CBRIII Maneuver #28 – Look to Windward

Target: Iain M. Banks’ Look to Windward

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera, Expanded Continunity.

Summary: Edited from goodreads.com “The Twin Novae battle had been one of the last of the Idiran war, one of the most horrific. Desperate to avert defeat, the Idirans had induced not one but two suns to explode, snuffing out worlds & biospheres teeming with sentient life. They were attacks of incredible proportion–gigadeathcrimes. But the war ended & life went on.

Now, 800 years later, light from the first explosion is about to reach the Masaq’ Orbital, home to the Culture’s most adventurous & decadent souls. There it will fall upon Masaq’s 50 billion inhabitants, gathered to commemorate the deaths of the innocent & to reflect, if only for a moment, on what some call the Culture’s own complicity in the terrible event. Also journeying to Masaq’ is Major Quilan, an emissary from the war-ravaged world of Chel. In the aftermath of the conflict that split his world apart, most believe he has come to Masaq’ to bring home Chel’s most brilliant star & self-exiled dissident, the honored Composer Ziller.

But the Major’s true assignment will have far greater consequences than the death of a mere political dissident, as part of a conspiracy more ambitious than even he can know–a mission his superiors have buried so deeply in his mind that even he can’t remember it.”

After Action Report:

I admire Science Fiction writers for their unwavering commitment to the future.  Our lives may be bleak in the here and now, but we have the potential to become so much more.  Look to Windward isn’t that kind of novel.  The framework of Banks’ sprawling Culture is there, providing the setting.  But the tone of Windward is much bleaker; almost sad.  Banks grapples with the ethics of a futuristic super-society and the repercussions of the reckless application of literal absolute power.

The narrative lines of Look to Windward follow a surprising number of non-Culture citizens.  Like Consider Phlebas, this novel is as much a critique of Banks’ super-society as it is a story about them.  At the core of the story are the Chelgrians, a species of feline predators, who were accidentally thrust into a brutal civil war by the meddling of the Culture’s Contact division.  A tense peace has existed for years, but the Chelgrians still have a deep distrust of the now apologetic and remorseful superpower.

Remorseful is really the catchword for this particular Culture novel.  The Masaq’ Orbital’s controlling Mind was one of the ships present at the Twin Novae battle and has a particular interest in the upcoming festival.  Major Quilan lost his wife in the Culture-induced civil war and is dead set on suicide by Culture in the service of his species. And Ziller is just grumpy about coming from a backward civilization that tore itself to pieces rather than adapt.  There is a fragment of a spy thriller that concerns the discovery of the Chelgrian conspiracy, but it takes place so far offstage as to almost be irrelevant to the plot.

Mostly, everyone is too busy waxing philosophical about the nature of war, mortality and the Culture itself to really get involved in the narrative.  Major Quilan is the worst offender, spending most of his onscreen time busy in flashbacks that run the gamut from interesting and necessary, to pointless and obvious.  While this might make Windward a bit of a letdown, it does make for an excellent introduction to the philosophy and history of the Culture and I would very much recommend it to a reader looking to break into Banks’ daunting space opera.

Posted on July 8, 2011, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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