Use of Weapons was the August 2008 pick for my sci-fi book club, and I enjoyed it immensely. It's a dense and challenging book to get through. The sca...moreUse of Weapons was the August 2008 pick for my sci-fi book club, and I enjoyed it immensely. It's a dense and challenging book to get through. The scattered timeline and the dreamlike quality of many passages put off some readers. Frustratingly, Banks leaves out what would have been the most revealing and emotionally fraught scenes. He provides us only with beginnings and middles, always cutting to black right after the climax, never giving us a resolution. But all of those apparent flaws are deliberate literary techniques, and I think that Banks uses them to great effect.
In my reading, Use of Weapons is a meditation on situational ethics, their use, and their cost. The book's title refers both to the way in which the main character, Cheradinine Zakalwe, ruthlessly uses every available weapon to win his wars, and to the way in which the Culture uses Zakalwe himself. As a weapon, Zakalwe will destroy whatever he is aimed at and he has no apparent morality beyond the morality of the purpose to which he is set. But he is haunted my memories of some unforgivable act which, at the time, he thought was necessary.
Zakalwe works for the Culture in order to redeem himself, fighting wars that will supposedly make the universe a better place. The Culture is an ancient, interstellar civilization that is governed by computers. They attempt to guide the fate of less developed societies in order to make them "more civilized", but the connection between Zakalwe's actions and the Culture's goals is never explored. Likewise, the reader is never given any sense of the goal which drove Zakalwe to commit his great crime. All of the action in the book is a means to an end that is never specified. We are left wondering whether any end could be good enough to justify Zakalwe's actions-- or whether he is truly beyond redemption.
The novel's central dilemma is thus a paradox: if the reader believes that the end justifies the means, then nothing Zakalwe did in pursuit of a moral goal could be immoral and, thus, he does not require redemption. But if the end does not justify the means, then Zakalwe can never be redeemed by fighting the Culture's wars.
I thought this was a thought-provoking and beautifully written book, but it's definitely not for everyone. I'd recommend it to anyone who has the patience to read it.(less)
The Yiddish Policeman's Union is brain candy, though it could have been more. It's essentially a parody of hard-boiled-detective genre novels, with in...moreThe Yiddish Policeman's Union is brain candy, though it could have been more. It's essentially a parody of hard-boiled-detective genre novels, with inappropriately intricate metaphors and bleakly flawed characters to match. For brain candy, it's a book that requires a lot of committment from its readers. The prose style makes it challenging to read, and the cynicism makes it an emotional challenge as well. I found it quite enjoyable, overall, though it's definitely not to everyone's taste.
There was a significant political message lurking in the margins of this book, though Chabon lacked the courage or the skill to bring it to a truly satisfying conclusion. Because, from start to finish, the entire novel is a bleak, intricate metaphor for the no-good-move situation of Israel. I give it three stars because I felt a bit let down by the ending, which was too quick and too easy, and because it took me two months to finish when I'd given myself one. But five stars for concept and four for style-- it's just pacing and plot that were less than perfect.(less)
This book disappointed me. I have enjoyed other books by the author and in this series. I loved the Onion Girl, and waited eagerly for its sequel. But...moreThis book disappointed me. I have enjoyed other books by the author and in this series. I loved the Onion Girl, and waited eagerly for its sequel. But I thought the plot of Widdershins was too fragmented. DeLint introduced too many new characters, used too many different points of view and tried to tell too many stories at the same time.
Half a dozen new characters were introduced, most of whom got point-of-view chapters, and just as many minor characters from previous books made an appearance. Several old characters were pulled out as Dei-ex-machina, seemingly just so they could get in a cameo. There were at least three or four loosely entertwined plots, each of which deserved a whole book to themselves. Several sin-and-redemption arcs took place simultaneously, but they weren't well enough connected to really complement each other. And Jilly's story, supposedly the focus of the book, was relegated to the status of an unrelated subplot.
Was this a book about Jilly that got hijacked by a subplot that the author found too interesting to ignore? Was it a book about a war between Fairy and Native spirits that DeLint added some Jilly material to in order to sell it to a romance-hungry audience? Was it a parable of redemption where the elements were not sufficiently connected to make a coherent narrative? I couldn't figure it out.
And, in the end, this book left me with the same bad taste in my mouth that had almost tainted my enjoyment of the Onion Girl. Jilly, once more, seeks redemption for the evil she had inadvertently done in trying to escape her own abuse. DeLint's poor raped Jilly says too many times: "I was just a kid, I didn't know what I was doing." Neither she nor, I suspect, the author, entirely believe it. I do. The character is not responsible for leaving her sister behind when she ran away from their sadistic brother, and she's not responsible for creating thought-forms to take her abuse in her place. So why did she spend two books trying to atone for it-- without, apparently, ever learning that it really wasn't her fault?(less)