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Friday, June 29, 2007

Use of Genius, Use of Weapons

Recommended: Use of Weapons (Iain M. Banks)

Cheradenine Zakalwe's troubled past has transformed him into a military genius, a genius the Culture needs to influence conflicts on worlds that are not yet enlightened enough to have joined its ranks.

The Culture is a utopian society, a collection of worlds that are ruled over by advanced artificial intelligences, and inhabited by lesser AIs, humans, and various alien races. Banks features the Culture in a number of his books, but their part in this one is minor.

Diziet Sma is Zakalwe's Culture contact, and she directs him on his assignments. She is a ranking officer in the Culture's "Special Circumstances" division (think black ops), and her relationship with Zakalwe drives the main plot forward.

Skaffen-Amtiskaw is Sma's robot assistant, and the robot provides humor and compassion to the story. This atypical computer behavior is typical of Banks' AIs and makes them some of his most enjoyable characters.

The main plot of Use of Weapons entertains with action and plot twists, and the descriptions grip you and push you around Banks' universe. However, despite the quality of these aspects, they are forgettable compared to the character of Zakalwe. Zakalwe is the heart of this book, and he is the reason to read it. He is obviously troubled, from the very first chapter of the book. Throughout the rest of the book, we look deeper into his past, and through his past to his soul. We discover why he is a military genius, the costs that came with his gift, and the price he has paid for how he has used his gift.

Mister Troll has pointed out to me in the past that I have a tendency to cherish the misfits and the screw-ups in stories. It's true, but there's more to it than that. I like to empathize with characters, I like my heart to go out to them. So, it's not just the screw-ups and the misfits I love, but the flawed heroes, and the tragic heroes. And it's not just that they have these qualities, but that the author has put enough soul into them to make them worth cherishing.

Cheradenine Zakalwe is that kind of character.

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