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Use of Weapons

(Culture #3)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  38,667 ratings  ·  1,761 reviews
The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances' foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks and military action.

The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him towards his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought.

The
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Paperback, 411 pages
Published March 26th 1992 by Orbit (first published March 1990)
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Arius I had the exact same experience! I really enjoyed Consider Phlebas, was totally blown away by Player of Games, and the formatting and content of Use o…moreI had the exact same experience! I really enjoyed Consider Phlebas, was totally blown away by Player of Games, and the formatting and content of Use of Weapons was just too... I dunno... ethereal. Dreamlike. Which, with the reveal, makes lots of sense, but it was a bit of a struggle to get through.

That said, while I was in the midst of any given sequence, I liked it. But then it would shift radically through time and space and I'd have to reorient every single time.(less)
Norman Neubauer Yes, the book can be read on its own. At least as far as the preceding books are concerned, the only overlap is in the universe and themes Banks creat…moreYes, the book can be read on its own. At least as far as the preceding books are concerned, the only overlap is in the universe and themes Banks created. The characters are unique and the narrative self contained.(less)

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unknown
Prologue

Stars were barely visible through the tiny oval. The reader looked up from his novel, blinked. Checked his watch -- still hours to go. His wife sat slumped next to him, still asleep. Some people could sleep on planes. Some people couldn't.

"What are you reading?" asked the man on the reader's left.

The reader checked himself before the sigh escaped him. He hated it when people talked to him on planes. Especially when he was trying to read. Especially when he was reading a book with a space
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Kevin Kelsey
It's better for me to say nothing other than:

"This is an absolute masterpiece. Read it."

2020 reread edit: Yep, it still stands. On a second read there are just an amazing number of subtle nuances throughout this thing that I didn't pickup the first time through.
mark monday
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
WATCH OUT, SPOILERS! but I will try to keep things vague.

the name of the game is Influence. you're a good progressive super-society, you don't want to interfere too much, just enough, in the small but important ways that will put this little not-so-super-society onto the right path. on the path towards respect for life and individual liberty, on a path away from domination and plutocracy. you want to work from the outside of it all, subtly, whispering in this ear, supporting that action, slowly
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Manny
Nov 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
I'd prefer to sit on the floor, thanks. No, really! I'll feel more comfortable that way.

I'm sorry? Oh, just something I read. It doesn't matter. To be honest, I'd rather not talk about it.
Bradley
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a rather surprising novel. I mean, on the one hand, it is filled with glorious ultraviolence, satisfying all atavistic tendencies, but on the other hand, it's almost poetry, devoted to all the ideals that the Culture is known for. Peace, objectivism, minimalistic good, and respect.

Where does war really fit? Well, in the end, there's always a niche for everything, and, indeed, everyone.

So what was so damn surprising?

I can't, I won't, tell you.

*sigh* It's a long story, full of daring-do,
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Dirk Grobbelaar
The Minds did not assume such distinctions; to them, there was no cut-off between the two. Tactics cohered into strategy, strategy disintegrated into tactics, in the sliding scale of their dialectical moral algebra. It was all more than they ever expected the mammal brain to cope with.

Okay, so this gets off to a rocky start: the early chapters in this book are a bit odd, almost as if they were written by someone other than Banks. Or is it just Banks being Banks, and giving the reader the old one
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Richard
May 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Ian Banks is one of the most overrated authors in science fiction.

Allow me to qualify that. He is not a *bad* writer. (This book is just about interesting enough to complete.) It's very sad that he is currently dying of cancer. I guess it's good that he attracts fans of the literary genre to read sci-fi. But the god-like reverence with which he is praised is entirely unjustified.

I had read Consider Phlebas years ago and dismissed Banks as uninteresting. The recent news of his impending death bro
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Tim
Apr 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Probably Bank's best science fiction novel and one of his best works generally. Cheradinine Zakalwe, Diziet Sma and Skaffen Amiskaw are, together, his most interesting group of characters.

The structure of this novel makes it worthy of note on its own. Written in interwoven chapters, it is made up of two alternating narrative streams - one indicated by Arabic numerals and the other by Roman ones. One moves forward chronologically, while the other moves in the opposite direction; yet both are abo
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Manuel Antão
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Dark Underbelly of Utopia: "Use of Weapons" by Iain M. Banks

From the moment I picked up the Culture books eons ago they changed the way I viewed the natural world around me, adding a layer of mysticism to every tree, every rock and every hill; along with a wonderment of what untold stories each has born witness too. think it's often a combination of the book itself and the moment it comes into your life. I was one of those textbook ca
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Brad
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
June 9, 2013

It's a sad day for me. I won't speak for anyone else on the passing of Iain (M.) Banks. I will only speak for myself, and for myself this is a sad, sad day.

