Look to Windward

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Look to Windward is a science fiction novel by Scottish writer Iain M. Banks, first published in 2000. It is Banks' sixth published novel to feature The Culture.


Plot introduction

After an unsuccessful intervention into its politics by the Culture, the Chelgrian civilization collapsed into a civil war which killed five billion Chelgrians. Some years later, a faction of Chelgrians plots revenge. Mahrai Ziller is a Chelgrian composer living in exile on a Culture Orbital; Major Quilan, a Chelgrian veteran, is sent to the Orbital, ostensibly to persuade him to return.

Plot summary

Despite the passage of time, Major Quilan still suffers grief and bereavement from the death of his wife, killed during the Chelgrian civil war when both were soldiers. Offered the chance to avenge the Chel, Quilan is inducted into a plot to strike back at the Culture. To guide him on the way, the mind of a long-dead Chelgrian general is emplaced into his 'soulkeeper', a device normally used to store its owner's personality in case of death. Quilan is then sent to Masaq Orbital ostensibly to persuade Ziller to return to his native Chel. To protect him from detection at Masaq, Quilan's memory is selectively blanked until he reaches his target.

On Masaq, Ziller lives in self-imposed exile, having renounced his privileged position in Chel's caste system. An accomplished composer, he has been commissioned to compose music to mark the anniversary of the Idiran-Culture War. Upon hearing of Quilan's visit, and his reason for travel, Ziller scrupulously avoids him, reluctant to return to a civilization that repels him.

Meanwhile the Mind controlling Masaq Orbital, previously the General Systems Vehicle Lasting Damage, assists Ziller in the preparations for the performance of his composition. However, it has its own memories stretching back to the Idiran-Culture War and wrestles with its own demons over its role then.

The end of the novel shows the hard and vengeful side to the Culture, as they unleash a bloody retribution against the Chelgrian priest who was responsible in the form of an E-Dust Assassin. It is hinted that the terrorist attack might have been masterminded by another Involved race, or even by elements of the Culture; Minds who feel that the Culture has gone soft and needs a wake-up call.

Literary significance and criticism

In some respects Look to Windward serves as a loose sequel to the first Culture novel, Consider Phlebas : the GSV Lasting Damage fought in the Idiran-Culture War, and Ziller specially composes a work to commemorate the arrival of light from a supernova triggered during the war. Both titles are derived from a couplet in T. S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land (which appears both in this work and Consider Phlebas as an epigraph):

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