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128 Reviews
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so fast, Mr Banks...
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...
Published on 19 Oct. 2011 by Dr Frazer Anderson

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Its ok
This book is rich with original and novel concepts. It is set in a new but plausible universe with a society that is virtually the opposite of his benign techno-friendly Culture which formed the background of previous books. However, this novel does rank amongst his weakest efforts.It falls down when the protagonist, Fassin, begins his mission in the gas planet: too much...
Published on 15 April 2012 by CallumP


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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unparalleled imagination, 1 Dec. 2004
By 
S. S. Baker (Tokyo, Japan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
The talents of this writer transcend the genre to such an extent that Banks dwarfs every single science fiction author of the last fifty years.
Once, he invented an entire universe with a unique, fascinating history, inspired, frightening inhabitants and breathtaking scientific achievements. Its inhabitants were the Culture, they had power beyond our dreams and sentient ships the size of continents. It was so attractive that most of his readers feared he may never write another Culture novel and leave us here alone to constantly re-read our favourites ‚€" Excession is a masterpiece.
Most science fiction writers would be more than happy with that. Not Banks. He‚€™s done it again ‚€" he‚€™s invented a complete new universe with an entirely different set of rules, inhabitants and history ‚€" billions of years of history. Characters drawn so skilfully that we can‚€™t remember a universe without them. His imagination makes you double-take as you read, wondering how anyone can think of such things and explore them so brilliantly. Astounding work, simply astounding.
The only bad thing about the Algebraist is that when you‚€™ve read the last word on the final page you close the book knowing you‚€™ll have to wait another two years until you can feast again.
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5 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No it's not disappointing - Come on Banksy, 14 Jan. 2005
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
Unlike some of the previous reviews I found this book a fascinating further development on the Culture Universe.
The Dwellers it seems, have been around since The Beginning, not only that but they are a mysterious, populous and quixotic species.
The story background is the latest in the Culture timeline, the AIs, the Minds, have been hunted almost to extinction by the grim and humourless Mercatoria; amidst all this, Fassin Taak, a student and Slow Seer to The Dwellers stumbles on the universe's biggest secret.
I can't tell you any more except that I found plenty of humour, ideas, action and a big concept to wrap it up.
Come on Banks fans, this is a step up from his last few.
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10 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It **IS** a culture novel... DUH!!!... And a super read too..., 1 Jun. 2006
By 
Robert Pylant (Austin, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
Wow, has *no* reviewer noticed the reference in the book to GC i.e. GENERAL CONTACT... from the Culture Novels... Mayhaps it is *not* a culture novel persea but all the hints exist this is *pre-culture* history of the human race in space. The AI's while originally being persecuted and *almost* driven to extinction ARE around but still in early stages of developement - Every reader just *assumes* that this is an alternate universe to the culture universe because everyone uses worm-holes to travel about! But has anyone stopped to think that it was *before* faster than light travel was developed?? Remember that the Dwellers (the only ancient civilization currently around among younger galactic civilizations) do not LIKE to travel in space and why should they when they have the notorious worm-hole travel system? The Dwellers as we discover have *many* secrets that are not shared with younger emerging galactic civilizations and most definately have faster than light travel also but why advertise it? The worm-hole network in itself is enough to drive the galactic civilizations to the point of intergalactic war? What if it was hinted that there was faster-than-light drives that could take you *anywhere* that even the worm-holes couldnt?? This novel takes place BEFORE the younger races discover faster than light travel... The humans are only just developing life-extension drugs, only just developing mental and physical enhancements, ALL THE TECHNOLOGY displayed in this novel is far below modern-day Culture technology.

This book (for all those culture enthusiasts) is a pre-culture novel and I am surprised that all the previous reviewers have missed the hints so obviously spread throughout this VERY ENTERTAINING and vastly enjoyable read!

And while not providing any spoilers to anyone reading this review - even the end of the novel gives hint that much greater things are to come i.e. humans and AI developing into THE CULTURE...

