Continuing my efforts to read the Culture series
, from the beginning, in the correct order, I've reached the third book in the series – [b:Use of Weapons|12007|Use of Weapons (Culture, #3)|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347522037s/12007.jpg|1494156]
. In this novel, [a:Iain M. Banks|5807106|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1352410520p2/5807106.jpg] brings us the story of Cheradenine Zakalwe, a sometime agent for Special Circumstances as part of their ongoing efforts to interfere in the development of alien cultures. Because if there's one thing the Culture believes in, it's that all other cultures should be just like their own. Zakalwe is tired of playing his part though and has gone into hiding. So his original recruiter, Diziet Sma, and the drone, Skaffen-Amtiskaw, have to find him and talk him into taking one last job. He proves surprisingly easy to talk into it, but his price is the same as before – he wants an opportunity to speak to a certain woman from his past. Somebody, we assume, that he believes he has wronged, but wants some kind of forgiveness, or closure, from.
Intertwined with this story, is a parallel one. While the main narrative moves forward chronologically, the alternate chapters provide flashbacks into Zakalwe's past. These flashback chapters count down as the main narrative chapters count up. This certainly implies that the flashbacks are stepping further and further back into Zakalwe's past, and indeed, by and large they seem to. There are a few flashbacks that felt like they were slightly misordered, but each flashback provides more of a picture of Zakalwe's past and character. As well as, more importantly, an insight into who the woman he wants to meet is, their relationship, and what he thinks she may blame him for.
Zakalwe's relationship with Special Circumstances seems odd, for an organisation whose whole reason for existence is sticking its nose in other civilisation's business, it seems strange that they know next to nothing about Zakalwe's background – not even what his home planet is. Not much of a hiring policy. Obviously, this lack of knowledge is a key plot device for the story, if Special Circumstances knew then what we know by the end of the book maybe they wouldn't have hired him at all. Certainly my least favourite of the culture novels in the series so far – although at 4-stars that's hardly a slap in the face – if feels a little awkward in places, and sometimes that the story is slightly forced to make the plot go the way Banks wanted. More confusing than the previous two, it seemed in places to almost be trying to be clever for the sake of it; maybe the final ending is the ultimate show-off of the book? I did really like it, but I kinda felt that Banks could have done even better.