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Use of Weapons (SF) - Iain Banks

Having recently read my first Banks book, The Player of Games, which I thought was wonderful, I was eager to read another Culture novel. In terms of content this didn't disappoint. The story is hugely engaging and the details of the Culture are gradually revealed, building an enticing imaginary world.

The only thing I have a problem with is the structure. I really dislike books that alternate chapters of the main thread of the story with random chapters of backstory, and that's exactly what happens here. I appreciate the need to get the backstory in, but I find the structure really interrupts the flow of the main story thread, so I find I skip read the backstory chapters after a while to find out what happens next in the 'real story'. It shows what a great writer Banks was that I didn't find this too painful here - but I still wish the book didn't have this structure, and that's the only reason it doesn't have five stars.

Nonetheless, there is much to appreciate here both in the small detail and the great sweep of the storyline, and the implications that the near-perfect world of the culture requires a dark underbelly to keep it afloat. Without doubt a great science fiction novel.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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