Mr. Banks has gone out-of-his way to spread his previous Culture novels over a vast time-line of Culture History and not in any particular sequence. This book is simply a historic pre-cursor to the Culture's eventual evolution. Kudo's Mr. Banks - I am ASTOUNDED that nobody else has tied the knots together - perhaps if you had only mentioned that a few of the older races had *sublimed* instead of using the words *disappeared* more of the readers would have caught the implications, but then again, if you had used the word SUBLIMED that would have been too much of a dead give-away and thus ruined the titillation that only a small percent of your fans are enjoying.

P.S. once again GC reference was very enjoyable too...
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks has surpassed himself .., 20 Oct. 2004
By 
I. J. Sloan "thegreyfox" (Rossendale, Lancs United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
I am a huge fan of Iain M Banks, and was delighted to see "The Algebraist", his new SF book, at the airport a week ago ( I was unaware of any new work from Banks ) ... it looks big; it is bound to be "wordy", but if "Look to Windward" was anything to go by, I had high hopes that this would be well worth the investment in both money and time. As an aside, I was also slightly worried by the title as long diatribes on mathematics are not my ideal holiday reading!
I need not have worried. To me, "the Algebraist" was equal, no, better than "LTW". I won't go over the story line, as I will not do it justice, but this book is one of the most satisfying STORIES I have ever read ( and at 51, I have read a lot of SF in 40 years). This story, is "chase", is a "mystery", contains intrigue, and all set in Banks simply fantastic imagination. As a completely satisfying, self contained novel, it has the climax, denouement, and the closure of enough loose ends that THIS reader was (more than) 100% satisfied. Sure, there are a couple of underdeveloped threads and any (minor) remaining loose ends, but I feel most readers will be happy to put their own interpretation on these ... as this particular book quotes from the outset, no story starts and ends with precise boundaries.

