Saturday, 22 November 2008

Review: "Look to Windward" by Iain M. Banks

"Look to Windward" opens with the same T. S. Elliot quote as "Consider Phlebas", the first of Iain Banks' Culture novels, and the books are in a sense are companion pieces. Where "Consider Phlebas" deals with the Idiran war, "Look to Windward" deals with the aftermath of both the Idiran war and the interference of the Culture in a civil war among the Chelgrians.

Like his other Culture novels, "Look to Windward" has quite a few digressions, but in this case all of the subplots are more less recognizably in the service of the larger plot. As with his previous novels, there are rich descriptions of the natural and constructed environments, which as always are engrossing.

What is singular and enjoyable about this novel, however, are the two central characters, one a Chelgrian, one a "Mind", an artificial intelligence centuries old. As in "Consider Phlebas", the Chelgrian character in part acts as a foil to help us understand the nuances of the Culture by comparison.

I particularly liked the insight into the "Mind", whose perception of time and scope of focus are so far outside human experience that it can live a lifetime of our experiences in an instant and coordinate billions of decisions where we would be hard pressed to handle a handful.

Banks is as always incredibly inventive. Each twist in the plot is an "a-ha moment", an expansion of our own imagination rather than the kind of contrivance that drives your average mystery (or CSI episode, for that matter).

An entertaining read, particularly the last few chapters, in which all the loose ends are tied up. Although for the most part the right are redeemed and the wrong horribly punished, it never seems arbitrary, it always just fits.

A good book, and highly recommended, particularly for anyone who has enjoyed other Culture novels.

No comments: