Monday, February 27, 2006

Oh me of little faith

So I toyed with giving up on Iain M Banks' The Algebraist. Well if I was of a masochistic frame of mind, I would have to flagellate myself for my foolishness. The initial pages are a bit slow and confusing but as the story unfolds it becomes quite interesting. While it is not quite to the standard of Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons, I think it is the equal of Player of Games, and is quite superior to Look to Windward or Excession. He's good on titles alone, no?

I like this one for the same reasons I like the others. Banks is inventive and humorous, and all of his stories have an interesting political analysis underlying them.

Banks keeps throwing new ideas and creations at you. The main character is a human ambassador and student of the Dwellers, a race that lives in gas giants and can live into the billions of years. They are a bizarre race, they are mostly peaceful, but they hunt their children for sport. Banks sets up a number of amusing encounters with this race and others. One of the principal villains is a totally evil warlord who has had his teeth replaced with Diamonds to make him more fearsome. Somehow, the over the top elements don't become goofy as they might in the hands of a less capable writer.

If you read any interviews with Banks you will see that he is quite of the Left, but thankfully he is not ideological. Instead he is skeptical of most things, but especially power. The powerful are normally corrupted in some way or another. Most of his books feature the Culture which is a communist (Marxist, not Leninist) paradise, where no one has to work and no one is accountable to anything. Banks won't let them off the hook either. This happy go lucky nation still goes around and messes with other powers just because it can. In this book, the politics become a key part of the story and all is definitely not what it seems.

If you are looking for a good space opera tale, pick this one up.

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