The best things about this book, though, apart from being a very satisfying story, are the characters. Dwellers rule OK ! .... Their humour is simply spot on, and when the evil Archimandrite (another phenomenally well developed character) is sending hostages into space (without the comfort of a space suit, I should add ) at the rate of 3000 per hour, in order to pressurize the "laissez faire" Dwellers into complying with his demands, they simply reply .... "I DO hope you have enough people!". I would love to see the Dwellers in follow-up stories .. they are a whole library of possibilities.
I would partly argue against another reviewer here. I think the story was, indeed, reasonably straightforward ( perhaps I would say 'accessible' ) but had many sub plots, intrigues and complications to make it a thoroughly brilliant and absorbing experience.
Easier to read than Look to Windward, the prose is much more accessible, and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I sometimes read SF books wondering, is this part of an obvious series ?... Am I going to find the story wanders off into incomprehension?, or simply 'am I going to be disappointed that the ending does not live up to the rest of the story?' ... not here. It may seem heresy, but I enjoyed this as much if not more than my previous favourite book, Dune.
By the way, the previous review ("Not culture ..sadly") is not a review .. it is a verbatim copy of the books liner notes, as you will see if you spend your money wisely, and buy this fantastic book.
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dwellers rule! Great book - read it., 3 Jan. 2005
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
Initially this book seems like a bit of a plodding read; however, I soon found myself hooked. As with many previous reviewers I couldn't possibly do this book justice with a small description of the various plots, subplots and sociological references. Speaking of which: the Dwellers! The double-disk floating archispecies with a sense of fun. Their lives are ruled by the endless toil for kudos, except if they drop out of society, then they gain kudos by being aloof!
Without giving too much away, I think it's wrong to say that this book is not about The Culture, certainly there aren't so many artificial intelligences running around, but instead presents a possible universe after The Culture have long gone - possibly due to some revolution against AI? Against this background, we find that there are other more ancient and, in my opinion, infinitely more entertaining cultures i.e. Dwellers. I heartily recommend this book.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dial M for mediocre, 19 Jun. 2014
By 
J. Shanks - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
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 ever triend, and unfortunately it will be the last. Chock full of pseudo-science nonsense words and jumbled, jumpy narrative, I'm sad to say that this is one of the few books that has defeated me. I managed to make it as far as page 130 after a month (a very slow rate for me as I can usually get through a good-sized novel in a couple of weeks) and couldn't face another 400 pages. I am glad to see from some of the other 1-star reviews that I am not alone in this. A profound disappointment.
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14 of 37 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Huge galaxy spanning disapointment, 13 Mar. 2006
By A Customer
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
I got this book on the back of recommendations and the synopsis of the book. I enjoy space opera type novels and was a great fan of the Empire series by the late great Isaac Asimov. Alas the writing style in the Algebraist is laboured, the plot far fetched (even for a sci fi ). The story line is dis-jointed and the action “jumps” back and forth rather than flow, leaving the reader disorientated and confused. It is a page-turner, but only backwards as you try to re read the previous page to try and figure out what happened!! If you are looking for an easy read or one where the plot, the characters or the action is even remotely plausible then skip this one. I would normally have no trouble believing in strange aliens and advanced technology, but gas giant dwellers who develop advance technology without fire or metal or anything solid, is stretching it a bit for me. The writer is obviously familiar with Dr Sagan’s theories about gas giant “floaters” and has tried to make his universe more diverse and interesting by including strange beings that do not fit our concept of life, but has forgotten that the first part of sci-fi refers to science, and that is being stretched to breaking point here.
I would have forgiven the dodgy science if the FI for fiction had at least worked, but alas the confused writing style and over reliance on strange names and customs to convey an alien universe rather than letting the story fire up the imagination rather spoilt it for me. It was an effort of will even to finish the book.
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4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars counter-culture, 14 Feb. 2005
By 
H. Mclean (Canberra) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
I think Iain Banks is a brilliant writer. I have read and enjoyed most of his books and I collect signed first editions of his work. His books have by turn inspired and amused me. I love his wicked humour and his ability to make me care for his brilliant and fractured characters. But, all that means nothing. You're only as good as your last book, and let's be honest, this one's a turkey.
It seems that the great man has grown tired of the Culture. Rather than give the punters what they want (more Culture stories), Banks appears to be trying to escape from his fabulous utopian vision. The Algebraist is a plodding, overlong and useless book. The major plot turns out to be, hmm, not so major at all, and the sub-plots, which could have been soooo brilliant, (the Archimandrite, Taince, Saluus) are left disappointingly unexplored.
It's not all bad. Starting and finishing the book with HG was pretty good, although it's a pretty long journey. Colonel Hatherence was a fascinating character, but, she just didn't hang aroung long enough.
So, there you have it; Banksy is brilliant but not this time. If you want sprawling magnificence with characters that will become part of your life forever, don't waste time with this; read Use of Weapons, or The Bridge, or Espedair Street instead.
Cheers, HM
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6 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Must try harder, 7 Feb. 2005
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
While the likes of M John Harrison and Dan Simmons have worked hard to break new ground in contemporary SF, here Banks seems content to rest on his laurels, and the result is a flabbily self-indulgent effort which scarcely justifies close analysis. Banks's world-building in the first quarter of the book leaves little room for characterisation and what little there is seems arbitrary; it's the same old bunch of eccentric aliens and spoilt hedonistic youngsters. The lame quest plot exists merely to introduce the Nasqueron Dwellers, whose own sole reason for existence, it would seem, is to form an outlet for Banks's self-consciously showy word-play. This patent enjoyment at the expense of the reader truly begins to grate, and huge perseverance is required to reach the novel's conclusion. Which, needless to say, offers scant reward. One for completists only.
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1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Wait, 7 Oct. 2004
By 
Christian (Perthshire Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
A long wait for his return to the Science Fiction fold, Iain M. Banks is still at his best with The Algebraist.
Although Non-Culture, this in my opinion, is almost as good as The Player of Games. Vivid imagination, excellent character portrayal and development, a complex and yet clear storyline, I wonder whether our Galaxy 2000 years from now will be the backdrop for further creative quests of the authors mind?
Regardless, lets make it sooner than 2008 - please?
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