Immediately after posting last week, I (a) finished my drawings (b) enjoyed opening-day at Another Subcontinent's online exhib of my prints travels on an elepHAND and (c) finished reading Iain M. Banks's THE ALGEBRAIST. I've already pretty much talked about the previous two items, so that leaves the third one to discuss.
I've only read one of his books before and was very impressed -- THE PLAYER OF GAMES (it's a title I keep forgetting and keep being reminded of by the Babu-of-Kitabkhana's partner, DD). But I remember finding it quite difficult to get into that book. By contrast with this one, however, the first one was like reading a nursery rhyme. Literally -- in fact, I don't think I really got into it at all until I was practically at the end of it. And yet ... I'd recommend it. Highly.
Well only to science fiction fans of course, because this is the real stuff, the hard-core, rocketz'n'aliens stuff. But WHAT a grand scale. If I have to identify a single element that makes Banks's books so amazing, it's the level of detail he brings to the work, not as decoration but as structure. I think any other Banks-reader here will know what I mean -- his detail isn't merely surface-level, but miles deep into the narrative. In this book, for instance, the scale isn't merely galactic it's ... what word can I use? -- megachronometric -- I mean, it involves a scale of time that leaves poor little mayfly-species such as ourselves gasping in the slipstream of reality.
I will NOT pretend that I read every page of the book -- truly, it amazes me that I got through it at all, because for long pauses all the way through, I simply didn't WANT to up-load so much minutae about civilizations and planetary physics that I would never need outside the covers of Banks' fiction. And the story isn't really the kind the grabs the reader by the short hairs either -- it's about ... errrm, lemme see ... about researchers whose subject is a species of spheroidal beings living in gas-giant planets -- okay, so I've lost you already? But there's also a war being threatened and a super-nasty villain and -- I've lost you again, haven't I?
Okay, the book is amazing because it's written as if the reader is already wholly conversant with the times and events with which it concerns itself, while managing not to be utterly impenetrable. I can't quite explain what kept me going, skimming pages as I went along, trying to catch the thread of story, giving up, wanting to give up, trying hard to give up and yet ... going back for more. The main character, Fasin Taak, is just barely recognizable as a human being, though of course there have been changes to our type of being in the future in which the story is set -- 4034 AD, according to the description posted at Amazon. I basically ignored all attempts to keep track of the time-scale because it quickly made our own scale and time irrelevant.
The object of Taak's research is a species called The Dwellers -- they live in gas giants -- i.e., planets similar to our solar system's Jupiter -- and part of the book's fascination lies in Taak's fascination with these beings -- I couldn't decide what Banks had used as a model for them -- were they gods of the Greek era? Or the elite of our era? Or some combination tiger-elephant-bee society? They have a quality of magnificence and amorality and beyond-our-scale that is breath-taking and I suppose it was the desire to know more, understand more, about these beings that kept me reading on.
The formal "hook" is that Taak is on a mission that may help avert a catastrophic war, and then again, is apparently the CAUSE of the war and then again, will almost certainly catalyse a death-struggle if he succeeds -- and the mission is to find a ... something. It may be code of some sort or perhaps an actual artefact, a Rosetta-stone-type of thing that may or may not be in the possession of a Dweller who is mysteriously and annoyingly hard to trace ...
No, it's not an easy book to read and an almost impossible one to describe. But it left me feeling sparkled and starry, touched by infinity. (I haven't checked to see if the links work. Will return to check and fix 'em if need be, later)