I came to Banks circuitously. A close friend of mine was teaching Wasp Factory in a class he'd designed about serial killer literature, and of all the books on his syllabus he told me to read Wasp Factory, so I did, and I loved every page. And then I drifted away from Banks for a good long while until my sister moved to Scotland
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Kara Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brad
ode to zakalwe

when all life is violence
rooted, bound, inescapable
everything is a weapon.

this cannot be overstated.

memory, worship, flesh, love
inhibition, action, demand, care
shoelace, knife, gun, nuke
blood, shame, slinky

the gas chamber kills more than
the good books kill more than
the chemical weapons kill more than
the pamphlet kills more than
the meltdown kills more than

no. never more than us,
for we are these weapons all.

the mind, our mind, our minds
the weapon, our weapon, our weapons
death? it's i
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Felicia
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Ok, hard book to review. So, it's brilliant, but as you read it you might go, meh this is a little boggy. Then you get to the end, and, well. Just read it. *Mind Blown*.
Carly
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
“There are two stories, but you know most of one of them. I’ll tell them at the same time; see if you can tell which is which.”
The hyper-advanced civilization that calls itself "The Culture" views itself as thoroughly utopian: post-scarcity, anarchistic yet pacifist, honest and easy-going, giving equal respect to all, whether mortal or machine. Out of beneficence--or boredom--the Culture has set itself the task of bringing a little of its enlightenment to the surrounding civilizations--but of co
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Mike
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review for The Player of Games

I find the Culture series fascinating in how Banks approaches a theoretical post-singularity utopian civilization. In Culture most things are run by advanced and sophisticated self-aware artificial intelligences. But instead of getting a Matrix or Terminator result Banks envisions a society for humans where they can fully self-actualize. There is no want, strife, or unrest. If you want to pursue science even if you aren't very good at it you can. If you just want to
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The Captain
Dec 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: walk-the-plank
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
nostalgebraist
Aug 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
First, a few words about length.

Why would I need to talk about length in a review of this novel, which -- at around 400 pages -- is decidedly medium-sized? Because, for me, medium-sized books are the riskiest ones. I'm a slow reader. Some people might read a book like Use of Weapons in a few days; for me it takes more like a few weeks. When I pick up such a book I know it will accompany numerous subway rides, morning cups of coffee, and pre-bedtime half-hours. There's a nontrivial investment of
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Stuart
Use of Weapons: A dark and brooding tale of warfare, manipulation and guilt
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Use of Weapons (1990) is the third published novel in Banks’ Culture series, although it is actually a rewrite of a draft written much earlier that the author claims “was impossible to comprehend without thinking in six dimensions.” Well, for readers who generally dwell in just three or four dimensions, the narrative structure of Use of Weapons is fairly complex until you get used to
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Apatt
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it
My second Culture book. Iain M. Banks is probably the most popular author of space opera still working today, and I love Consider Phlebas, I found it gripping from beginning to end. Use of Weapons is often named—in forums and such—as the best book in this series (nine volumes published so far). With so many odds stacked in its favor what could go wrong? A portentous rhetorical question if ever there was one!

This is an interesting story about the life of the central character - Cheradenine Zakalw
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Hanne
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
So this book introduced me to one of my new favorite drones: Skaffen-Amtiskaw. Still not quite as brilliant as Marvin the depressed robot from The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but close.

But first things first, let me take you on the rollercoaster that this book was for me:
Part 1: Oo, so cool. Fabulous drone. He's funny too. Love the ship! A crew member with a cold in scifi, how refreshing!
Part 2: Huh? Huh? How? What's the link? Huh? Don't get it. Don’t-get-it. Where? How? Uch, am
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William
Nov 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As are most of Iain M Banks' books, this one is desperately slow and directionless for much of it's length. His writing style is good, but his disdain for his own characters leaves you cold.

Then suddenly, the last 10% of this book becomes an emotional obscenity, an assault of deepest cruelty, a celebration of hatred, and an abuse of the reader. I could never forgive Zakalwe for his deranged and horrific brutality, a sin of no possible redemption.

