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
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Iain Banks came to widespread and controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, THE WASP FACTORY, in 1984. He has since gained enormous popular and critical acclaim for both his mainstream and his science fiction novels.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter One: The Light of Ancient Mistakes
The barges lay on the darkness of the still canal, their lines softened by the snow heaped in pillows and hummocks on their decks. The horizontal surfaces of the canal's paths, piers, bollards and lifting bridges bore the same full billowed weight of snow, and the tall buildings set back from the quaysides loomed over all, their windows, balconies and gutters each a line edged with white.
It was a quiet area of the city at almost any time, Kabe knew, but tonight it both seemed and was quieter still. He could hear his own footsteps as they sank into the untouched whiteness. Each step made a creaking noise. He stopped and lifted his head, sniffing at the air. Very still. He had never known the city so silent. The snow made it seem hushed, he supposed, muffling what little sound there was. Also tonight there was no appreciable wind at ground level, which meant that -- in the absence of any traffic -- the canal, though still free of ice, was perfectly still and soundless, with no slap of wave or gurgling surge.
There were no lights nearby positioned to reflect from the canal's black surface, so that it seemed like nothing, like an absolute absence on which the barges appeared to be floating unsupported. That was unusual too. The lights were out across the whole city, across almost all this side of the world.
He looked up. The snow was easing now. Spinwards, over the city center and the still more distant mountains, the clouds were parting, revealing a few of the brighter stars as the weather system cleared. A thin, dimly glowing line directly above -- coming and going as the clouds moved slowly overhead -- was far-side light. No aircraft or ships that he could see. Even the birds of the air seemed to have stayed in their roosts.
And no music. Usually in Aquime City you could hear music coming from somewhere or other, if you listened hard enough (and he was good at listening hard). But this evening he couldn't hear any.
Subdued. That was the word. The place was subdued. This was a special, rather somber night ("Tonight you dance by the light of ancient mistakes!" Ziller had said in an interview that morning -- with only a little too much relish) and the mood seemed to have infected all of the city, the whole of Xaravve Plate, indeed the entire Orbital of Masaq'.
And yet, even so, there seemed to be an extra stillness caused by the snow. Kabe stood for a moment longer, wondering exactly what might cause that additional hush. It was something that he had noticed before but never quite been bothered enough about to try and pin down. Something to do with the snow itself...
He looked back at his tracks in the snow covering the canal path. Three lines of footprints. He wondered what a human -- what any bipedal -- would make of such a trail. Probably, he suspected, they would not notice. Even if they did, they would just ask and instantly be told. Hub would tell them: those will be the tracks of our honored Homomdan guest Ambassador Kabe Ischloear.
Ah, so little mystery, these days. Kabe looked around, then quickly did a little hopping, shuffling dance, executing the steps with a delicacy belying his bulk and weight. He glanced about again, and was glad to have, apparently, escaped observation. He studied the pattern his dance had left in the snow. That was better...But what had he been thinking of? The snow, and its silence.
Yes, that was it; it produced what seemed like a subtraction of noise, because one was used to sound accompanying weather; wind sighed or roared, rain drummed or hissed or -- if it was mist and too light to produce noise directly -- at least created drips and glugs. But snow falling with no wind to accompany it seemed to defy nature; it was like watching a screen with the sound off, it was like being deaf. That was it.
Satisfied, Kabe tramped on down the path, just as a whole sloped roofload of snow fell with a muffled but distinct crump from a tall building onto ground nearby. He stopped, looked at the long ridge of whiteness the miniature avalanche had produced as a last few flakes fell swirling around it, and laughed.
Quietly, so as not to disturb the silence.
At last some lights, from a big barge four vessels away around the canal's gradual curve. And the hint of some music, too, from the same source. Gentle, undemanding music, but music nevertheless. Fill-in music; biding music, as they sometimes called it. Not the recital itself.
A recital. Kabe wondered why he had been invited. The Contact drone E. H. Tersono had requested Kabe's presence there in a message delivered that afternoon. It had been written in ink, on card and delivered by a small drone. Well, a flying salver, really. The thing was, Kabe usually went to Tersono's Eighth-Day recital anyway. Making a point of inviting him to it had to mean something. Was he being told that he was being in some way presumptuous, having come along on earlier occasions when he hadn't been specifically invited?
