View Full Version : Look to Windward - Iain M. Banks

17-05-2002, 13:34:37
Finished this a bit ago and have been letting the memory of it percolate a while. First off, excellent book that I would recommend to anyone, Banks does yet another fine job of creating realistic, deep and fun characters, awesome and imaginative physical settings, and an intricate and well plotted storyline. All around a rousing success. The airspheres and behemothaurs alone would be worth an entire novel to explore. Lots of good stuff here.

Each of the Culture novels has given us a view of the Culture from various perspectives. Consider Phlebas gave us the outsider's view, Player of Games and Use of Weapons showed it to us from within, Excession gave us the view from above among the ruling Minds, and now Look to Windward gives us the Culture as viewed by its contemporaries. Told mainly from the perspective of two aliens, the Homomdan Kabe and the Chelgrian Ziller, as they explore an Orbital and interact with its inhabitants, it does a fantastic job of showcasing the Culture and what it's all about. From its eccentric citizens to its "governmental" practices, to its charm and its failings. Kabe in particular is a character I enjoyed spending time with. The main plotline concerning a failed Contact mission that resulted in a bloody civil war on the Chelgrian homeworld is involving and made very personal through the character of Major Quinlan. Accomanying these characters on their explorations is never less than wonderful and constantly provides great grounding and depth to the story.

And yet...

I can't help feeling that it falls just barely shy of what it could have been. From earlier Banks novels such as Player of Games and Use of Weapons, I am prepared for the most horrible of shocks, the most terrible of twists at the end. That's just how Banks novels work, after all. And perhaps it is nothing but that expectation that left me somewhat let down at the end. This is not to say that the ending is bad or illogical or less than spectacular, it just lacks the savage brutality that most Banks works have. It feels like he pulled his punch at the last moment. Everything is resolved satisfactorily, bad things happen to bad people, ambiguous things happen to good people, it's just that it could have easily gone one step further and provide us that wicked twist that we've come to expect from the Culture. I do have something specific in mind that I think should have been there, but don't want to go into it as that would involve revealing too much of the plot.

Suffice it to say that in the end, this novel must be counted as a success, for it provides such a great experience. It is only through my having such high expectations of Banks as a writer that I am left wishing he had carried it a bit further. There are good reasons for this novel to end a bit more softly than some of his other works, for in many ways this story is providing closure to several overarching themes in the Culture series, and maybe that should be enough. You could certainly do much, much worse.

17-05-2002, 13:38:54
Banks likes to challenge your expectations, is not finishing with a savage twist when you've come to expect it doing exactly that?

17-05-2002, 13:44:20
The thought had occurred to me, however in this case I don't think so. I believe he just had a specific story to tell this time around rather than an agenda to fullfill. In a lot of ways this novel is closer to Consider Phlebas than his other works, and that seems to be the point: that we've more or less come full circle, only now with much more understanding about what's really going on.

17-05-2002, 13:46:50
Yeah, I think that makes more sense than my version.

17-05-2002, 13:48:23
Never try to out bullshit a bullshitter.:D

17-05-2002, 13:53:36
I hadn't thought about the fact that every book looks at the Culture from a different perspective. Interesting. There are a couple of odd ones as well Feersome Endjinn and Against a Dark Background are just plain odd.

17-05-2002, 13:56:32
Oh and to add to your list Inversions is from the perspective of people who've used the freedom of the Culture to opt out of it and choose an entirely different way of life.

17-05-2002, 13:58:34
I would like to take credit for that observation, but I believe it was pointed out to me through other reviews I read on Amazon or elsewhere. It does give you a new view of the series, though, doesn't it? Whatever else Banks does, it's never simple. Lots of odd, but no simple.

17-05-2002, 14:00:38
Yes, Inversions could be seen as the view from below, though that's sort of the same as from outside.

17-05-2002, 14:03:41

This is too good a review to just sit here. Why don't you submit it as a review for the main page? Its more than worthy of that "honour".

I must admit that I am not a deep reader of books and tend to be quote happy to read the stuff on a superficial level. I loved Look to Windward and would recommend it to anyone. The review has made me look at it with new eyes and I can see a re-read of the book coming on. Thanks..

