I enjoyed The Algebraist tremendously. This is the third SF book I've read by Banks and I've loved each one, for different reasons.
Banks plays fast and loose with just about everything in The Algebraist and I tend to think he was channeling Douglas Adams more than not. A couple of times I had to stop and ask myself if this wasn't Banks pointing and laughing at the SF genre as a whole, and space opera in particular. I wasn't indignant in the least either because the story was just so damn good. And frankly I like it when an author can mess with my brain a bit.
There's something amazing about the way Banks pulls his references out of the air, seemingly. There is only one reference to the Algebraist in the entire book (and it isn't short), but it left me longing to know more about this forlorne bit of fictional lore. As far as his science goes, I'm sure he's making it up as he goes along - but at least it won't be dated too quickly! :p He may be wordy, but I love the depth he gives to his stories.
It's almost impossible to describe a Banks novel in few words, but I'll give it a shot.
The Dwellers of the gas giant Nasqueron hold themselves completely aloof from the rest of the Ulubis system, which is unfortunate for the human populations of the other planets who are about to be invaded by the bloodthirsty denizens of the Epiphany 5 Disconnect. The human Seers who delve into the histories of the millions and even billions of years old Dwellers are perhaps humanity's only hope of rousing the inward looking aliens to the plight of their nearest planetary neighbors. In particular, Slow Seer Fassin Taak, who has stumbled upon a fascinating piece of Dweller lore that has the potential to change the fate of the entire galaxy.
Intrigue, politics, and war ensue - as well as an insane quest. Also much humor. And a lot of people die. It's a bit like Douglas Adams meets, well - Iain Banks.
A great read for those who love epic tumult with tongue planted squarely in cheek. Also expect to cry a little.
That's Banks for ya.
PS - Athena, you don't have to reply to this - you've already read it!
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I may have to add this one to the list, as well. In particular, the intertwining fates of the Dwellers and the human Seers strikes me as reminiscent of the necessary co-existence between humans and mers in Joan D. Vinge's The Summer Queen. In any instance, the incorporation of intrigue, political turmoil, war, humor and tragedy makes the premise sound all the more captivating.
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