Friday, July 12, 2013

Look To Windward - Iain M. Banks

   2000; 483 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #7 in the Culture series.  Genre : Science Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Mahrai Ziller is both a brilliant Chelgrian composer and one of Chel’s foremost revolutionaries.  (Think ‘Ignacy Paderewski').  But he has been in self-imposed exile for many years, living on the Masaq’ Orbital in the Culture Empire, which chafes Chelgrian pride.

    Therefore Major Quilan is dispatched to travel to the Masaq’ Orbital and to convince Ziller to return home.  Ah, but there are ulterior motives for his visit.  Quilan’s been told about them, then had his memory banks modified to where he’ll only gradually recall those further plans at the appropriate times.

What’s To Like...
    As with any Iain M. Banks novel, the world-building (universe-building, actually) is incredibly detailed and believable.  There’s a planet-sized ring instead of the usual sphere.  The robotic drones have personalities; and the foxlike Chelgrians and 9-foot tall Homomdans mingle with the humans.  If you liked the two-heads/one-body setup for Rand and Lews in WoT, you’ll find Quilan and Huyler similarly fashioned. 

    There’s a certain somberness to Look To Windward, but it’s balanced by some witty dialogue, strange creatures, and fascinating sentient beings.  Ziller is great; so is the scholar Uagen Zlepe.  Then there’s the names of the spaceships, such as “Resistance is Character Forming” and “Experiencing a Significant Gravitas Shortfall”.  The gradually-revealed scheming is a clever device.

    Iain M. Banks explores a number of themes in LTW, including revenge, euthanasia, religion, and the caste system.  There is a small amount of critter sex and some adult language, but only prudes will be bothered by it.

Kewlest New Word...
Trefoil  (adj.) : In a clover-like or lotus (sitting) position.

    “Of course, this is always assuming that none of your ship Minds were lying.”
    “Oh, they never lie.  They dissemble, evade, prevaricate, confound, confuse, distract, obscure, subtly misrepresent and willfully misunderstand with what often appears to be a positively gleeful relish and are generally perfectly capable of contriving to give one an utterly unambiguous impression of their future course of action while in fact intending to do exactly the opposite, but they never lie.  Perish the thought.”  (pg. 29)

    “There are those who believe that after death the soul is recreated into another being.”
    “That is conservative and a little stupid, certainly, but not actually idiotic.”
    “And there are those who believe that, upon death, the soul is allowed to create its own universe.”
    “Monomaniacal and laughable as well as probably wrong.”
    “Then there are those who believe that the soul--“
    “Well, there are all sorts of different beliefs.  However, the ones that interest me are those concerning the idea of heaven.  That’s the idiocy it annoys me that others cannot see.”
    “Of course, you could just be wrong.”
    “Don’t be ridiculous.”  (pg. 275)

 “Tonight you dance by the light of ancient mistakes!”  (pg. 10)
    There isn’t a lot of action in Look To Windward until the very end, and even then it isn’t of epic proportions.  This makes for some slow spots as Banks gradually develops the plotline and pauses to spend time on numerous topics.

    OTOH, the darker side of The Culture is revealed here.  Their benevolent meddling does not always work out as planned, and if you cross them seriously enough, they have some brutal ways of dealing with you.

    This is my third Iain M. Banks book (the other two are reviewed here and here), and I am beginning to see a pattern.  The storylines are not on a particularly cosmic scale, but the worlds and creatures he creates are eminently believable and richly developed; and he addresses various topics, particularly ethical ones, in a thought-provoking way that keeps the reader’s rapt attention.  Add to that his obvious writing skills, and you can see why he was one of the top-tier contemporary sci-fi authors.

    Iain M. Banks passed away on 09 June 2013, at the too-young age of 59.  He will be sorely missed.  8½ Stars.

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