Look to Windward

by Iain M. Banks

Cover image

Publisher: Pocket Books
Copyright: 2000
Printing: November 2002
ISBN: 0-7434-2192-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 483

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Set in Iain Banks's utopian Culture universe, this book is to some degree a follow-on to Consider Phlebas, as a reader of T.S. Eliot has likely already guessed. It does stand on its own, although set against a final backdrop of the Idiran War, and deals in part with regret, in part with revenge, and in part with questions of identity. The core of the plot revolves around a Culture Ringworld equivalent, mourning decisions made in the war, and the Chelgrin society, much meddled-with by the Culture with the best of intentions but disastrous results.

I think the best word for this book is meandering. It doesn't quite reach the point of incoherence, but it often feels more like a collection of loosely connected plot threads and story ideas than a book. Best viewed as a character exploration, the main plot, such as it is, ends up being quite simple and rather unsatisfying. The character exploration, on the other hand, is surprisingly satisfying despite not being driven by much in the way of a story. There are several rather fascinating people (and non-people) in this story, who find themselves in some rather amazing and well-described situations. There's also a bit of neat technology, primarily the Culture Orbital Masaq', and some interesting (and very large) aliens.

The psychology of the Culture plays a starring role, though more as a tourist attraction than as a point of conflict. One finds out quite a bit more in this book what people do when they can do anything that they want. Unsurprisingly, a fair bit of it has an air of pointlessness to it, giving the impression of a universe that's pretty much tapped out, having only a scant few truly new experiences left.

This isn't a particularly good story, but nonetheless I did rather enjoy reading the book. The highlights, rather than anything particularly plot-related, are several brilliantly sarcastic cocktail party conversations, a pun contest that I won't ruin for you, a mostly pointless but still fascinating side excursion into a world of living, city-sized dirigibles, and a nice bittersweet ending. Recommended as a second-tier book, if you're not too picky about your novels having a strong storyline.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-02-09

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