|Submitted by Chris Gilbert |
(Dec 13, 2005)
Those people already acquainted with Iain Banks' works of SF will find much of what his latest work contains warmly farmiliar. An intricately observed plot, fabulous visualisation, gentle farce and grand scale opera seen previously in Consider Phlebas, Against a Dark Background, The Use of Weapons and Excesssion. To the unaquainted it is perhaps somewhat bitty. A little hit and miss, perhaps, with the slow-paced, lovingly observed detail sitting incongruously next to the mind-blowing rollercoaster ride of the action. As has often happened in his prevous works, the main characters are merely vehicles for the wider story and they are engulfed for pages at a time in the surrounding events but when these events are imagined so boldy and crystallised with such exquisite turn of phrase its easy to forgive and forget the lack of 'human' focus.
The plot is vast and principally hidden from view, revealed only through the evidence of the story line. A galaxy-spanning, life-form uniting and religion-founded civilisation called the Mercatoria is in conflict with a powerful, secceded and hegemonising sect called the Starvling Cult while a third force, the non-Mercatorial 'Beyonders' manipulates the pair of them to protect itself. The main player is Fassin Taak. Taak is a respected seer who studies the ancient Dweller race that inhabits nearly all of the galaxy's gas giant stars. The Mercatoria's reliance on vulnerable wormhole technology has left Taak's home system, Ulubis, exposed to the Starvling Cults conquesting ways but word has surfaced through Taak's studies of a more ancient network of portals created by predecessors of the Dwellers and kept hidden over the eons by them. This network may offer either salvation to the Mercatoria or devastating advantage to the Starveling Cult if only either of them can get
thier hands on it. Taak, notionally a member of the Mercatoria, is tasked with discovering the whereabouts of the Dweller portals and the book follows his pursuit of the information and everyone else's pursuit of him to a conclusion that is both shocking and brave in the context of writing.
For Bank's fans (who have already read it anyway) this book is a triumph. For everyone else, go and read the rest of his stuff first and farmiliarise yourselves with his style before taking on the Algrebraist as you are unlikely to get as much out of it as those of us fortunate enough to have been on this journey
a while. In this sense it will not win any awards but for his fans it is validation yet again of the genius of the man. And such a nice bloke too.