Use of Weapons

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Use of Weapons
Early Orbit edition cover
Author Iain M. Banks
Country Scotland
Language English
Series The Culture
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Orbit
Publication date
September 13, 1990
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 352 pp
ISBN 0-356-19160-5
OCLC 59159282
Preceded by The State of the Art
Followed by Excession

Use of Weapons is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 1990 as the third novel in the Culture series.[1]

Plot introduction[edit]

The narrative takes the form of a fractured biography of a man called Cheradenine Zakalwe, who was born outside of the Culture but was recruited into it by Special Circumstances agent Diziet Sma to work as an operative intervening in less advanced civilizations. The novel recounts several of these interventions and Zakalwe's attempts to come to terms with his own past.

Plot summary[edit]

The book is made up of two narrative streams, interwoven in alternating chapters. The numbers of the chapters indicate which stream they belong to: one stream is numbered forward in words (One, Two ...), while the other is numbered in reverse with Roman numerals (XIII, XII ...). The story told by the former moves forward chronologically (as the numbers suggest) and tells a self-contained story, while the latter is written in reverse chronology with each chapter successively earlier in Zakalwe's life.[2] Further complicating this structure is a prologue and epilogue set shortly after the events of the main narrative, and many flashbacks within the chapters.

The forward-moving stream of the novel deals with the attempts of Diziet Sma and a drone named Skaffen-Amtiskaw (of Special Circumstances, a division of Contact) to re-enlist Zakalwe for another job, the task itself and the payment that Zakalwe wishes for it.[1] The backward-moving stream describes earlier jobs that Zakalwe has performed for the Culture, ultimately returning to his pre-Culture career as a general on his homeworld. It transpires that the payment he requires from Sma relates to an incident from his earlier life.


According to Banks, he wrote a much longer version of the book in 1974, long before any of his books (science fiction or otherwise) were published.[3] The book had an even more complicated structure ("It was impossible to comprehend without thinking in six dimensions") but already introduced the Culture as background for the story of Cheradenine Zakalwe.[3] Realising that his intended structure was a "fatal flaw", not least because it demanded the story's climax appear exactly half-way through, Banks moved on to write Against a Dark Background instead.[4] The book's cryptic acknowledgement credits friend and fellow science fiction author Ken MacLeod with the suggestion "to argue the old warrior out of retirement" (to rewrite the old book) and further credits him with suggesting "the fitness programme" (the new structure).[3] MacLeod makes use of similar structures in his own novels, most notably in The Stone Canal.


In 1990 Use of Weapons was nominated for a British Science Fiction Association Award. In 2012 it was selected for Damien Broderick's book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010.[5]


Use of Weapons was voted the Best sci-fi film never made by the readers of The Register.[6]

See also[edit]

  • Banks' Surface Detail, in which Zakalwe also appears under an alias.



  1. ^ a b Gerald Jonas (1992-05-03). "Science Fiction". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  2. ^ John Gribbin (1991-11-30). "Review: Time waits for no author". NewScientist. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  3. ^ a b c Nick Gevers. "Cultured futurist Iain M. Banks creates an ornate utopia". Interview. Science Fiction Weekly. Archived from the original on 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2008-05-15. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links[edit]