Ive been reading through all of Banks novels these last few years, mostly focusing on The Culture series and working my way outward through his other M. Banks had such an interesting way of writing his novels so that the real story unfolds in the background the whole time, mostly hidden.
in this universe's demonization of artificial intelligence, Banks is able to fully illustrate the horror (and stupidity) of demonizing and oppressing any community. they were some pretty loveable aliens and then it all had to be ruined by those noxious activities! this review is a part of a longer article on Iain Banks posted on Shelf Inflicted.
It's also not a Culture novel but I feel like it might ALMOST be. But then I got into the intrigue, the spy stuff, the big mystery with these floating aliens that goes way beyond the fact they've been around for 10 billion years. until war comes and so much crap comes together and reveals to us a much bigger and bigger mystery... Lots of space battles, grief, and mystery keeps the novel jumping. But as it is, Banks has written better novels, so in the end, I still ranked it slightly lower.
So I picked The Algebraist to be my "tribute read", alas I find that prefer his Culture novels. The Algebraist (correct me if I'm wrong) is Mr. Banks' only non-Culture sci-fi novel, it does have some of the magnificent madness that you get in his Culture books but after reading it for a while I started wishing the Minds or the drones would crash the party, the "Banksness" of the writing style just goes so well with the Culture elements. I remember reading a review that criticized the aliens in this book as "too anthropomorphic" I guess the reviewer is not too familiar with humans and should endeavor to get out more. In any case the Dwellers are the latest addition to my list of favorite fictional aliens (not that I have a list of non-fictional ones) Another concept I really like is the different types of human, aHuman and rHuman (advanced and remainder Human), the aHuman were kidnapped thousands of years ago from a "pre-civilised" human race and sort of uplifted and cultivated to create a separate strain of human to keep the original humans (rHuman) from becoming too uppity when the latter has achieved interstellar travel. However, I did not find the Algebraist to be an easy read, the pacing is uneven and the main characters are not as well developed as in other Banks books that I have read (some of the aliens are better developed than the protagonist).
Im sure that many readers already consider audiobooks a short-cut vs the real experience of the written page, so an abridged audiobook is practically like reading the Cliffnotes for Shakespeare. Anyway, long story short, I gave the audiobook a whirl, and basically it was a lot like my experience of listening to Banks Excession. Such a complicated galaxy-spanning story, chock-a-block with strange and ancient alien races, numerous space-faring factions all battling to recover an incredibly -powerful weapon/codex/black-body artifact. The Dwellers are the headliners of this gig, an ancient and powerful slow-moving race that populates gas giants throughout the galaxy, and count their lifetimes in the millions or billions of years. Ive read many reviews of the The Algebraist that essentially say that there wsere too many details, too much creativity, and not enough authorial discipline to deliver a focused plot and message. If I was willing to devote more time to it, Id like to read the whole book in hardcopy to give it proper attention.
The entire reason that I kept pushing through this time consuming book was that it was my 100th book off the Sci-Fi and Fantasy group's bookshelf and I didn't want to DNF #100.
