The Algebraist

Posted by : atcampbell | On : November 7, 2006

The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks

Eight readers gathered at Willie and Charles’s place to discuss The Algebraist, a recent Hugo-nominated novel. All of us had read Banks before. Five had finished the book.

A few of us had been too busy working on the recently-concluded World Fantasy Convention to read much of the book. Since the organizer was among this latter group, this report may appear less informative than usual. It’s hard to take coherent notes for a book discussion where one is unfamiliar with the book.

The story is a grand baroque space opera involving humans and Slow Dwellers, aliens who perceive time very slowly. The book is filled with puzzles, plot twists, aliens with mostly anthropomorphic personalities, wormholes, and interesting economic theories. There are “gee whiz” moments. The book explores what-if scenarios: “What if there were no limits?”, “What if nothing was scarce?”, and “What if a race was obsessed with death?” There were evil mega-cultures and a good libertarian giga-culture.

We liked the way this book was written. We appreciated the detail, the well-chosen prose style, its large scope, and the way Banks reveals information to us. At least three of us had enjoyed the story and its plot twists so much that they reread the book.

There was a brief discussion of how this book fits into Banks’s work as a whole. We determined that this is not one of his “Culture” series because there is no faster-than-light travel. Several people noted the libertarian political undertone of this book and the rest of Banks’s work. One member thinks Banks is the finest UK writer of science fiction.

After the meeting, several of us had a nice dinner at Texas Land and Cattle.

— A. T. Campbell, III