That would seem strange; in theory the event was open to all -- what was not, in theory? -- but the ways of Culture people, especially drones, and most especially old drones, like E. H. Tersono, could still surprise Kabe. No laws or written regulations at all, but so many little...observances, sets of manners, ways of behaving politely. And fashions. They had fashions in so many things, from the most trivial to the most momentous.
Trivial: that paper message delivered on a salver; did that mean that everybody was going to start physically moving invitations and even day-to-day information from place to place, rather than have such things transmitted normally, communicated to one's house, familiar, drone, terminal or implant? What a preposterous and deeply tedious idea! And yet just the sort of retrospective affectation they might fall in love with, for a season or so (ha! at most).
Momentous: they lived or died by whim! A few of their more famous people announced they would live once and die forever, and billions did likewise; then a new trend would start among opinion-formers for people to back up and have their bodies wholly renewed or new ones regrown, or to have their personalities transferred into android replicas or some other more bizarre design, or...well, anything; there was really no limit, but the point was that people would start doing that sort of thing by the billion, too, just because it had become fashionable.
Was that the sort of behavior one ought to expect from a mature society? Mortality as a life-style choice? Kabe knew the answer his own people would give. It was madness, childishness, disrespectful of oneself and life itself; a kind of heresy. He, however, was not quite so sure, which either meant that he had been here too long, or that he was merely displaying the shockingly promiscuous empathy toward the Culture that had helped bring him here in the first place.
So, musing about silence, ceremony, fashion and his own place in society, Kabe arrived at the ornately carved gangway that led from the quayside into the gently lit extravagance in gilded wood that was the ancient ceremonial barge Im t The snow here had been tramped down by many feet, the trail leading to a nearby sub-trans access building. Obviously he was odd, enjoying walking in the snow. But then he didn't live in this mountain city; his own home here hardly ever experienced snow or ice, so it was a novelty for him.
Just before he went aboard, the Homomdan looked up into the night sky to watch a V-shaped flock of big, pure white birds fly silently overhead, just above the barge's signal rigging, heading inland from the High Salt Sea. He watched them disappear behind the buildings, then brushed the snow off his coat, shook his hat and went aboard.
"It's like holidays."
"Yes. Holidays. They used to mean the opposite of what they mean now. Almost the exact opposite."
"What do you mean?"
"Hey, is this edible?"
"I don't know. Bite it and see."
"But it just moved."
"It just moved? What, under its own power?"
"I think so."
"Well now, there's a thing. Evolve from a real predator like our friend Ziller and the instinctive answer's probably yes, but -- "
"What's this about holidays?"
"Ziller was -- "
" -- What he was saying. Opposite meaning. Once, holidays meant the time when you went away."
"Yes, I remember hearing that. Primitive stuff. Age of Scarcity."
"People had to do all the work and create wealth for themselves and society and so they couldn't afford to take very much time off. So they worked for, say, half the day, most days of the year and then had an allocation of days they could take off, having saved up enough exchange collateral -- "
"Money. Technical term."
" -- in the meantime. So they took the time off and they went away."
"Excuse me, are you edible?"
"Are you really talking to your food?"
"I don't know. I don't know if it is food."
"In very primitive societies there wasn't even that; they got only a few days off each year!"
"But I thought primitive societies could be quite -- "
"Primitive industrial, he meant. Take no notice. Will you stop poking that? You'll bruise it."
"But can you eat it?"
"You can eat anything you can get into your mouth and swallow."
"You know what I mean."
"Ask, you idiot!"
"I just did."
"Not it! Grief, what are you glanding? Should you be out? Where's your minder, terminal, whatever?"
"Well, I didn't want to just -- "
"Oh, I see. Did they all go away at once?"
"How could they? Things would stop working if they all did nothing at the same time."
"Oh, of course."
"But sometimes they had days when a sort of skeleton crew operated infrastructure. Otherwise, they staggered their time off. Varies from place to place and time to time, as you might expect."
"Whereas nowadays what we call holidays, or core time, is when you all stay home, because otherwise there'd be no period when you could all meet up. You wouldn't know who your neighbors were."
"Actually, I'm not sure that I do."
"Because we're just so flighty."
