ppearances can be deceivingIain M. Banks has been publishing huge, complex space-opera science fiction for nearly 15 years and, fortunately, he shows no sign of stopping. Most of his science fiction novels are set in a far future universe and feature the various machinations and dalliances between agents of the Culture and other species. The Culture is a superb creation: part United Nations, part free-form association of humans, aliens and sentient artificial intelligences ("Minds"); seemingly part dictatorship and part anarchistic society, it is wholly indefinable. Banks' latest novel, Look to Windward, follows a plot hidden from both the reader and the character who will carry it out. As the novel progresses, we see games within games, events resulting from actions that occurred centuries ago and wars that could potentially stalemate forever. Banks does not gloss over the costs of war, spying and revenge: at this level of technology it is not individuals, but whole planets that might suffer the consequences.
The novel focuses on a musician in exile, Mahrai Ziller, and the efforts of an ambassador from his home world of Chel to persuade him to return. Every other character indulges in intrigue and double-meaning, but not Ziller. He does not want to meet the Chelgrian ambassador or return to Chel, and his attempts to escape the ambassador, his petty tantrums and his utter refusal to do what is expected of him make for some very enjoyable and highly imaginative adventures. Banks is one of the smartest and funniest writers in (or out of) science fiction, and Look to Windward will keep his reputation on the upslope.
Gavin J. Grant lives in Brooklyn, where he reviews, writes and publishes speculative fiction.