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Banks in poetic form.
on 8 January 2006
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".