Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Look to Windward by Iain M Banks

Review of Look to Windward by Iain M Banks

This will be the Scottish writer's last book for a while, having stated his intention to take a year off. If you're a Banks fan you'll need to savour this for some time – and that won't be difficult as it's one of his best.

He returns to the sf universe he created – the world of the Culture. This is a utopian pan-galactic society of several basically human spacefaring species and AIs that are the equals of people. Society and technology are far in advance of our own, with no poverty, no money, no jobs as such (people do more or less whatever they want), no crime, practical immortality (though living beyond the average 400 years is considered bad manners) and genetic engineering to the extent that people can get high just by thinking about it. I for one wish I lived there.

The book is set in the aftermath of two wars that involved the Culture and the way in which the effects of these unfolds is expertly done, slowly transferring attention from one plot thread to another. Banks' stories are often unconventional in structure but this one keeps the reader hooked and guessing. This is partly achieved through the fact that one of the main characters, perhaps the main character, is on a secret mission that even he doesn't know about until his memories return; those memories then allow the reader greater insight into what is really going on.

The characters aren't heroic or stereotypical but human and quite normal (human in the broader sense: there are several aliens and AIs involved). The irascibility of Composer Ziller, the modesty and good-humour of Kabe Ischloear, the awkwardness of Uagen Zlepe are all convincingly portrayed. Most importantly, Quilan's feelings about his wife's life and death are touching and believable as a central pillar of the novel's structure.

If you've read any Banks before you'll want to know whether the trademark twist in the tail makes an appearance in Look to Windward, and yes it is – all present and correct. Not quite the mindfuck experience of The Wasp Factory or Use of Weapons, but still a pleasing denouement to very enjoyable and interesting book.

Categories: Literature, Reviews
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