Newest Review: ... scene is left rather unknown to the reader. After a while bombs start to drop and the pair make their escape in a half-track military vehic... more
Zakalwe: The Alterer
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks
Member Name: bilbobaginz
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks
Advantages: Good characters, well-written and
Disadvantages: Didn't live up to the previous novels - storyline sketchy in places.
Iain Banks science-fiction novels - The first: An epic tale introducing us to an alien culture in conflict with another over domination of a galaxy. From Mega-ships to Minds we were set alight by Banks' enthralling ideas from a perspective outside what we would later realise to be the main - The Culture. It was full marks on the off-set. Then, came the second: From inside the Culture we centred on an esteemed individual with a talent for games, and a growing boredom, a wonder of the significance of that talent. We learnt more about the ways of the hyper efficient, 'fair' Culture with its sentient drones and GCU's (amongst much, much more) - and I at least was well and truly captivated by both the gaining of this fictional knowledge and the progression of the main character through the great game of Azad.
Now, we come to the third novel in the series and the expectation is high for another page turning adventure. But will Iain Banks succeed in matching the previous? That was my thinking before reading.
Prologue: At the beginning we find our main character Cheradenine Zakalwe drunken, and in a room of a substantial house in the middle of what seems to be a war torn city. Zakalwe appears not to be a meaningful part. He and his friend Cullis argue over a indeterminate bet and the whole scene is left rather unknown to the reader. After a while bombs start to drop and the pair make their escape in a half-track military vehicle outside. I liked this aggressive introductory prologue despite you not finding out anything much about the main character (it was written well) -but what I liked most was the contrast between the prologue and the actual beginning which comes after...
We find Sma who is seemingly a women of un-Culture-like aristocratic power submerged deeply in the structure of a planetary society. She is a 'princess' carrying out her daily ceremonial doings and (for obvious reasons) the difference between the prologue and now couldn't be more different. It is written differently too, and the flow of speech and narration is smooth and settled as a pose to rough and... unsettled. It's when Skaffen-Amtiskaw the drone with the turbulent past is revealed to the story that you realise Sma's obvious Culture connection and that she is infact a poser - attempting to alter the path of one place to better suit the Culture's ways.
As the story unfolds you see the similarity between Zakalwe and Sma, for they are both Culture Special Circumstances operatives (one recruited by the other) with the occupation of swaying societies of every kind. The link between the two characters is made early on as to draw the reader into the action. It is revealed that Zakalwe is missing and required for a new mission involving one, Tsoldrin Beychae (the former president of a cluster [group of occupied solar systems] now in turmoil). Sma is tasked with finding Zakalwe and convincing him aboard the mission to turn the fait of the cluster, and this is where the adventure begins.
The book is all about the mission, involving Sma (and Skaffen-Amtiskaw), Zakalwe and Beychae. But the book is about much more than just this, it's about the past. Throughout, you read snippets (often whole chapters) transporting you into Zakalwe's past, his childhood, his completed missions, his joining with Special Circumstances, his relationships. Banks tries to connect you with the man's life by giving you a full view of it - so it seems.
At first I loved how Banks did this - and why he did this. It was different and the writing style fit with the overall novel layout. But then it became too much. It wasn't so much confusing as it was unnecessary to have so many individually planted segments trying to give you an overall picture which in its self doesn't appear to be all that interesting. Zakalwe is a messed up character and that much is clear, but there weren't enough logical connections between the segments and though I can't give it away, I found the big ending twist to be unsatisfactory.
Another irritation I had with the book was that it didn't give me as much Culture fuel as the last two. I didn't learn much new about the society (though Banks does dabble into gene-technology being used by the Culture, and the whole idea/argument over conciousness - such as, whether replacing every gene in your body anew but identically makes you the same person. And I love that area of philosophy).
Zakalwe is a good character to write about. He is a military minded intellectual with un-paralleled skill and cunning (for an organically minded being), and Banks clearly has fun with the character. Perhaps my favourite part was a segement in which Zakalwe is heading an army of a nation on the verge of defeat -Banks gives you a thrilling insight into Zakalwe's thoughts and his love for the challenge, and his love for the adrenaline of a fight. Yes I did enjoy the character(s) but...
Overall I just feel there wasn't enough build up of suspense. I didn't feel any real loyalty or willing feelings for any of the characters. The 'sketchy' feel to the overall story-line wasn't to my liking and the final twist wasn't great. I would still recommend reading this because the Culture is a fascinating setting and there are some fantastic bits in the book, it's just that overall I've read much better from Banks!
Pages: 368 (paper back)
Thanks for reading!
Summary: Overall not the best from Banks but worth the read - give me your opinion of it!