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The Algebraist [Hardcover]

Iain M. Banks
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Oct 2004

It is 4034 AD. Humanity has made it to the stars. Fassin Taak, a Slow Seer at the Court of the Nasqueron Dwellers, will be fortunate if he makes it to the end of the year.

The Nasqueron Dwellers inhabit a gas giant on the outskirts of the galaxy, in a system awaiting its wormhole connection to the rest of civilisation. In the meantime, they are dismissed as decadents living in a state of highly developed barbarism, hoarding data without order, hunting their own young and fighting pointless formal wars.

Seconded to a military-religious order he's barely heard of - part of the baroque hierarchy of the Mercatoria, the latest galactic hegemony - Fassin Taak has to travel again amongst the Dwellers. He is in search of a secret hidden for half a billion years. But with each day that passes a war draws closer - a war that threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone he's ever known.

As complex, turbulent, flamboyant and spectacular as the gas giant on which it is set, the new science fiction novel from Iain M. Banks is space opera on a truly epic scale.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; 1st Edition edition (1 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841491551
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841491554
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 360,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In The Algebraist, Iain Banks returns to spectacular space opera but not to his familiar Culture universe. His new setting is a complex, war-torn galaxy with an entirely different history going back almost to the Big Bang...

For short-lived 'Quick' races like humans, space is dominated by the complicated, grandiose Mercatoria whose rule is both military and religious. To the Dwellers who may live billions of years, the galaxy consists of their gas-giant planets--the rest is debris.

Our human hero Fassin Taak is a 'Slow Seer' privileged to work with the Dwellers of the gas-giant Nasqueron in his home system Ulubis. His life work is rummaging for data in their vast, disorganised memories and libraries. Unfortunately, without knowing it, he's come close to an ancient secret of unimaginable importance.

Though Ulubis is currently cut off from the galactic wormhole travel network, two interstellar battle fleets are racing for this secret. The hissable arch-villain Luseferous--whose tastes run to torture, atrocity and genocide--seems bound to arrive in overwhelming strength before the Mercatorian rescue squadron.

So Fassin is reluctantly conscripted into security forces, and enters the hell of Nasqueron's atmosphere to seek the magic key (code? signal frequency? equation?) that might save everything. Even at their most helpful and charming, though, Dwellers are maddeningly elusive. For ancients, they seem bumbling and whimsical, far more interested in hunting, kudos, and extreme sports like GasClipper Races or Formal War than in saving humanity's skin. Their ramshackle transport and awesome yet run-down floating cities suggest that Dweller legends of hypertechnology are sheer bluff. But are they keeping something dark?

Fassin's journeys and discoveries are exhilarating, witty, sometimes mind-boggling. Exotic weaponry abounds. The Dwellers are engagingly eccentric, like AI Minds in the Culture books--but the Mercatoria has banned artificial intelligence as Abomination, and this too is a plot strand. Additionally there are human revenge, intrigue and betrayal subplots; surprises and upsets; and the mother of all shaggy-dog revelations. Once again Banks is having enormous fun with space opera, and his exuberant enjoyment is infectious. Highly readable stuff.--David Langford

Review

There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward with greater keenness (The TIMES)

Confirms Banks as the standard by which the rest of SF is judged (The GUARDIAN)

Explosive (Sunday TIMES)

Gripping, touching and funny (T.L.S.)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Banks in poetic form. 8 Jan 2006
By Cartimand TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Whilst not a direct addition to the splendid Culture saga, The Algebraist is still a highly compelling slice of grandiose space-opera, containing most if not all of the usual Iain M Banks trademarks.
We have a delightfully evil boo-hiss villain in Luseferous, who has a particularly inventive mind when it comes to devising methods of extreme torture. We have a sumptuously observed exotic alien species in the Dwellers; near-as-damn-it immortal, this arrogant, hedonistic race can switch from an irritating blasé aloofness to endearing earthy (or Nasqueron-y perhaps?) humour at the drop of a hub-kilt. We have a cunningly evolving plot with machiavellian twists, double and triple-crosses, sacrifice, redemption, heroism, further insights into the machine soul (a theme explored oft-times before by Banks), shocks, thrills, many laughs, a little sodomy, battles on an unimaginable scale and enough technical minutia to keep the geekiest of sci-fi addicts more than happy.
The sheer humanity and ordinariness of the hero - Fassin Taak, means he strikes a chord with all of us and we can empathise with his experiences throughout the story, whether he be reliving the tragedy in the derelict spacecraft, gulping the chill of gill-fluid in preparation for his "delve", or merely strolling through his garden with the vast bulk of the gas-giant filling the sky above him.
The measured pace of The Algebraist perhaps delivers /slightly/ less visceral thrills and visionary wonder than the pure genius of Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons or Look to Windward, but it certainly won't disappoint the faithful and just might turn new readers onto Britain's best living sci-fi author.
The elegiac epilogue was genuinely profound and moving, and rang faint echoes of Voltaire's Candide - "Il faut cultiver notre jardin".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so fast, Mr Banks... 19 Oct 2011
Format:Paperback
Iain Banks has written some of my favourite novels, both SF and non-genre, but just occasionally you get the faint feeling that he's running out of ideas. That's okay; not many truly great novelists (i.e. those at the core of the literary canon) have written more than 4 or 5 books you really need to own, but still - it's your money, so why buy this book?

