There’s something about “Use of Weapons” that I absolutely love, but can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s the planet-hopping 007-super-agent? Or the ruthlessness the Culture’s special agents employ to guide and shape civilizations? Or maybe its Banks’ character creation, exploration, and growth?
It could be all of the above… and the unique chapter structure of the novel. I’m going to co-opt a review from Audible who explains the structure better than I could:
“The prologue establishes an event at a particular point in time, call it time t-zero. The story then begins at time t plus 13 and is told in alternating chapters, half of them moving backward toward t-zero, and the other half moving forward from time t plus 13. You arrive at the end of the book when the backward narrative reaches t-zero just as the forward narrative reaches a climax that reveals the real meaning of the events in the prologue. It is cleverly done, but you really do have to pay attention.”
The man known as Cheradenine Zakalwe was one of Special Circumstances’ foremost agents, changing the destiny of planets to suit the Culture through intrigue, dirty tricks, and military action.
The woman known as Diziet Sma had plucked him from obscurity and pushed him toward his present eminence, but despite all their dealings she did not know him as well as she thought.
The drone known as Skaffen-Amtiskaw knew both of these people. It had once saved the woman’s life by massacring her attackers in a particularly bloody manner. It believed the man to be a lost cause. But not even its machine could see the horrors in his past.
Ferociously intelligent, both witty and horrific, Use of Weapons is a masterpiece of science fiction.