Review: Look to Windward, by Iain M Banks

After having made several tries at other books I decided I wanted to return to the Culture. My choice fell on Look to Windward, the seventh novel set in the Culture realm, and previously unread by me.

To be honest I don’t know how much of this desire to revisit this particular universe stems from my esteem of the other Culture novels that I’ve read and how much of it emanates from curiosity fed by a discussion about Banks’ works that I’ve been party of. What is certain is that my first one – Use of Weapons – was a love/hate relationship. It was poetic and violent and generally promising, until the revelation at end, which turned my stomach and sympathy both. Yet something drew me in (it was something about the language and tone that I just couldn’t resist!) and I decided to read on, this time beginning from the start. So, Consider Phlebas. Which was gory, hopeless and bleak. Still, something I loved in there – the language, perhaps, and the promise of more to come?

Initially I had meant to continue in some kind of publishing order. I did not. As readers of this blog might remember I recently read Surface Detail. Which is the latest one. Seems kind of backwards, doesn’t it? The reason for the rush was Surface Detail got selected as the January group read over at Shejidan. I knew I would read the book sooner or later, anyway, and a good discussion only adds to the reading experience. So I jumped the train. Both the book and the ensuing discussion left me wanting more.

Hence Look to Windward, which most people pointed at as THE Culture novel.

What did I think of it?

Poetic. Sad. Worthwhile. And a bit of fun, too.

Grieving soldier Tibilo Quilan gets an unspecified offer which promises him death at the end – the only thing he really want ever since his wife – also a soldier – died in the lingering end of the civil war they both fought in.
The hidden powers behind what later appears a conspiracy manipulates him towards a horrendous task which step by step is revealed to the reader.

At heart this is a story about what war do to individuals and about the often hidden agendas behind the official reasons for war.
Or, this is what the story is about, to me – reading the analyses made by others I can see how different readers interpret the Culture stories in different ways, depending on background and personal politics.

This possibility of personal interpretations is one of the things that makes the Culture novels such a rich experience and while I can understand this is not everyone’s fare I do recommend them highly, with Look to Windward as perhaps the most accessible one (of those that I’ve read) – a good entry point, especially for those not previously very familiar with the SF genre.

One thought on “Review: Look to Windward, by Iain M Banks

  1. Pingback: Read: Excession, by Iain M Banks « re:considering

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