Well, Use of Weapons is the third of Iain M. Banks‘ Culture novels, and I am tempted to say the best one thus far (and that is saying a lot, I liked the previous two in the series). The topic of Player of Games may be closer to my heart (social systems as games) but Use of Weapons has an incredible story.
By now I am accustomed to Banks’ protagonists being flawed, almost anti-heroes, meaning they stimulate my emotions and curiosity more than the typical hero. So, I thought I was prepared for the man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe, soldier and agent of the Culture (though not a member of that civilization). I wasn’t. The story of Zakalwe, which is central to Use of Weapons is another very well written drama by Banks.
In some chapters we follow Culture’s Special Circumstances droid Skaffen-Amtiskav, and diplomat Diziet Sma who is/was employing Zakalwe’s services, and in others we get to experience events from Zakalwe’s past. The framing story deals with how Sma and the droid needs to re-recruit Zakalwe for a special mission, and how he goes about executing it. In reality it is about what lies in Cheradenine Zakalwe’ past however, and that is a chilling tale.
A good soldier can use anything as a weapon, this book is about exactly that, about war, winning, and the associated price to pay.