
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Gergeh, the greatest game player, of any game in The Culture, is bored. His materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle is wearing thin and since the Culture is all about materialism and hedonism, he’s in for a bad time.

Thankfully, Gergeh gets in touch with Contact, a branch of the non-government that deal with contact between The Culture and other spacefaring races. A newly contacted race is an actual Space Empire, something the Culture doesn’t want around because an Empire is full of violence and dangerous ideas. Thankfully, this Empire is completely bonkers over a Game.

Gergeh is the Culture’s Representative in the Game that will decide who the next Emperor will be. It is a purely symbolic gesture for Gergeh, as he cannot become Emperor. But the Empire wants to show its citizens that no outside “Culture” can tell them what to do or beat them at their own game.

Of course, Gergeh beats them all, by the skin of his teeth, sets in motion the downfall of the Empire as its very psyche is shattered and once back in Culture Space, suddenly all is well with Gergeh and he’s satisfied with his inane, empty and completely meaningless life. Score one for The Culture!

 

My Thoughts:

First, Neal Asher’s Polity Universe has been likened to Banks’ The Culture novels and after reading this, I can see why. However, where Asher gives us characters who are in the thick of things and have a brain and have a modicum of moral backbone, Banks gives us characters who have been coddled since before birth and live a life of ease and pleasure so stultifying that it made me feel stupid just reading about it.

Now, onto what I really thought of this.

This is all based on the assumption of humanistic materialism. Basically, there is nothing but matter and the interactions of matter. There is no God, there is no soul, there is no afterlife, there is no Meaning. Everything is pointless drivel in the end because you just die and become somebody’s snot. If I was a believer in this, I’d just go around and kill as many people as I could for the pure thrill of it and the adrenalin rush.

Gergeh, the main character, is just about at that point. But he’s had all bad things removed from his genes, because obviously anything bad must have a material cause and it must be in the genes.

I was told over and over how great the Culture was, how so many advances had been made, how gene-tweaked everyone was to make them better people in all ways. And yet Gergeh is a bored, selfish, narcissistic (I like that word and use it a lot) bastard. His every thought, desire and action gives lie to what we’re told about the Culture. At least Asher is a bit more honest in his Polity books about people wanting to swan off after about 300 years or so.

I was recommended this as the first Culture book to read and I’m glad I did. It was engaging and fun once Gergeh started playing the Game in the Empire, But that didn’t happen until almost the 40% mark. That first 40% was a killer for me.

I plan on reading more, but if I continue to react to the rest of the books like I did this one, I probably won’t last the entire series. I feel like I broke out in a bad case of “Righteous Judgement” while reading this.

Maybe I completely read this wrong and Banks is being a satirist about The Culture? But I don’t get that vibe.

★★★☆ ½

bookstooge