17-05-2002, 14:10:14

In another thread, I volunteered to put together a compilation of all the mini-reviews folks have posted here for the front page. I'm going to include this one in it along with the other Banks reviews so far posted. I might even do a single All-Banks article and do the rest separately, haven't decided yet.

17-05-2002, 14:11:07
Excellent. I love reading Banks' SF and your reviews have all been thought provoking and entertaining.

17-05-2002, 14:21:40
Originally posted by Guy
Yes, Inversions could be seen as the view from below, though that's sort of the same as from outside.

I don't think it's either. I see it as a view from Culture people who choose not to be in the Culture anymore.

17-05-2002, 15:27:02
So does Look to Windward then basically not play out like Larry Nivens Ringworld?

Having just read Consider Phlebas, 3 years after reading Excession (which I've now discovered was part of a series) without really knowing anything about it, what's the next one I should read in the Culture series?

17-05-2002, 15:30:39
Doesn't matter, they are all different so you can read any of them. I'd go for The Player of Games.

17-05-2002, 15:41:10
Are they not chronologically ordered then?

17-05-2002, 15:41:41
I don't think Inversions was about the Opt-Out brigade MikeH, weren't they Special Circumstances operatives?

Use of Weapons was in my opinion more about the Culture as seen by one of those that work with it- except he also had a surprisingly rich personal life, you know- jaded soldier with hidden depths tortured by memories of a murky past and dispicable crimes etc.

Top review Guy, do read Inversions as well.

17-05-2002, 15:43:19
I think they were opt out... I might have to read it again to make sure.

17-05-2002, 15:44:58
They (or at least the doctor) were definately SC:) remember the end? she left a note saying she'd been delayed by 'special circumstances', the body-guard may have been opt-out though.

17-05-2002, 15:55:54
That doesn't mean that she was SC, that could have been a little joke. They definitely had a link back home but I don't think they were on a mission... not him anyway, possibly her.

17-05-2002, 15:59:21
Definately her without doubt one-hunerd percent certain, and with absolute conviction.

Unless she was some mad rogue who SC had to hunt down and remove from the world lest she screw up their carefully laid long term schemes.

17-05-2002, 16:00:00
Or maybe she just had a panic button even though she was an opt out.

17-05-2002, 16:02:30
Nah, she had a military Knife Missile with her pretending to be a dagger. She was SC!

this must be what it feels like to be a trekky, spending long hours arguing about the exact meaning of the cryptic phrase muttered by Spok back in series 223374:) admittedly, slightly fun.

17-05-2002, 16:05:38
I reckon it was a secret knife missile panic "Do not press this button." button in case of emergencies. Why can't he make these things obvious.

She could have been SC but the bloke was a lot more cut off.

17-05-2002, 16:08:00
Anyway, what kind of a mad fool would rather live on a medevil dump of a world like that place when they could instead live in the Culture, or if its what their looking for- some other world where life is hard and backward but soul-fillingly enlightening.

17-05-2002, 16:08:44
It's like those green hippy people who form communes and live off the land without mobile phones or the internet.

17-05-2002, 16:13:01
Yeah, but they don't usually migrate to Hackney to become social workers for crack-bitches and their pimps:), usually their off to Thailand or Mozambique instead where you can see the attraction. The world Inversions takes place in is just unpleasant and oppresive and full of witch-burning types.

17-05-2002, 16:28:13
Originally posted by Qweeg
The world Inversions takes place in is just unpleasant and oppresive and full of witch-burning types.

Sounds like England in the middle-ages

17-05-2002, 17:46:05
The bits I enjoyed most were in the Airsphere. You know, imaginative, the shock ending (that was the real kick ending, that ‘one Galactic cycle’ business). The other ending was just a let-down.

17-05-2002, 17:50:05
Originally posted by Qweeg
Definately her without doubt one-hunerd percent certain, and with absolute conviction.
<snip>I concur.

17-05-2002, 17:57:05
I loved 'Look to Windward'. In my book, it comes a close second to 'Consider Phlebas'. I liked the ending ... and in particular the tension as to which of the competing storylines is the one that is going to lead to the denouement. (Yippee! Correct spelling first time!) Loved the gas world. Loved the monorail system. I never quite know what to make of the 'don't care' attitude of some of the characters, but it doesn't detract from my enjoyment.

03-07-2002, 15:31:13
Do all Iain Banks books feature a railway of some description?

