Banks' protagonists are always outsiders, atavisms of a more primitive age, that refuse to join the feel-good community of civilization. Especially in the "Culture"-Novels his heroes are markedly barbarian in contrast to the perfect society they are surrounded by, and they all have chosen by free will (or maybe obsession) to be not nice. But the hero of "Use of Weapons", a mercenary working for the morally dubious "Special Circumstances" section of the Culture, is decidedly the darkest and most barbarian of all of Banks' protagonists to date - especially as he has unlike the ambiguous heroes of "Consider Phlebas", "Player of Games", "Inversions" or "Look to Windward" absolutely no faith to fight for. We see his story in flashbacks being slowly walked backwards through his life until we are led into his darkest heart. These peeks into an increasingly distant past are set amidst his latest (and presumably final) mission for the Culture, to abduct one man and prevent a war that might kill billions of people. Sadly, as fascinating as the descent into the past and soul of this warrior is, as bland and uninspired is his current mission, where Banks' fascination with Naziesque villains remains dry and uninspired, and the adventure somehow fails to grab the reader. Still, the opposing characters of the Special Circumstances girl and her drone and the gloomy anti-hero make this book well worth to read.
Banks sends us on a journey with a strange soldier suffering from his horrible past. There are better comments on this novel in other reviews here. It's worth to read this book just to dive into the psyche of the Culture and Special Circumstances (their CIA). But you will discover the mystery of this soldier Zakalwe, who will not be seen the last time in this culture novel.
Iain (M.) Banks is definitively one of the best Sci-Fi authors today. And what may be important as well: he is both imaginative and productive. The genre can be lucky to have a good classical author find his interest in Sci-Fi. Sci-Fi usually isn't a very demanding genre, so it sees many mediocre entrepreneurs. Banks has a rich imagination, rich vocabulary and is just a master writer. He does action scenes as well as giving a whole impression of societies, he can be funny at times as well as giving you very sobering insights, he can overwhelm you with richest unseen scenes and make hopelessness palpable just by describing a bleak scene. There are few things that are constant about his works - besides their quality. Namely his strange interest in shit, what seems to pop up now and then. And then there's is aversion against religion. The more religious someone is, the more amoral is character will act.
Take a rather simple story, let it end in a somewhat surprise. Cut it in pieces and mix suroughly. Use of weapons is not easy to read. That's not because of the lengthy wordfilled paragraphs Bank uses all over htis book. But it's because the timeline is running in loops and circles like an american style movie (Yes, I know no gentlemen should begin a sentence with 'but' - ref. Ian Banks). Some of these fragments cover whole days of story time other only moments. And almost none of them are complete in itself - important clues can only be found later. If you memory is good enough to put together all this pieces to get a picture about the story you will find that the only person developed in detail is Zakalwe. All other remain as fuzzy as the complete assortment of planets and societies the story uses. After going through the effort of finishing this book I find that the simple twist at the end is not enough recompense. Let's leave it for the absolute fans of Ian Banks.