Cannonball Read IV: The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks
I've read a lot of Iain M. Banks (much of it while falling in love with my then-college-boyfriend, now-husband, who adores the guy), but have been remiss in recent years on keeping up with his science fiction.
The Algebraist, like much of Banks's sci-fi, is a dense character-driven epic complete with alien races, warring cultures, interstellar travel, and humor - lots of humor, actually. (Not as much as Hitchhiker's.)
To summarize, briefly: Fassin Taak is a human, a Slow Seer at the court of the Nasqueron Dwellers. (This sentence will take some unpacking: Seers are anthropologists of sorts, doing decades-long slowed-down field research within the atmospheres of gas-giants in various planetary systems, the inhabitants of which are Dwellers, a race of super-old, crazy-intelligent, somewhat-eccentric yo-yo-shaped beings. Nasqueron is the gas giant that Fassin has visited for most of his career at the start of the book.) His former schoolmates, Saluus Kehar and Taince Yarabokin, are a successful industrialist and a naval vice-Admiral, respectively. Two hundred years after Fassin unwittingly finds an artifact that might unlock a vastly powerful secret, the bad guys (or are they?) are headed to Ulubis (Nasqueron's system, which also contains 'glantine, Fassin's home planet). The good guys (or are they?) likewise begin to converge on Ulubis, and, well... the shit hits the fan, as it were.
Banks's talent, to me, is being able to handle the micro and macro at the same time: to tell a story about a rebel force of a thousand ships attacking the Summed Fleet of the Mercatoria (think The Empire) in a world where the use of AI has already come and gone, where aliens are our friends, and still be able to drive a story through the hopes and fears of a few incredibly well-drawn characters.
I very much enjoyed the book. Banks is a master of the medium - his pacing and structure, the deliberately sequenced revelation of secrets, weaving of themes, and, as mentioned, his use of humor take good care of the reader. Though don't be surprised if he kills off a main character or two - the galaxy's a big and dangerous place.
This one gets four stars from me - a solid read.
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This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.