03-07-2002, 15:35:14

03-07-2002, 15:38:51
Against a Dark Background - monorail
Look to Windward - monorail
Consider Phlebas - underground rail network

The Bridge - the whole thing's set on a railway bridge
Walking on Glass - there's a train system in the catacombs
Complicity - the boys kill a man in the railway tunnel

03-07-2002, 15:43:52
The Crow Road - Main character does a lot of travelling by train, Whit - same

Can't think of them in any other books ATM.

03-07-2002, 15:47:04
Banks is a train-fetishist?

04-07-2002, 13:21:59
Although the monorail systems in his Culture works are an element of Orbitals as much as hyper-material and plates, I'm willing to bet Banks has a model railway set in his attic at home.

I guess the guys gotta have some kind of a hobby to do while he's thinking up ideas.

04-07-2002, 13:26:50
Actually there's one book where he describes the main character as a child watching a steam-engine being given maintenance, lifted of its wheels in a maintenance shed and powered up to its full output- and how the child was awed by the things shere technological brute force. I think this was in Complicity but I'm not sure- anyway that bit had a kind of authenticity like an actual memory of the writers being used in the story (either that or its just further proof he's just a good writer:) )

04-07-2002, 14:09:44
Trains, on the whole, are cool. Trainspotters aren't though :D

The Shaker
05-07-2002, 17:50:53
This was the first Banks book I ever read, finished it last week in fact.

06-07-2002, 08:02:46
And ... ?

Well ... ?

What did you think of it then?

08-07-2002, 08:32:54
Do you want to borrow all the others? I can collect the ones I don't have at ours from my parents house.

The Shaker
09-07-2002, 18:16:51
The fact I finished it quickly is a testament to the fact io enjoyed it.
However i'd say that at quite a few points I felt that there were certain things about the universe that the reader was assumed to know about.
The main characters are certainly engaging but I was left with a hunger to know more about them, that part of it kind of abruptly ceased towards the end, you got no idea of how they reacted to the denouement.
Looked at what you said noisy..about the competing storylines...it just seems strange that a few other lines just went dead abruptly, e.g the big elephant(you know what i mean) plot
Plus the calm all-knowing computer bit seemed a bit.. well...stale.

I am really intrigued by the whole universe though and quite fancy reading the rest of them :)

09-07-2002, 18:52:41
Aah, apparently you're meant to read some of the other "Culture" novels first :D

10-07-2002, 12:43:30
The State of the Art, start there- its a good intro to the Culture.

11-07-2002, 11:21:06
Haven't got that one yet. Will try and pick it up sometime, along with Use of Weapons methinks, may as well complete the set...

The Shaker
26-08-2002, 17:23:03
Bought the first one, will read it next, just finished Wasp Factory having read Walking on Glass.

He really doesn't like doing clear cut endings does he.

27-08-2002, 09:37:50
Originally posted by Guy
From earlier Banks novels such as Player of Games and Use of Weapons, I am prepared for the most horrible of shocks, the most terrible of twists at the end.

Ah, but there is a most horrible schock. A truely tremendous one, in fact.

God review otherwise. I rank LtW second only to UoW, even if it doesn't outdo PoG by much, btw.

27-08-2002, 13:21:29

Yes, there was a shock ending of truly momumental proportions in the one galactic cycle thing, however it was only on the scale of a single person. What I'm talking about is...








...after all that moral teeth gnashing and deception to get Quillan and his wormhole into the Hub mind, instead of the Hub mind then going "Ha, ha, I knew it all along and defused it when you first got here, but now I'll commit suicide 'cause I feel bad" I was expecting, especially after having read to what lengths the Minds will go to to set things up in stories like Player of Games, that the whole Chelgrian plot would have been orchestrated by the Hub Mind from the start in order to commit suicide in a grand way that would balance the scales in it's own view to assuage the guilt it felt over its part in the war. After Excession, there's no doubt that Minds are capable of going at least a little insane, and THAT'S what I was looking for at the end of this story. To me, that would have been more in keeping with the usual Banks patented twist ending than the more sentimental one given. But then, too, this was a much more sentimental story than the others so perhaps the ending does fit.

Just my opinion.

