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3.8 out of 5 stars
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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Showing 1-10 of 10 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on 8 November 2004
The elements that make Ian M. Banks one of the more engaging sci-fi authors are sadly missing from his latest work, The Algebraist. The book just does not get off the ground. I did look forward to it -- especially with all the 'science fiction event of the decade' hype that accompanied. But Mr Banks has clearly lost his form on this work.
What was missing was what I have always liked in his other works: the massive, almost indulgent sweeping, imagination evident in Consider Phleibas, or the cynical worldly edge of the Culture novels. Instead, this is all flab. The only sense of intrigue comes from the world view of the Dwellers, gas giant natives who live for billions of years, and are irreverent and quite whimsical. But the characterisation was otherwise very weak. The lead character, the Seer Fassin, never strayed beyond the two dimensions, and crucially never made me feel concerned about him. That was always an extraordinary aspect of Banks: his ability to make you feel empathy with an alien species.
So the book proved to be a real plod, one of those ones you trudge through, hoping it will pick up, the only final satisfaction coming with the realisation that at least its finally over. Mr Banks, whatever you were on when you wrote your earlier workd, get onto it again!
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on 17 August 2005
Like all of Banks' sci-fi works, 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, but I doubt it would stay in many readers' minds for too long.
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on 26 July 2014
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 different species of aliens and too many foreign concepts. I'm about half way through it, I keep picking it up, reading it, don't get engaged, then leave it for a while. This is a VERY bad sign! I am usually Malc the Book Devourer. I like the characters, but maybe Iain has tried to fit too much into this.
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VINE VOICEon 19 May 2006
Banks used to be one of the best writers around, but his recent output (Dead Air, Raw Spirit) has been a catalogue of under achievement and here is another one to add to the list.

For the first time ever I was seriously tempted to give up on a Banks book - this is incredibly slow to come together and after 200 pages I was ready to abandon it. Only my previous good experiences with Banks kept me going. It does get a bit better, sufficient for me to finish it, but by Banks standards it is very poor. His best sci-fi fizzes with invention and narrative drive. The algebraist only manages that of too few occasions.

There are so many flaws it would be difficult to know where to start. One example would be the tragedy involving 3 central characters early in the book. It seems like it is going to be significant but then gets forgotten. Only to be resolved in a perfunctory fashion at the end - as if the author had suddenly remembered here was a loose end that needed tidied up!

To me the whole thing reads like a half decent 1st draft. Were he not so successful I suspect his editor would have sent him back to have another go. Me, I'll be thinking long and hard before parting with my money for another of his offerings.
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on 9 October 2004
I was very disappointed by the story which seemes to have been constructed from left-over elements of Banks' earlier - and mostly excellent - SF work. After the beautifully crafted, tragic "Look to Windward", this sprawling, ponderous novel starts and stops like an overloaded lorry and splutters out at the very end. "Against a Dark Background" was much the same. It is almost as though Banks is lost the second he steps outside the universe of the Culture. The aliens, the humans and the long, long names and even longer sentences in The Algebraist seem contrived and, for me, are delivered in a mechanical way. Normally, Banks makes these devices appropriate to the context of the story and they add depth and texture to his writing.

I hope he returns to form with his next book - for me, he is one of the best SF writers out there.
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on 17 February 2005
Banks is one of my top 5 authors but I find that his books fall into one of two camps - they are either brilliant, or just too pretentious and sink into a mire of self-congratulatory over-cleverness. This book sadly falls firmly in the second camp (above A Song of Stone, it's true, but still there).
The book is partially but insufficiently redeemed by Banks' inimitable style and dark humour. The main problem for me is that it is too far from reality and I don't empathise with anything, which makes it difficult to maintain interest. The universe is nowhere near as coherent and credible as the Culture universe (not just because the latter has been built up over several books - it was better in its first appearance) and the races and characters are unconvincing. There are some good comic moments, though.
Part of the problem may have been that I have been reading this book piecemeal, not having time to read in large chunks. I think it would be better ingested in large quantities, but I haven't really been inspired to devote that much time to it.
Let's hope the next book will be one of the good ones again. I think Banks should focus on story and character and not try so hard to make it whacky - the whackiness comes inevitably from his style and inventiveness, and works better in an environment which is closer to reality. My favourite Banks book is Espedair Street, which is totally set in the real world.
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I've just been dishing out helpful votes to those who have summarised the plot of this in their reviews, because I found this really heaving and couldn't get into it all, so it's nice to know what it was about! Some of the writer's previous science fiction work has been superb, but some has been too clever for it's own good. And this is one of them. A very long book with so much padding in the writing that it simply failed to grab me at all.

The trouble is, I am a very fast reader of books. I think this would work better if you took it very slowly and carefully in the reading. Do a few pages a day and then you might get something out of it. If you've never read his science fiction work before, then don't start here, start with consider phelbas, which is a superb novel and far far easier to get into.

Although I did not like this book I have tried to be helpful in this review in recommending how best to approach it, so please do not give me an unhelpful vote if you disagree with my opinion. Thank you.
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on 11 March 2011
I'm a Iain Banks and an Iain M Banks fan and have read most of the culture novels. However this is the first book in a while that I didn't finish (I got about half way through). Although there are moments of where his amazing imagination shines through it is a very laboured book. If you loved Lord of the Rings but hated the Silmarillion then you'll know what I mean.
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on 14 February 2005
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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on 4 November 2006
... his worst effort so far.

At the moment, Alastair Reynolds has overtaken Banks as the best British SF author. Who knows, perhaps the competition will lead him back to doing work of the quality of Use of Weapons and The Player of Games.
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