It was one of the less glorious incidents of a long-ago war.
It led to the destruction of two suns and the billions of lives they supported.
Now, eight hundred years later, the light from the first of those ancient mistakes has reached the Culture Orbital, Masaq'.
The light from the second may not.
'Confirms Banks as the standard by which the rest of SF is judged' GUARDIAN
'In terms of sheer storytelling prowess and verve, Look to Windward is a work of genius' SFX
'A great book' NEW SCIENTIST
Set in Banks's far-future interstellar civilization known as the Culture, this highly literate novel from this celebrated British SF author (Inversions) centers on an act of revenge. The Culture is enormously rich and values personal freedom above all else, but it also has a tradition of meddling in the affairs of other, lesser civilizations. This is invariably done with the best of intentions, but occasionally things do go wrong. Parallels to U.S. foreign policy are probably intended, witness the book's dedication to "the Gulf War veterans." In a recent attempt to covertly overthrow the repressive caste system at the center of Chelgrian society, agents of the Culture's secret Special Circumstances unit accidentally triggered a civil war that left five billion Chelgrians both dead and dishonored. Now Chel has sent an ambassador named Quilan to the artificial, bracelet world of Masaq' Orbital. Ostensibly he's there to try to convince Ziller, a famous Chelgrian expatriate composer, to return home, but his real mission is to eliminate the AI that controls the Culture orbital. This action will also bring about the destruction of approximately five billion human souls held in suspended animation, thereby, the Chelgrians believe, balancing the books. Although things start a bit slowly, Banks's fine prose, complex plotting and well-rounded characters will eventually win over even the most discerning readers, and all will find themselves fully rewarded when the novel reaches its powerful conclusion. FYI:Banks has also written mainstream literary fiction (The Wasp Factory, etc.).
Look to Windward
Another fascinating instalment in the Culture series which gives a little more insight into the razor sharp balance between constructive intervention and respectful tolerance that a supposedly superior and more morally evolved civilisation takes when interacting with a less mature one. Banks, like any good SF writer, shines a mirror on the hubris and arrogance of our own Western civilisation in relation to how we interact with cultures and faiths that don't conform to our moral blueprint. Where he is so successful is in crafting such rich and foreign worlds and alternative social structures to do it. Not since Frank Herbert created the alternative reality that was Dune has a writer built such a rich tapestry as a background to his stories. My only criticism of "Look to Windward" is the anti-climactic ending which was limp even by his standards. Having said that, any other ending would have been uncharacteristically operatic for Banks.
Look to Windward
Yet another wonderful exploration of the Galaxy and it's Culture. Thank you so very much Mr. Banks.
As always. RIP.