I resent Banks' rape of my mind in this book, the
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Alex
Aug 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sci-fi fans
Recommended to Alex by: Eleanor
Shelves: sff, fiction
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 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 de ...more
Mr. Windup Bird
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Use of Weapons took everything I loved about The Player of Games, expanded it, and built another of my favorite stories on top of it. Wistful. Moving. Dark. Brooding. Complex. Subtle. All this, and one of the most genuinely funny books I've ever read. Parts of this book reminded me of the feelings I had watching one of my favorite movies, Dr. Zhivago. I would recommend reading The Player of Games first, which is also fantastic.

This is a book to savor, and appreciate. Pop the cork. Smell the sub
...more
Emily
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
My favorite Culture novel so far. At times it moved a bit slowly and I found the two timelines really confusing for the first 30% of the book (luckily I had seen other people's reviews that explained the roman numeral chapters were each going back farther in time while the numbered chapters were the current story). I really enjoyed Sma and the drone's interactions, and I spent the entire book just dying to know what Zakalwe's big awful secret was. What had he done that left him so broken? What w ...more
Paul O'Neill
Dec 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
Majorly disappointed in this one. The first Culture books are amongst my favourites but this is very flaky, confusing and a trifle boring. I will continue with the series, but this was a struggle.
aPriL does feral sometimes
"Use of Weapons" by Iain Banks is a loopy trip. It also is a literary read, disguised as a science fiction story. The novel is even possibly a masterpiece! Of course, that means a lot of readers will hate it. A smaller group won't be able to figure out how the hell the book can even be understood at all because it goes forward on a timeline every other chapter, while going backwards in time in the other chapters. Also, it is kind of a biography of a soldier of Fortune, someone who is morally com ...more
notgettingenough
i BUT 7 So, in the end – not ‘the end’ but about 150 pages in, since that is my designated end, and why not in a book that starts where it does? – what is it about this writing ‘technique’? I still think it is true that having more than one story gadding about in different directions is a way of getting away with not having a story that is sufficient to fill up a novel. But at the same time, I’m starting to wonder if it is a way of letting pseudo-intellectuals who profess horror – or at least bo ...more
Jonathan
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who always wanted to rent out an entire hotel floor
Fantastic. After I finish most books, I head to the book shelf and flip through the three or four books that I had in my mind as I was getting to the end of the last one. Not this time. As soon as I turned the last page, I gave this one some significant thought. I take this opportunity to also remind you that this is a science fiction novel.

I prefer, if at all possible, to avoid writing reviews with spoilers. In this case, this is going to be a challenge because much of what is wicked about Use
...more
Brad
This is my fourth review of Use of Weapons. I've not looked back on any of my previous reviews so there is every possibility I am going to repeat myself, so I apologize if you have read some part of this before, but this book is a fucking wonder.

Cheradenine Zakalwe.

I do not think there is a more fascinating character in the history of science fiction than Cheradenine Zakalwe, nor is there a more challenging. He is a man we slowly discover we should hate, yet he is a man I can't help loving. Has
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Adam
Aug 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Bank’s Culture always reminds me of Moorcock’s decadent but strangely innocent future in Dancers at the End of Time and the sections in this book featuring it confirm this thought, but a lot of this book reminds me of another Moorcock creation. The Jerry Cornelius stories where the main character dies and is reanimated in a new world where the only constant is war. But where those books are more experimental, this book for all its difficult structure holds together as a novel. People expecting a ...more
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topics  posts  views  last activity   
Top Armed Weapons In The World 1 6 Mar 18, 2019 04:33AM  
Beyond Reality: Use of Weapons -- Roll Call and First Impressions **NO SPOILERS!** 11 25 Apr 06, 2018 02:24PM  
Beyond Reality: Use of Weapons -- Finished Reading **SPOILERS LIKELY!** 6 28 Mar 23, 2018 12:00PM  
Science Fiction A...: * Book 3: Use of Weapons 17 66 Nov 23, 2015 12:34PM  
The sad demise of Iain Banks 7 170 Jun 24, 2015 08:06AM  

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4,532 followers
Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
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Other books in the series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture #1)
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • The State of the Art (Culture, #4)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • Surface Detail (Culture #9)
  • The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10)

News & Interviews

It’s time to turn your attention to something dark and twisty, to a story (or two or three) so engaging, the pages just fly by. In short, it’s...
34 likes · 4 comments
“Zakalwe, in all human societies we have ever reviewed, in every age and every state, there has seldom if ever been a shortage of eager young males prepared to kill and die to preserve the security, comfort and prejudices of their elders, and what you call heroism is just an expression of this simple fact; there is never a scarcity of idiots.” 120 likes
“I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.” 76 likes
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