"One big holiday."
"In the old sense."
"Itchy feet, itchy paws, itchy flippers, itchy barbels -- "
"Hub, can I eat this?"
" -- itchy gas sacs, itchy ribs, itchy wings, itchy pads -- "
"Okay, I think we get the idea."
" -- itchy grippers, itchy slime cusps, itchy motile envelopes -- "
"Will you shut up?"
"Hub? Come in? Hub? Shit, my terminal's not working. Or Hub's not answering."
"Maybe it's on holiday."
" -- itchy swim bladders, itchy muscle frills, itchy -- mmph! What? Was there something stuck in my teeth?"
"Yes, your foot."
"I think that's where we kicked off."
"Hub? Hub? Wow, this has never happened to me before..."
"Hmm?" His name had been spoken. Kabe discovered that he must have gone into one of those strange, trance-like states he sometimes experienced at gatherings like this, when the conversation -- or rather when several conversations at once -- went zinging to and fro in a dizzying, alienly human sort of way and seemed to wash over him so that he found it difficult to follow who was saying what to whom and why.
He'd found that later he could often remember exactly the words that had been said, but he still had to work to determine the sense behind them. At the time he would just feel oddly detached. Until the spell was broken, as now, and he was awakened by his name.
He was in the upper ballroom of the ceremonial barge Soliton with a few hundred other people, most of them human though not all in human form. The recital by the composer Ziller -- on an antique Chelgrian mosaikey -- had finished half an hour earlier. It had been a restrained, solemn piece, in keeping with the mood of the evening, though its performance had still been greeted with rapturous applause. Now people were eating and drinking. And talking.
He was standing with a group of men and women centered on one of the buffet tables. The air was warm, pleasantly perfumed and filled with soft music. A wood and glass canopy arced overhead, hung with some ancient form of lighting that was a long way from anybody's full-spectrum but which made everything and everybody look agreeably warm.
His nose ring had spoken to him. When he had first arrived in the Culture he hadn't liked the idea of having com equipment inserted into his skull (or anywhere else for that matter). His family nose ring was about the only thing he always carried with him, so they had made him a perfect replica that happened to be a communications terminal as well.
"Sorry to disturb you, Ambassador. Hub here. You're closest; would you let Mr. Olsule know he is speaking to an ordinary brooch, not his terminal?"
"Yes." Kabe turned to a young man in a white suit who was holding a piece of jewelry in his hand and looking puzzled. "Ah, Mr. Olsule?"
"Yeah, I heard," the man said, stepping back to look up at the Homomdan. He appeared surprised, and Kabe formed the impression that he had been mistaken for a sculpture or an article of monumental furniture. This happened fairly often. A function of scale and stillness, basically. It was one hazard of being a glisteningly black three-and-a-bit-meter-tall pyramidal triped in a society of slim, matte-skinned two-meter-tall bipeds. The young man squinted at the brooch again. "I could have sworn this..."
"Sorry about that, Ambassador," said the nose ring. "Thank you for your help."
"Oh, you're welcome."
A gleaming, empty serving tray floated up to the young man, dipped its front in a sort of bow and said, "Hi. Hub again. What you have there, Mr. Olsule, is a piece of jet in the shape of a ceerevell, explosively inlaid with platinum and summitium. From the studio of Ms. Xossin Nabbard, of Sintrier, after the Quarafyd school. A finely wrought work of substantial artistry. But unfortunately not a terminal."
"Damn. Where is my terminal then?"
"You left all your terminal devices at home."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"You asked me not to."
"One hundred and -- "
"Oh, never mind. Well, replace that, umm...change that instruction. Next time I leave home without a terminal...get them to make a fuss or something."
"Very well. It will be done."
Mr. Olsule scratched his head. "Maybe I should get a lace. One of those implant things."
"Undeniably, forgetting your head would pose considerable difficulties. In the meantime, I'll second one of the barge's remotes to accompany you for the rest of the evening, if you'd like."
"Yeah, okay." The young man put the brooch back on and turned to the laden buffet table. "So, anyway; can I eat this...? Oh. It's...
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Descripción Orbit. PAPERBACK. Estado de conservación: New. 1857239814 New Condition. Nº de ref. de la librería NEW7.1707423