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Algebraist (The Culture) Paperback – 4 Jul 2005
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There is now no British SF writer to whose work I look forward with greater keenness
Confirms Banks as the standard by which the rest of SF is judged
Gripping, touching and funny
An explosive new SF novel from the UK's bestselling writer in the genre.See all Product description
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But then I gave it another go during a long trip. Finished it during the return journey.
As usual, Banks gets lost in inventing gargantuan names, structures, worlds and concepts. But he does it in such a languid prose...
If you are ready for it, you will love the pictures your mind is able to paint from the words.
Also be ready for a seriously fujed(sic) up villain. And the relish with which Banks narrates him.
A clue to the question of where the portals exist: think navel gazing.
A scholar in the fourth millennia looks for clues among a species adapted to living in gas giant planets to an entrance of a intergalactic wormhole network in light of an approaching threat from a Genghis Khan like warlord.
And I won't say anything about artificial intelligences that are not in this book.
Not a Culture novel but it is close.
Following on from Look to Windward, 2000 Iain M Banks decided to write a non-culture SF novel and so wrote The Algebraist. As a long term fan of all his books, I read this with interest.
It tells the story of The Dwellers an alien species living in gas giants with almost impossibly long lifespans, and a mythical network of wormholes to bind the known universe together.
There is a truly vicious evil invader Archimandrite Luseferous of the Starveling Cult and a despotic power called The Mercatoria, dedicated to killing all AIs, machines with Artificial Intelligence. When I first read this, I thought this was some reference to Culture, but probably not.
An interesting story, but for me the Culture story were always more comfortingly familiar.
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Though his Culture series is best known, he also wrote a handful of sci-fi novels that were not set in that fictional universe. This is one of them. Really, it amazes me when authors who have developed very detailed, well thought out fictional universes then turn around and do it again. Because the fictional universe in this story is very detailed and well thought out while at the same time is completely different from his Culture universe.
I don't want to talk about the plot, spoilers and all that, but suffice it to say that if you've enjoyed any of his other works then you'll enjoy this one, too.
Exploration and mystery drives the story forward as we embark on an adventure into the depths of a gas giant and are introduced to its inhabitants' enigmatic ways. The adventure has its highs and lows as any voyage of discovery does with Banks's wit keeping us entertained as he follows through to its conclusion.
I've seen other reviews that compare The Algebraist to Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark in a derivative way but I think this is a shallow interpretation. While this story does have the epic scale, colorful cast of characters, and treasure seeking aspect of those films, these are really just manifestations of the ancient mythological roots that infuse many great adventure stories.
In the end, Banks tells a gripping tale with characters that are intelligent, sometimes funny, and always interesting to follow along on their adventures. His mastery in conveying the motivations and history of civilizations across the millennia is like a rich tapestry upon which the action takes place. This is an excellent work of adventure and science fiction. I'm greatly looking forward to my next "delve" into another Banks novel.
With no connection to his well-loved Culture series, Banks is free to play and experiment. And with lots of themes to explore, there can be a lot to keep up with, but the pleasures of the book are so great that it always feels worthwhile.
Set in a universe wherein war has disrupted a network of wormholes and reinforced the vast distances between different systems, various factions- all with varying levels of villainy and poor intentions- seek to find out if an ancient race will reveal a secret, far more vast wormhole network of their own.
The ancient Dwellers are perhaps Banks' greatest gift to science fiction. Rather than being wise and remote as we've come to expect from scifi tropes, they are instead boisterous, mad, gleefully violent (especially to their own young), and obsessed with clubs, societies, and most of all hierarchy. They are billions of years old as a society and in some cases individually but their priorities appear to be not a bit more advanced than a crueler version of an Edwardian dandy. And for all that, they are hilarious.
Are they as old as they say they are? Do they have the secret to unlocking instantaneous travel throughout the universe? Well, it doesn't help that they're also notorious exaggerators and serial buffoons.
Who may also possess the most advanced technology the universe has ever seen.