27-08-2002, 13:33:40
I think I read a lot more into the ending then you did then. I really think there's a much larger surprise and horror being revealed there than ape-man's personal problem. And it's all done in two words. Admirable economy, even for Banks.

27-08-2002, 14:21:59
It's been too long since I read it now and I don't have a copy handy to check. I remember that it was implied that the Culture was gone and that the Chelgrians had been visited with disaster, but I don't remember anything specific. Refresh my memory? What two words are you referring to?

28-08-2002, 13:23:02
Executive summary: the Culture snuffed the Chelgrians as a species. And how. The relecant words are "lesser reviled".

Downright benign they are, these nice, civilized Culture guys.

28-08-2002, 16:04:49
I'm not sure that's correct, though I suppose that it is one possible interpretation. I dug out my copy last night and re-read the last bits. My take on that phrase was that the behemothaur/airsphere beings were responsible for the Chel's downfall. Especially as the death of the other Behemothaur was referred to in the same sentence. There were also several instances throughout the novel that flat out stated that the behemothaurs had some special pull with the Sublimned races and that bad things happened to races that tried to exploit/harm the airspheres.

Also, the hub Mind comes right out and tells Quillan that nothing beyond the deaths of a few individuals will be performed in vengence for the attempted sabotage, as far as the Culture is concerned. It could have been a lie, but I don't think so. There was also an interview with Banks where he talked about the killing mission that happens at the end as being totally at odds with the Culture's beliefs, and how that was a big transgression for them. In my opinion, that alone was already a big shock in Bank's eyes and I don't think he planted anything else in that vein.

Again, I could be wrong, but I believe "Lesser Reviled" is simply what the behemothaurs refer to the Chelgrians as now that they have exacted their revenge for the death of the other behemothaur. As I said, this having been implied earlier in the book, I found it not the least bit shocking.

What MIGHT be a shock is the identity of whoever the Chelgrian's alien allies were, but I've found nothing even hinting at who they might be, though a full re-read might turn up something. My only guess at this point, outside the possibility of the Culture/SC itself, is the Affront, but that seems too plebian for Banks.

28-08-2002, 17:26:00
Yes, the Airspheres killed off the Chel (and, more importantly, the Chelgrian-Puen). But it was the Culture that framed them. Who provided the Chel with all that wizzbang tech? SC. Who insisted on stuff being done in a friggin Airsphere? SC. Who set this whole plot up? SC. And who organized that entirely needless Behemothaur butchery? SC.

Finally, that Culture weapon stuff wasn't a warning to the Chels. It was simply an elimination of witnesses.

The Culture really, really, doesn't like sharing the Galaxy with a class caste species with Sublimed connections. And when it acts - how downright benevolently it does its work... After all, no Chelgrians where actually harmed... their civ just "fades out" quicker. Gotta love them Culture guys. So, eh, Cultured.

And Hub Massaq is a real work of art too. It was in on the from the start, and took the secret with it when it went. Along with other material witnesses. All while preaching about how its sweet little heart went out all the way to protect all the assorted little meat puppets.

Really, I think Banks does a real excellent bitchslap here. Up to that moment, I actually felt some pity for the poor, traumatized Mind.

28-08-2002, 18:27:10
It is a definite possibility. SC is certainly capable of such. If it were true, though, I don't think the Hub was in on it. I may be too trusting, but I believe that its final conversation with Quillan was honest simply because he could do nothing about it at that point and even a Mind can get sentimental when it's about to die.

I don't know, I tend to think that you're reading too much into it, but I have been wrong before. Either way, it's still a great book and one of the best things about it is that it is possible to read into it this way.

29-08-2002, 19:39:35
Well, I agree one of Banks's strenghts is that you can pretty much read anyting into his books - well, given FTT you can't read in high praises for the Tories, no matter how you slice it - but otherwise his books are more fair game for interpretation than most other people's.

That said, you have to bend some way to disprove this particular interpretation here. If it wasn't an SC op, what exactly is the chance they'd have an SC agent in Major Quinlan's friggen head? Why would they insist on doing the stuff in a friggen Airsphere, of all places? And how come the almighty Contact section didn't realise giving guns to slaves would result in a friggen war?

I'm afraid it's just too much to explain away, all in all.

29-08-2002, 20:39:13
Good points. I'll have to re-read someday and see. Interesting possibility!