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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Banks in poetic form.
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...
Published on 8 Jan 2006 by Cartimand

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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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Banks in poetic form., 8 Jan 2006
By 
Cartimand (Hampshire, UK.) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (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
This review is from: The Algebraist (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. However, my take on this book is that Banks decided not to struggle for radical new concepts but instead to explore the ones he has sprayed out profligately in previous novels and give them room to breathe.

One of the reasons (I suspect) why this walloping great lump of a book has not found universal favour with Banks' existing fans is that it's not what they expect of him - narrative-driven, pacy, compelling dramas such as "The Player of Games" (which, to be fair, is in my desert island Top 10). Instead, there are huge sections which don't develop the narrative at all and either, according to your taste, a) develop an idea more fully than he usually does or b) beat it to death on a rock.
A good comparison might be Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon". To anyone who came to this from his first hit, "Snow Crash", the sheer scale of that book may have been unwelcome (though to be honest "The Diamond Age" gave them fair warning). Instead of tech ninjas in cyberspace you got brilliant passages about cryptology, wisdom teeth and furniture porn. I am one of those who think that the result was Stephenson's best work so far.

Probably the best advice for tackling "The Algebraist" is... just relax. Don't flick the pages looking for the next major plot development, take time to soak it all in, especially the world of the gas-giant Nasqueron Dwellers. If something doesn't immediately make sense just file it until it does. Read in that way, this novel is one of the most rewarding of Banks' recent works. Recommended - if you can give it the time and the brain-space it needs.
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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
By 
Aidan P. Gill "aidan387" (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks at his best, 2 Mar 2012
By 
plot hound (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
A great book, lot of twists and turns, action, humour and originality.

We are given the answer to Taak's quest right at the start so the book is really about the journey not the goal which makes a pleasant change with the surprise ending not being required.

The writing is great with lot of strange characters.
The Dwellers supply a lot of humour being written like those old British explorers who had no interest in money and no real concept of danger but simply did whatever they wanted for the hell of it.

Taak is likeable and there is a nice sub-plot based around his old friends and events in his past that bring a more human side to what could have been an otherwise shallow book.

This book really has everything.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forget Barcelona, 5 Dec 2006
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
I'd been recommended a lot of Banks by friends before I picked this one up. Anyone else who has done so will not need me to tell them that it is a novel which requires commitment. I have a feeling that a reader who maybe goes through ten pages at a time, gives it a break for a week, then goes back to it etcetc might not get so much out of it (although I'm sure there are some that would).

The reason is the scale of the tapestry on which the story is woven; the universe is huge and rich and intricate, the backstory is detailed and clever and intriguing. It is a book to immerse yourself in, to shut yourself in a room with and forget that the real world exists; to devour (I read most of it on a weekend break to Barcelona, and my girlfriend didn't thank me or Banks for it either...). It's not just a sense of the now, it's a sense of all that was and all that shall be, the monumental scale of the universe and everything in it against the miniscule insignificance of one human life. The dwellers sum that up beautifully.

