Consider Phlebas remains for me the gold standard of Culture novels. I loved the protagonist. I loved the story set against the backdrop of a major interstellar war. I loved the depressing ending. I even love the cannibalism. So a true sequel has a lot to live up to. Look to Windward both achieves and fails this for highly personal reasons. So let's jump right in shall we?

Look to Windward is set for the most part on the Masaq' Orbital. It's just another Culture ring that orbits space and is home to billions of people. The events of the novel are set around an anniversary of sorts, light from the detonation of two stars blown up at the climax of the war from Consider Phlebas is finally reaching the orbital eight hundred years later. It's a cause for celebration and reflection. To complicate this an emissary is arriving from a species just recently recovered from a civil war. A war the Culture caused. So Culture citizens have cause for reflection on sins long past and sins recent. As the emissary arrives Culture delegates, the Homomdan ambassador and others plan and worry their way through daily life and the anniversary. But the emissary has a secret. He's on a mission of vengeance. The Culture started a war that killed five billion of his people and he's going to repay them, life for life.

Look to Windward is a very standard novel in the Culture setting. That's not a putdown. It's a portrayal of the setting in a time of peace, when people's greatest concerns are whether they'll go skydiving or lavarafting tomorrow. Banks goes so far as to have sections entirely of dialogue, drowning us in irreverent concerns of background characters. The main characters engage with all of this to varying degrees. Ziller, the outcast composer revels and detests it but appreciates the culture. The Homomdan ambassador, representative of a people who fought against the Culture all those years ago participates with some bemusement. And then there's Hub, the massive computer who runs the entire Orbital. The novel meanders with these characters and others, even as it slowly builds the tension with Quilan.

Quilan, the emissary sent to kill. He is in a sense the main character of the piece, even though he's the antagonist. His story is the very beginning of the book and his history is a sharp contrast to the ease the others exist in. It's a testement to Banks' skill that he uses such a bold idea and makes it work. You engage with Quilan, you learn his assignment as he does, in the end you even sympathise with him, even as he readies to commit mass murder.

There's a lot of twists to the story as it goes on, some you see coming, others you may miss. The resolution was too neat for me, though looking back there was a blink and you'll miss it Chekov's Gun. The book is a true sequel because it is about the grief and loss that comes after war, whether that war be recent or long ago If there's one narrative compromise that sticks out, it's that these people need therapists.

In short, A worthy follow-up to be sure.

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.
E-Mail addresses will not be displayed and will only be used for E-Mail notifications.
BBCode format allowed