Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Algebraist

Title: The Algebraist
Author: Iain M. Banks
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2004
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: With the news of Iain Banks passing away a month ago I finally decided to start the journey of reading The Algebraist. Despite not being immensely long in page count (432 pages), Banks' novels tend to take me a prodigious amount of time to finish, so I gathered all my patient determination and started on my trek.

As expected the reading went slowly. Banks' prose is really vivid and he submerses you into his world with aliens, new cultures, new technology, new mores. I think he is a great writer in a sense of invoking imagery and thinking deeply about issues, but it's a slow going setting up the relationships and the world around them and I think he could definitely get to the same place with less detail.

Speaking of getting to the same place, this novel stands out in how little is accomplished at the end of it. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but most characters would have done better to stay at home and sip tea for all that their activity accomplished. Not to say it isn't realistic -- I have days like that too -- but it's a pretty gaping disappointment as a reader when you realize that half the novel describes actions of a zero-sum game. The ending is both brilliant in how it comes together and extremely frustrating at the same time. I can't make up my mind whether I love or hate this book's ending. A little bit of both.

In terms of the book cast, most of the action is focused on Fassin Taak, who is a human sent to the planet of Dwellers to gather certain intel of potentially enormous disruptive power. The best description I have for him is "the boy next door". It's not entirely fair, he's smart, he does some things out of the ordinary, and he has some good insights. He's likable, but somewhat bland for my tastes. On the other side of the spectrum is the arch-villain of the novel with the suggestive name Luceferous. His evil deeds throughout the novel made me wince, feel distaste and even consider skipping some pages (though I didn't!). And I generally wouldn't call myself squeamish.

All-in-all, The Algebraist is a slow sprawling novel. I think whether you enjoy it come down to whether the conclusion makes up for all the waiting for things to happen at the start. I would recommend it only to those who have a patience for slow narratives. Banks' does a lot of awesome things with symbology, but I sure wish he got to the point a little faster.

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