Thursday, 25 September 2003

Use of weapons

Listening to:

Palestrina, Missa Aeterna Christi Munera.

Just read:

Iain M. Banks, Use of weapons.

This was another holiday book, one that I read on my flights between Sweden and Britain. It’s quite entertaining, and structured in an interesting way. The novel features two interleaved chains of chapters. In one strand, the narrative moves forward with a developing story, featuring a representative of the Culture's Special Circumstances section attempting to get an experienced hireling to do just one more job. In the other strand, the chapters are flashbacks to earlier points in the hireling’s career. Each successive flashback chapter is placed further back in time, so that the novel has two stories, one playing forwards, and the other playing backwards.

The forwards story is not as successful as it might be. The hero’s last great mission features some neat set-pieces, but what looks like the end of a successful mission is suddenly followed by a strange, and completely unheralded denouement. The hero suddenly has to lead a war on an unsophisticated planet. In the backwards direction, there are lots of little vignettes from a Culture mercenary’s life, and quite a bit of angsty soul-searching too. Our hero has a tortured past, which explains his willingness to hive off on all sorts of different directions at the Culture's bidding. The vignettes are tasty tidbits, and perhaps demonstrate a certain character development too, though this is pretty muted.

Then there’s the Twist. This comes right at the end of the novel, and doesn't make any sense whatsoever. It really sits there and begs you to read the whole book all over again. It wants you to try to make sense of the novel in the light of the Twist, but my reaction was to glare at it, and decide that it was completely insupportable.

Curiously, not long after reading UoW, I was sitting on a coach behind two sci-fi geeks, and one of them waxed lyrical about this novel to the other. He explained the neat chapter structure, said there was a twist, and that everyone who encountered it promptly turned back and read the whole book all over again. Not this sceptic, bucko, I thought cantankerously to myself. Nonetheless sufficient self-doubt remains that I will now go and sup from the wisdom of the Internet and see what it's all supposed to mean anyway. If I’m suitably impressed, I’ll report back.

To review next:

Terry Pratchett, The fifth elephant. You may be starting to recognise a certain pattern in my travel reading. The problem is that I think I travel more frequently than either of my two tried-and-trusted authors produce new stuff.

I recently found my way to a nice ’blog, via this article by Greg Costikyan, about an interesting role-playing game called My Life with Master. The other ’blog is Polytropos, and features

Finally, John Howard's blog.