Use of Weapons

Published On August 6, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Books

I’ve heard a little of this story surrounding what is now an iconic, modern British science fiction classic, Use of Weapons, before, but it’s still very interesting to read an account by the mighty Iain Banks of how the novel first started off in a very different form in the mid 70s, the long gestation, the unusual structure, chucking it away, then being persuaded by others, such as the equally excellent Ken MacLeod that there was indeed a good book hidden in that structure somewhere with some changes. And out of all of that emerged a classic example of a genre Brit writers do so very well, science fiction.

An Iain and an Ian go into a bar
(Iain Banks with Ian Rankin, pic from my Flickr)

From the Guardian piece:

Besides all the adjectives, UoW was also hobbled by a manically complicated structure that was really only comprehensible with a diagram. Themes like “imprisonment” and “flight as freedom” were arranged on intersecting X/Y axes, with any given chapterette therefore described by two themes, both of which had to be woven into it. Those named above were on the same axis and so never collided in this way, but if they had I’d probably have imagined a prison on an aircraft or something …

Anyway, clusters of chapters gradually accrued an extra theme as the book ground on, until the dead centre of the thing, where the axes were reversed, after which point the themes were gradually stripped away again, chapter-cluster by chapter-cluster, until by the end you were back to the relative simplicity of a single final scene burdened with only one implicit theme. (In my defence, I was at university at the time and somebody must have mentioned the word “structuralism” – a term that galvanised me far too rapidly and profoundly to be bothered to find out what it actually meant.)

I was deeply proud of this structure, and the fact that it meant – indeed, demanded – that the book’s surprise ending be located right at the centre, so that the whole, extremely long, second half was a complete anti-climax. It seemed like a small price to pay for the sheer shiningly precise perfection of the finished construction.”

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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