Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Review: Look to Windward

I remember reading Look to Windward a few years ago, and found myself re-reading it on the plane. This was in many ways Iain Bank's post 9/11 novel, and the themes reflect it.

The Culture has an unsuccessful intervention in another civilization (by attempting to remove the caste system). That intervention leads to civil war, causing massive numbers of deaths, and resulting in The Culture admitting their error, apologizing for its actions (it claimed a low probability of such a disaster), and making reparations.

Those reparations are insufficient for many of the Chelgrians, and that faction lays a plot to essentially send a suicide bomber to a Culture orbital to kill an estimated 5 billion Culture entities as retribution. The plot then revolves around the bomber (Major Quilan), his motivations, his cover story (an attempt to repatriate a famous Chelgrian composer), and an apparent race against time as the plot is uncovered in a different part of the galaxy.

As a novel, this lies squarely in the mediocre part of Banks' work. It's not as good as Player of Games, but is at least more accessible than Excession (especially in the characters). There is a bit of fun as Banks produces a page after another of ship names that are perhaps amongst the best characteristics of the Culture universe. The misdirection part of the novel doesn't quite work, and of course, one wishes that the counter-intelligence portion of the Culture's real-world counterparts are as effective as the Culture's.

Nevertheless, even mediocre Banks is still excellent fiction. Recommended if you can get it from the library.
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