The plot revolves around a mysterious artefact which the lead human character must find amidst an alien species. He - and his whole society - are in a great hurry, as there is an invasion fleet (also human) incoming. However his alien hosts may be genial and superficially co-operative but they are also, as befits a four-billion-year-old race whose members live many millions of years, devious, inscrutable and ... incredibly ... frustratingly ... slow. In scaling back to the pace of his hosts our protagonist discovers a perspective on his own culture which pushes him to reconsider what that culture, in which humanity is just a minor player, is doing (and has done) to the human race.

On the down side, this contains many of Banks' stock plot devices. There are huge, galaxy-spanning civilisations and a small-scale relationship catastrophe among friends/lovers. There are wizzo interstellar battleships and convoluted human politics. Speaking of politics, there's an arch and not particularly subtle parody of current and potential near-future political structures here on dear old Earth. And of course there's an alien race who at first seem comical but turn out not to be. So far this could be a review of "Excession" with no modification at all.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The blurb promise didn't disappoint 28 Mar 2006
Format:Paperback
I find a lot of science fiction leaves me feeling a little cold; perhaps it is the writing style, perhaps it is the need for matter-of-fact descriptions in order to set the scene and describe the technological environment. So it is rare for me to take a chance on an author I haven't already tried and enjoyed.
I am so glad I did take that chance with this book; indeed it has prompted me to read further sci-fi from Iain M Banks, and the other titles so far have been well worth the effort.
This is not an easy book to read; it is disjointed, with flashbacks and plots introduced gradually through brief teasers. It is lengthy prose with sentences that I found myself re-reading to ensure I'd absorbed the information. But it is a highly rewarding read, with an epic scale, fantastic imagination and a touching humanity (if humanity can be used to describe some of the portrayals of the frequently alien protagonists!).
There is an easy wit, the characters are thoroughly brought to life, and there are many plot twists. It took me quite a long time to read, but I felt thoroughly rewarded for doing so. To me, this type of book is what grand-scale science-fiction is what it all should be about - literate prose, argument and humour; complex but clearly developed and explained plot; wild but credible imagination; and a true sense of vision anchored by well-rounded characters.
I have seen more negative reviews and I can appreciate that this book is not necessarily for all tastes, but it certainly pushed all the right buttons for me.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not an attention grabber
I've read some of Iain's books before and enjoyed them. I haven't really 'got' this one. It reads like I've started it half way through a series, there's too much variety in the... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Malc
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent again
Published 8 days ago by DaveK
1.0 out of 5 stars Dial M for mediocre
I have read ana enjoyed a few of the "regular" Iain Banks novels (The Wasp Factory, The Business, Dead Air) but this was the first of his 'M' scirence fiction novels I have... Read more
Published 1 month ago by J. Shanks
4.0 out of 5 stars Well constructed with lots of swists and turns - Recommended
Great Story with lots of imaginative Science fiction constructs and concepts. I'd never thought about the difficulties of living in/on a gas giant planet before reading this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Andrew W Green
5.0 out of 5 stars His best work
Just the concept of the Dwellers in this book makes it worth a read.
The back story of the invading superior fleet is just there to give us an antagonist that's so wile it... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Thingy
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely compelling, utterly unpredictable.
Not only was it a great read but it was scientifically accurate. I wish I wasn't working during reading it, actually considered taking time off work to finish it.
Published 4 months ago by Luke pay
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
No Culture. but an enticing storyline that never goes quite where you'll next expect it.
If you like Banks's other Sci-Fi novels, I suspect you'll love this.
Published 5 months ago by J. Green
4.0 out of 5 stars Cant put it down
I haven't finished the algebraist yet... but I cant stop reading. Another mind blowing novel. I will never look at the atmosphere quite the same way again.
Published 7 months ago by Kirsten Razzaq
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Once again Iain M Banks has written an involved but utterly innovative story. Times lines are jumbled together throughout the story but are brought together very nicely indeed
Published 8 months ago by ColinM
3.0 out of 5 stars Liked it but it isn't Look to Windward!
I did enjoy this story, but it did seem to drag. It isn't quite as compelling as "The Player of Games", or as emotionally involved as "Look to Windward" but still good.
Published 9 months ago by MR D J BRUNNING
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