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Use of Weapons (Culture #3)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  29,236 Ratings  ·  1,240 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.

ebook, 499 pages
Published December 22nd 2008 by Orbit (first published 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…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…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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Community Reviews

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Feb 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Kevin Kelsey
This is an absolute masterpiece. I don't think I really have anything else to add that others haven't already said. Read it.
mark monday
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
Apr 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
May 22, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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
Ben Babcock
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Aug 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sci-fi fans
Recommended to Alex by: Eleanor
Shelves: fiction, sff
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
Jun 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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*.
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
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
3.5 stars, rounding up. It slogged in parts, and I ultimately didn't connect all the plot threads. But rounding up because there were moments of brilliance.
Paul O'Neill
Dec 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
David Sven
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
Zakalwe knows all about Use of Weapons. Zakalwe is a weapon. Zakalwe is a soldier in the Culture's Special Circumstances. When the peace loving Culture needs a war, Zakalwe is the weapon they use.

Zakalwe's favourite weapon is an oldie but a goodie - the plasma rifle
He loved the plasma rifle. He was an artist with it; he could paint pictures of destruction, compose symphonies of demolition, write elegies of annihilation, using that weapon.

Some weapons just never get old, like Zakalwe. Even for S
Megan Baxter
I find the Culture novels rather hit or miss. I know they are adored by many, but I've never quite gotten above a faint admiration. They feel a bit distant, I guess, but the ways they examine ideas are not exciting. Which is making them sound worse than they are. I don't mind reading them. I just feel very little emotional attachment.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meanti
Years ago, I joined a science-fiction and fantasy discussion group to try and broaden my genre reading beyond media tie-in novels and the giants in the field. One of the books we read in the group was Iain M. Bank's "Excession," set in the Culture universe. The story was a dense, complex and fascinating one.

During the course of our discussion of the book, one particular group member kept saying that while "Excession" was good, "Use of Weapons" was better and that it was a damn shame the book ha
Peter Tieryas
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I did a collaborative review with Joe Owens and Kyle Muntz and our review was epic; we talked philosophy, religion, and human nature:

"The Culture series by Iain M. Banks just keeps on getting better and in Use of Weapons, the narrative takes on added complexity in a two-pronged narrative that intertwines the tale of a hunter, Zakalwe, who has left the Culture and a woman, Sma, who still works for them. I’d go so far as to say this is one of the most experimental works by Banks, or for that matte
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what to say right now.

I remember liking The Player of Games well enough, but not going 'omg, must read more of this guy's work'. But this... I shuffled it up my reading list when I heard the recent sad news about Banks: I'm glad I did. This is what has really got me invested in his work: the clever narrative structure, the awfulness at the heart of this story that we see exposed only layer by layer, the ending which both made perfect sense and seemed the only natural way to finish t
Aug 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of John Scalzi
Shelves: britishsci-fi
The thing I continue to love about Iain Banks is that he never underestimates the intelligence of his readers. Maybe this is more common in British authors, but his novels are crisp, witty, and require the reader's attention. He expect us to be an active part of the process. Not easy, but always engaging.

As with many science-fiction authors, Banks has created a "universe" that he returns to in several of his novels. This is a "Culture" novel. The Culture is a very advanced civilization, presumab
Continuing my efforts to read the Culture series, from the beginning, in the correct order, I've reached the third book in the series – Use of Weapons . In this novel, Iain M. Banks brings us the story of Cheradenine Zakalwe, a sometime agent for Special Circumstances as part of their ongoing efforts to interfere in the development of alien cultures. Because if there's one thing the Culture believes in, it's that all other cultures should be just like their own. Zakalwe is tired of playing his ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
I have been wondering how to write a review for this book. I am still at a loss how to describe it, so I'll just mumble on.

The book continues the story of The Culture, but to be honest I read the other books so long ago, I have very little memory of the story. I find Ian Banks books very much like that. I read then i forget.
We have a story here in two parts, one going forwards from chapters 1 to 10 and one going backwards from chapter X to I. Which can make it confusing, because both stories ar
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Science Fiction A...: * Book 3: Use of Weapons 17 56 Nov 23, 2015 12:34PM  
The sad demise of Iain Banks 7 157 Jun 24, 2015 08:06AM  
50 SF- och fantas...: Majboken 7 10 Jun 10, 2015 08:49AM  
Space Opera Fans : [BOTM] - READER PICK - Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks 8 53 Oct 15, 2014 08:54AM  
Iain Banks / Iain...: Use of Weapons 27 123 Oct 05, 2014 06:34AM  
  • Chasm City
  • The Technician
  • Fallen Dragon
  • The Cassini Division (The Fall Revolution, #3)
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
More about Iain M. Banks...

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)

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“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.” 72 likes
“I just think people overvalue argument because they like to hear themselves talk.” 54 likes
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