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Book Review: Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks

In "The Culture" novels of Iain M. Banks humanity has moved to a post-scarcity society (you can forget all that stuff you learned in economics) where with the conquest of disease lifespans last into the hundreds of years.  With the help of artificially intelligent ship "minds" humanity spans the stars and has created artificial ring habitats called orbitals.  In Look to Windward the Chelgrian race has sent an emissary to Masaq' orbital to visit Mahrai Ziller, a Chelgrian composer living in exile.  The Culture, with altruistic intent, had years earlier intervened to help the Chelgrians establish a more equalitarian society; unfortunately this led to a civil war that caused the death of 5 billion Chelgrians.  The emissary, the deeply troubled Major Quillian, journeys to Masaq’ to see Ziller, and because it is not really clear what Quillian's mission is (to kill Ziller or just ask him to return home) Ziller avoids him while preparing for the debut of his first symphonic work in years.

Quillian's mission is really something much more horrific and this book, written before 9/11, gives a glimpse into what religious fanaticism could look like in a future time.  As Banks reveals the true nature of Quillian’s mission he does some neat things with his writing; jumping between scenes to tell his story and doing a few scenes where there is only dialog without names, leaving the reader to guess who is speaking.  Banks contrasts the Culture society with the less equaliltarian Chelgrian society and shows how the more developed society can be perceived as arrogant in how it treats the less advanced, causing less advanced society to strike out (an alusion to our own times? Perhaps).  I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more of Banks' Culture novels.



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