Once you have entered this world.. (and having read many of the Culture novels this could just as easily be set in a post Culture as a pre Culture world, I think. I have always viewed it as what was left, as a great power declined and its tecnology left to wilt, the universe trapped in a kind of dark age).. well, then you are rewarded with a rich vein of dark humour (this book left me laughing out loud more times than I was comfortable with), scintillating set-pieces vividly realised and fabulous characters, human and alien, almost all of which are entirely convincing. The Dwellers are probably my favourite aliens, so wonderfully indifferent to the struggles of humankind. I was sad to finish it, but I did so with relish. It still sits in my bathroom, and occasionally under certain [ahem] circumstances I like to re-live some of my favourite bits. It's great.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Its ok, 15 April 2012
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
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 time is spent describing Dweller culture and not a lot happens - for about 200 pages. During this time, some of Banks' grammatical conceits are exposed, in particular his long, single-sentence paragraphs and baffling arrays of invented words which impede the flow of the story and will have you skipping pages.
The ending is a real let-down. Banks succeeded in creating a particularly loathsome and fascinating villain: the Archimandrite Luseferous is one of the best nasties to ever exist in a Banks novel, but his come-uppance is disappointingly downbeat.
This is an OK sci-fi novel.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top class contemporary literature in the SF genre., 29 May 2005
By 
Neil Bell (Helsinki) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
I've read all of Banks' SF work (with the exception of Feersum Endjinn, which I've never managed to get past the first few pages of) and for me this is one of his best, certainly my favourite since "Excession". I'm frankly puzzled by the reaction of many other reviewers who seem to have been disappointed by it - I was riveted for all of the 534 pages. The book is highly complex and thoughtful, yet wholly absorbing. The new non-culture galaxy is characterised by compartmentalisation in many dimensions. The connected are separated from the disconnected by the spatial distribution of the wormhole network, and the major galaxy-spanning cultures (Dweller and Mercatoria) are separated by both the nature of their habitats (gas giants & rocky planets) and their radically different perceptions of time. Yet finer dimensions of division coexist and intermesh in the form of the different races of the Mercatoria, its baroque administrative organisations and power structures, and the distinctions between members of a given species that have achieved space travel off their own backs and those that have been adopted by other races (e.g. rhumans and ahumans). And then there are the AIs... All of these elements coexist and ultimately have to interact at some level, in different ways and to different extents. Banks manages to introduce all of this, hold it togther and use it as the vehicle for a story that is gripping while also addressing serious themes such as solipsism, the 3-way interaction between morality, the nature of government and individual freedom, and prejudice based on fear of difference. On top of this, the book is consistently extremely funny and very well written in terms of its novel and evocative use of language. The mature work of a great SF literary craftsman at the height of his abilities. I just hope that a less than appreciative reception in some quarters doesn't put him off producing more of the same!
Incidentally, the galactic civilisation in the Algebraist cannot be an earlier or later point in the Culture universe, as some have suggested. It can't be later, as even if we accept that FTL travel without portals is conceivably discoverable in the universe of the Algebraist, it obviously hasn't been discovered at the time the story is set. It can't be earlier either, as we are told that the story is set about 2000 years in the future, and we know from "State of the Art" that the Culture, complete with FTL drives, coexisted with earth in the 20th century.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good - Bad - Good, 28 Oct 2004
This review is from: The Algebraist (Hardcover)
My opinion of this book changed several times during the reading. At first, it was pure pleasure at a roaring space opera - baroque, macabre and perverse - Banks as only Banks can do it. Personally, I was glad it was non Culture. You can only exploit a milieu so much (pay heed Mr Feist) and even the hilarious ship names get slightly less than hilarious after a while.
In fact, over time I came to feel this was in some way an anti-culture novel, with Banks taking the opportunity to revel in inequities and humour that a communist utopia simply doesn't permit - immense and turbulent histories, insanely steep hierarchies, macho hardware, comically elaborate titles. All good fun and more than a little tongue in cheek. There is the usual skill with language and casual ability to surprise and shock.
As this very long novel wore on, though, I got distinctly bored with the Dwellers and their world. 'Oh no, not another planet-sized hydrogen storm!' 'What, another charmingly eccentric, secretly deadly, amazingly obtuse alien?' Despite their shape, Dwellers aren't alien - they're your tweed-jacketed old uncle in the early stages of dementia. I suspect this puts me in a distinct minority though.
Towards the end, ennui turned to anger at the way critical plotlines fizzled out without resolution. It's hard to explain without spoiling the plot, but the key antagonist (despite interesting characterisation) is utterly wasted, calling into question the point of about 30% of the book. Don't hold out for a grand finale.
Yet, literally on the last page, Banks rescues the book and pulls back a star or two. You knew there was something strange about the head gardener, but the final scene makes you realise that you've been reading a different book altogether. It casts new light on obscure passages and odd hints of background. It is sad without being maudlin, and every so slightly uplifting. Again, it completely reverse one of the key strands of the culture universe.
Had I the temerity to offer advice, which I guess I do, it would be to drop the Archimandrite and beef up the foreshadowing for this twist. Yet Banks at is worst is still premier league science fiction and there are many moments of pure pleasure in the Algebraist.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bring back the Culture!, 14 Sep 2005
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
I'm an Iain Banks fan of long standing, but I found this one a disappointment. It had its moments, and you can't fault it for ambition - it was attempting to handle galactic history on a scale undreamt of since Olaf Stapledon - but there was a lot that didn't really work.
The first few pages were off-putting, with far too many hierarchies, titles and individuals with funny names, and a chief baddie so irredeemably unpleasant as to be pure cardboard. The bulk of the book was about a species known as the Dwellers, the originality of whose conception was matched, sad to say, by its implausibility; I was never able to suspend my disbelief in either them or their worlds. At the end several plot threads which had appeared to be major just fizzled out with very little fuss, leaving me with a profound sense of "so what?" and a suspicion that 50 pages before the end the author had run out of both ideas and available wordage. I never expected to feel this about Mr Banks.
While it's understandable that he might want to break away from the Culture, I do hope he goes back to it. This new universe doesn't hang together half as well, and none of the ship names is making even the slightest effort to be funny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Last 300 Pages Just Flew By, 28 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Algebraist (Kindle Edition)
I'd never read any Iain M. Banks before but I knew he was a well respected Sci-Fi author. Seeing this in a charity shop I thought I might as well give it a go.

Banks creates a great and wonderful universe of different planets and species. The imagination and effort that have gone into creating this world can't be denied. We meet all sorts of brilliant characters, my favourites being the hilarious dwellers. We also have a very evil though slightly cliched bad guy. The descriptions of the weird and nasty stuff he gets up to are enough to set your stomach churning. In fact, they're so gruesome that they lose some of the impact after a while.

The writing style is interesting and very easy to read but the book could have been a hell of a lot shorter. About 200 pages are taken up just by setting the scene. In the midst of the just over 500 pages of the book, the storyline concerning the terrible Luseferous feels very rushed. Also, after all the time you spend reading the book, the end is a complete anticlimax.

I enjoyed most of this book but it's too long, poorly paced and the end is terrible.
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The Algebraist
The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks (Paperback - 4 July 2005)
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