(Review spoiler alert: the answer is "No.") The heart of this space opera is Fassin Taak's search for a mathematical Transform that will unscramble a list of coordinates of secret wormholes that connect almost every inhabited system in the galaxy. Come to think of it, anyone would kill to get the information, or to keep it hidden, which makes Fassin's search quite difficult. Banks spends the majority of this book (and that is a lot of book right there) keeping coy about whether or not any such secret wormhole network exists. (Gas-dwelling alien species think alike.) And it turns out not to have much bearing on the other major plot in the book, the invasion of Fassin's home system, Ulubis, even though Fassin's in such a hurry to find the Transform so he can get help before the invasion fleet arrives. My favourite example would probably be where Archmandrite Luseferous begins shooting live humans out into space unless the Dwellers produce Fassin: Luseferous pointed furiously at the line of bodies heading slowly towards the planet. (Review spoiler alert: The following is about the only praise I have for The Algebraist, so lap it up while the lapping is good.) Unfortunately, our glimpse at Dweller society is brief compared to the time Fassin spends traipsing about the rest of the galaxy meeting a couple of other random species. Despite the fact that a good chunk of the book happens in Dweller gas giants and Fassin spends most of his time with Dwellers, there's so much more we could have learned. (Review spoiler alert: And now we resume our regularly-scheduled criticism.) Compared to the intriguing Dwellers, the actual object of Fassin's quest is far less interesting. Banks makes a big deal over the fact that Fassin needs to find "the Transform," which turns out to be an equation written in "alien algebra" (hence the title, The Algebraist). Supposedly this list and its Transform are so important because they'd give the Mercatoria (or its enemies) access to a pre-existing network of wormholes. At first, there's pressure to find the Transform as soon as possible, so that the Mercatoria can summon reinforcements before Luseferous' invasion fleet arrives in Ulubis. The invasion's mastermind, Archmandrite Luseferous, also begins the book as a credible threat. And there's no real reason for this sudden change in characterization, other than the fact that Banks needs Luseferous' invasion to fail, of course.
There were two major problems. The Algebraist tossed together rather high-concept themes (persecution of AIs, morally ambiguous revolution against a powerful hegemon, mass-death tragedy) alongside silliness bordering on stupidity. The major alien race is depicted as bumbling Woosters enjoying the life of a Gilbert & Sullivan farce... Then he came back some years later and stormed through it to get it out the door, but he had coincidentally just re-read and become inspired by Good Omens.
BANKS -- An extremely rewarding though very complex read rating a 10 on all the scales of complexity due to writing style, amount of characters to follow, and the number and variation of cultures and species. The author takes an action-packed wartime space drama and makes it more complicated with a writing style in which he starts chapters with dialog without telling you who is speaking until half a page later. The characters are rich and the plotline is actually believable while some of the technology and alien beings are unlike any I've read in other books.
The Dwellers whom Fassin Taak studies live within the turbulent atmosphere of Nasqueron, the largest such gas giant in the Ulubis system. Fassin's home is on 'glantine, one of Nasqueron's more habitable moons, where he is a member of Sept Bantrabal, one of the more successful groups of Seers. And we're really not even scratching the surface!) The Dwellers seem like capricious, frivolous dilettantesthere's some debate about whether they're civilized at all, despite their longevity and obvious intelligenceto the humans and other "Quick" species who slow their metabolisms and Delve into the atmosphere of Nasqueron to interview and study them (when they're allowed to). because Fassin is also a citizen of the Mercatoria, the star-spanning Human civilization (well, mostly Human) which has successfully eradicated rogue AIs (artificial intelligences who came close to subjugating humanity) and connected hundreds of Earthlike planets in a faster-than-light network of Arteria, the paired wormholes through which interstellar travel is essentially instantaneous. Wormhole networks are easily disrupted, thoughone of the reasons why Ulubis is such a Galactic backwater is that its own wormhole connection to the rest of the Galaxy was destroyed a few centuries earlier, necessitating a replacement be sent from the nearest connected star system by the Mercatorian Engineers who are the only ones allowed to create and maintain these particular bits of critical infrastructure. The Dweller List is the deceptively simple McGuffin that drives Banks' ornate engine of plot.
Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction. In an interview in Socialist Review he claimed he did this after he "abandoned the idea of crashing my Land Rover through the gates of Fife dockyard, after spotting the guys armed with machine guns." He related his concerns about the invasion of Iraq in his book Raw Spirit, and the principal protagonist (Alban McGill) in the novel The Steep Approach to Garbadale confronts another character with arguments in a similar vein. Interviewed on Mark Lawson's BBC Four series, first broadcast in the UK on 14 November 2006, Banks explained why his novels are published under two different names. To distinguish between the mainstream and SF novels, Banks suggested the return of the 'M', although at one stage he considered John B. His latest book was a science fiction (SF) novel in the Culture series, called The Hydrogen Sonata, published in 2012. The Scottish writer posted a message on his official website saying his next novel The Quarry, due to be published later this year*, would be his last.