The Algebraist Paperback – 4 Jul 2005
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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".
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very absorbing story intrigues and double dealing. The Mercatoria at first appearance the guardian s of the galaxy but soon shown as the reactionary force in this time and space. Read morePublished 3 months ago by T J K
Classic Ian M Banks - always mind-blowing, always thought-provokingPublished 9 months ago by Mr. John Butler
This is my second reading of the book as I lost interest the first time . It is worth persevering with although I found that I still skipped through sectieo of the book which did... Read morePublished 10 months ago by RM
'The Algebraist' shows off Iain Banks' usual skill for the big set pieces and imaginative alien cultures, but in reality the plot boils down to little more an extended quest for a... Read morePublished 11 months ago by John Bayliss