Banks, Iain M.: (03-03.5) Use of Weapons; “The State of the Art”

I returned to the re-read of the Culture books with the stories I skipped over in favor of Excession. First is Use of Weapons. I think it speaks to the quality of Banks’ craft here that I like this book so much, because if it weren’t executed so brilliantly, the subject matter would be very much not to my taste. This is the book that famously is told in two strands, one going forward and one backward, until they finish in twin revelations that would have next to no power if told in chronological order. I have a slight reservation about the mechanics of this format (book destroying spoilers, ROT13: vg ubcrf gur ernqre jvyy npprcg nf yvzvgrq-guveq cbvag bs ivrj jung’f ernyyl bzavfpvrag, sbe znkvzhz zvfyrnqvat pncnpvgl), but even that isn’t enough to keep me from admiring the book immensely.

In unfortunate contrast, “The State of the Art” is terrible. This is the Culture novella set on Earth, and it is roughly 99% long-winded political and philosophical discourse about human society, and 1% plot—or at least it feels that way. I only kept reading to see if anything was eventually going to happen—and then when it did, I wished I hadn’t bothered. The only thing interesting about this is that it’s set in 1977, thus demonstrating that the Culture is not an evolutionary product of Earth-humanity. There, now I’ve saved you from having to read it.

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  1. Given how much I liked the other Culture novels I’d read[*], and how highly-recommended it came, I was really really disappointed by Use of Weapons. Partly it was the subject matter very much not to your taste (or mine), partly it was that I guessed the Twin Revelations (or at least half of them) just far enough in advance to be more annoyed than entertained. Who knows, maybe I was just having a bad week as well. For whatever reasons, I’ve never even considered re-reading it. Maybe some day.
    David
    [*]At the time, The Player of Games and Consider Phlebas.

  2. I agree, “The State of the Art” is not very good. I only keep the book around for the other stories, not that I remember what they are.

  3. David, I’d love to know how you guessed if you remember, ROT13ing as necessary of course.
    Dan, I skimmed past a few of the other stories on the way to this one and didn’t see anything that caught my eye, but I’m very hit-or-misson short fiction.

  4. Kate, alas, it was many years ago and I’ve mostly purged the experience from my mind. It may have been one of those stray thoughts, along the lines of “Man, wouldn’t it be a kick in the nose if it’s really [SPOILER]”, that led to “Hmm. Have we seen anything yet that says it *can’t* be?”, and thence to “Ouch. I bet that’s what’s coming.”
    I’m sure it wasn’t any particular acuity or attention to detail on my part — I’m terrible at that sort of thing. Even “The Sixth Sense” took me by surprise, though I claim the distraction of seeing it on an airplane.

  5. Kate,
    Clues that the Culture is not descended from Earth’s humanity go back as far as Consider Phlebas. The frame notes mention that the book is a Contact translation from the Marain original, part of an Earth-acculturation package prepared sometime in the late 21st century.

  6. Jack, thanks, I hadn’t remembered that. Now there’s even less reason to read “The State of the Art!”

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