Kristi Thompson's Reviews > Look to Windward

Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
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Mar 13, 09

bookshelves: contemporary-sf
Read in January, 2001

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

I have a weakness for anyone who quotes Eliot, particularly the Waste Land. At first I thought that this title was a bit much given that Banks had already used Consider Phlebas, which seemed to me more appropriate to the novel it graces. But it just occured to me: the people in this book are those who 'look to windward'; the entire book is an extended meditation on the message of Phlebas the Phonecian. A meditation on death, and loss, despair, remorse, I suppose, but mostly on the different kinds of relationships one can have with death.

Windward is very closely linked to Phlebas, both thematically and because it is in part about the aftermath of the war. Maybe the title is supposed to signal the importance of that link, which I didn't pay much attention to at first. I should read the two books back to back some time.

This is the Culture, of course, so the characters have far more relationships with death at their disposal than mere humans do, just as they have more freedom of choice with regards to just about everything else. They can Sublime (which I don't quite buy), have one or several of various kinds of uploaded personality-continuation afterlife, artificially extend their lifespans to arbitrary lengths, enter suspended animation, and probably others I've forgotten or which Banks hasn't thought of yet. But many opt to have the old-fashioned, no backup available, risky kind of relationship, and some of them go to a great deal of trouble to expose themselves to the risk of being killed, and have a horrible time while doing so. (Lava-rafting has to be the most unenjoyable sport I've ever seen described.)

And then the Mind... "There are places to go, but either I would not be me when I went there, or I would remain myself and so still have my memories. By waiting for them to drop away all this time I have grown into them, and they into me. We have become each other. There is no way back I consider worth taking." Quilan said something similar,earlier in the novel, that he could not live with the knowledge of his wife's death, and would not live without it. Two different kinds of death, and loss of the self while continuing to live is judged the greater evil.
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