Sep 15 2008

Use of Weapons

Published by at 1:53 pm under Books

Speculative Fiction by Iain M. Banks (1990)
(The third book in the culture series)

No, not a manual on how to use exotic weapons, but rather the story of one mercenary used by The Culture as it influences, or manipulates, events on various worlds; an imaginary biography of a mercenary. Why would a ‘person’ work for and be manipulated by the Culture which is smarter and more powerful by a long shot. What kind of person, what personal history. The mercenary is the weapon being used.
As in the two prior culture books, Banks uses The Culture as a background and vehicle to move people around but doesn’t spend a lot of effort elaborating then nature of The Culture. Using the aphorism that any sufficiently advanced technology will appear to be magic, actions and devices that seem like magic are used to move the story along and by implication describe what the Culture is like. It’s most obvious characteristic is the coexistence of people (humanoids; not exactly people) and extremely smart, sentient machines.
Somewhat like Star Trek The Culture is exploring parts of the galaxy it doesn’t inhabit, but it is exploring without the ‘no interference’ clause that was part of the Star Trek saga. The Culture explores with an ‘interfere to improve the outcome but don’t get noticed’ strategy. This story is an example of that process but no outcome is reached. The mercenary is used in the Culture’s attempt to influence the outcome of a conflict between “humanists” (who believe human like people are special) and ‘consolidationists’ (who believe all species and machine intelligences count equally). A small war on the periphery is the specific context into which a mercenary is introduced to assist one side. The mercenary’s life history is then interwoven with the telling of his role in the conflict. The two tales are told in parallel unlike the prior two books which had a single straight time line. Overall, more complex, less preachy, and a good story with surprises.

As a odd side note, this particular book from the Culture series is in much demand at the SF library with a fairly long list of people waiting for it, but the other books in this series are readily available. A misunderstanding of the title?

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