Monday, November 28, 2005

Book Number 45

The Algebraist


The Algebraist (2004) by Iain M. Banks


There was a lot of talk this year about the genre of "space opera" in science fiction. The operational definition seemed to be interstellar travel, alien races, space battles with character drama and politicing. This, the new Iain M Banks book, falls squarely within that rubric.

Faasin Takk is a human Slow Seer who delves into the timescale of The Dwellers, a race of ubiquitous, immensely long-lived gas breathers. The backdrop is a universe ruled by a political entity called the Mercatoria whose control is maintained militarily across hundreds of wormholes. Not of the Mercatoria, Beyonders occasionally attack and destroy a system's wormhole; leaving it isolated for hundreds of years until a new one can (possibly) be delivered.

In the course of his research trips, Faasin may have discovered the secret to a parallel network of travel portals. This sets off a huge chain of events with various fleets converging on this star system. Fassin is seconded to head back to the Dwellers gas giant planet and try and find the if the network exists.

This is a slow book but well worthwhile getting through. Banks has in incredible imagination and is able to keep a clear story running throughout a fantastical world. A number of the secondary plotlines spin out to unsatisfactory conclusions in the end and the main antagonist is a bit overdrawn. These are minor complaints though; I'd love to read another book set in this universe.

1 comment:

Olman Feelyus said...

Cool. I'm psyched to read this. I savour Banks because there are only a finite number of his sci-fi books out there. I really loved Excession which was another large-scale galactic strategy story, so this sounds like it would appeal to me.

I don't think it can be classified as space opera, though. I had a similar sense of the definition that you put up above, but I think space opera includes large and simplistic human themes and unrealistic science. Flash Gordon and Star Wars are considered space operas. The classic source are E.E. Doc Smith's Lensman series. I think Banks tries to make his science work and his plots and themes are morally complex and grey.

Very cool cover, too.