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Divide by zero

The AlgebraistMy first Iain M. Banks novel, and I'm sad to find that I have discovered him only, as it were, to say farewell, since he died last month of cancer. He's best known for a series called the Culture novels, a far-future sci-fi epic series, and also for his literary fiction which he published under his real name, Iain (no M.) Banks. I've got Crow Road on my list to try next, to see how it compares.

So, The Algebraist. This novel was:

a) amusing
b) bizarre
c) complicated
d) decadent
e) elaborate
f) freaky
...[insert g through v of your choice]
v) versatile
w) weird
x) xenophilic
y) yonder, out
z) zany

If you picked "All of the above," you'd be right. FTL travel and secret wormholes let the main character, Fassin Taak, hopscotch across the known universe in less time than it takes a villain to talk too much and get destroyed. The author takes full advantage of this to introduce Taak to everything from sentient brambles to a species that collects dead other species to Siamese-twin AIs that finish each other's sentences and possess some mad superpowers.

Others have complained about the Jeeves-and-Wooster ambience of the Dwellers, but I rather liked it: as with the English upper crust of a certain era, they seem to have unlimited resources and rather too much time on their hands. As a result, they've turned war into a sport, planetary defense into a club activity, and their own children into prey (surprisingly, this isn't as icky as it sounds).

Others have also complained about the exaggerated villain, the Archimandrite Luseferous, but again I rather enjoyed him. Like the Joker and the Penguin from the old Batman series with Adam West, he's in love with his own villainy and you can't help but admire his thoroughgoing EVILNESS. The fact that [Spoiler (click to open)]he's defeated almost indifferently by what amounts to Boodle's Nasqueron Defense Club also bothered some reviewers, but I found it entirely consistent with the overall point -- or perhaps a better word is punchline -- of the book: that everything, in the end, can be reduced to zero. All of Taaks' running and searching and hunting amounted to nothing. All of Luseferous' deep-dyed villainy was thwarted in the blink of an eye. And the mysterious wormholes were right there at the center of the planet all the time.

If Taak had ended by saying to the old Gardener, "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with," I would not have been at all surprised.

I was a little puzzled by the subplot involving Saluus Kehar and Kehar Heavy Industries -- he's like a 43d century Tony Stark, all wound up with the military-industrial complex, yet his story never really goes anywhere big. Instead it [Spoiler (click to open)]devolves into a personal, intimate story about cowardice, lust, friendship, revenge. Which I guess could be considered epic, since those emotions have helped power everything from The Iliad to Beowulf to the Bible.

There are some deeper themes threading through the novel (e.g., prejudice against artificial intelligence and the relativity of morality), but for me the fun was in the trip -- and what a long, strange trip it's been.


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Jun. 26th, 2013 06:32 am (UTC)
Culture books! I actually only ever read one of those, and it was decidedly... bizarre. ;) I'm definitely with you on the B's!
Jun. 27th, 2013 02:44 am (UTC)
It's like Isaac Asimov's Foundation series had a love child with Hitchchiker's Guide to the Galaxy!
Jun. 26th, 2013 12:18 pm (UTC)
Player of Games is my favorite Culture novel. Definitely give that one a go.
Jun. 27th, 2013 02:46 am (UTC)
Have added it to my Ever-Growing To-Read List!

Edit: Love the icon lol

Edited at 2013-06-27 02:46 am (UTC)
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