Thursday, May 18, 2006

Iain M. Banks - The Algebraist

At the start of this review I’d like to offer an award. It’s very simply an award for best imagined universe. In The Algebraist, Banks’ latest vision of the future, the author has created a wonderfully complex galaxy, populated by varied aliens’, carved up by different empires and fought over by huge fleets of space ships.

Banks’ aliens are the stars here – I defy anyone not to fall in love with the Dwellers – creatures that can live to be billions of years old, who’ve evolved in Gas Giants and who spend their lives trying to improve their position in society. A position that is measured by the amount of Kudos they have acquired.

There’s another alien race, genetically modified to make them fascinated by the dead, who cruise the galaxy collected bodies and store them in huge ships. In amongst these are the humans. Inevitably, these humans are fighting.

Of course, these battles aren’t timid small scale affairs, they’re solar system spanning, involving thousands of space ships at a time and often involve crashing asteroids into planets and things. Banks’ lets us have enough details about the ships, the weapons and the tactics to make fans of “big” Science Fiction everywhere very excited.

Finally, there is the plot. All too often Science Fiction like this fails because the plot is limited, or filled with holes (or non-existent). Not so here. From the start, when we meet dozens of characters, planets and political groupings, we are immersed in a complex, ever changing story line. While the ending is a little inevitable, the story is exciting right up to the last line.

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