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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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Initial post: 28 Jun 2013 16:34:29 BDT
Dan Crawford says:
Fassin's plot line isn't wasted. The literary world is bored with Frodos. *** SPOILER *** I can well imagine a Frodo-type character in a fantasy world setting out to become the hero and then realising he's been following a dead end (the world having been saved without him). It's part of Banks' humour. It actually DOES become clear that he hasn't been following a dead end in any case.
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