Yes, finally we see Banks portray the Culture as something
other than the civilised good guys and other races as something
other than simple primitives in need of the Culture's high-
handed intervention. Banks also expresses the sentiment,
implied previously in Excession, that the Culture is in
danger of stagnating, and also offers a shot in the arm,
hopefully to be revealed in a sequel.
In Excession (which I found to be faster-paced), the
primitives in question were the "hearty but horrible" (sic)
Affronters. However, in "Look to Windward" we are presented
with two Chelgrians.Two different characters with much more
depth. This made "Look to Windward" very rich in comparison
to "Excession" which only presented the Affronters as "the
Culture's Burden". Quilan, in particular is a noble and
complex character, made mature by his experiences, his
suffering and bereavement. His interaction with the
comparatively simple-minded amiability of the Culture
citizens around him was nicely assayed, and poignant
when you bear in mind that they are arguably responsible
for his anguish. Imagine how poor the story would have
been if he had been presented only as a terrorist.
In addition we have samples of the elder races: the Oskendari
inhabitants and their wonderful strangeness, and the very
patient Homomdan ambassador. They, along with the endearing
Uagen Zlepe, illuminated a bigger picture of the Culture's
place in the Galaxy, while hinting at the powers of the
unknown forces gathering against them.
I loved this book. Even the smug complacency of the
Culture added to the story. The Culture needs a wake-up
call, and I want a sequel!