Published in 2004, this fun, fast-paced modern space opera is vast in scope. It tells the story of how a single human, Fassin Taak, begins to change an ancient balance of power between two galactic civilizations. The multi-billion-year-old galaxy-wide post-civilization of long-lived gas giant dwellers is rumored to own a secret vast network of wormholes, and the nearly galaxy-wide civilization of “quick” species (which includes humans) wants in on the secret. Seer Taak is a kind of emissary to (and explorer of) the Dwellers, and his mission is to find the key to their secret wormhole list in time to summon defenses for an impending invasion of his home world. His exciting adventure is filled with twists, turns, and interesting details about the Dweller world Nasqueron (where most of the action takes place).
Iain M. Banks does a great job of sketching a rough verbal picture of the Dwellers, their society, and Nasqueron. Banks provides sufficient detail to make the Dwellers interesting, while leaving enough to your imagination that you can easily suspend disbelief. Most modern sci-fi authors have a difficult time envisioning a future beyond the Singularity, and Banks has taken a reasonable but expedient approach of making AI a proscribed technology. The lesser difficulties of nanotechnology and genetics are integrated into the story without too much disruption.
The Algebraist is a fun exploration of what an ancient galaxy-spanning species of long-lived gas-dwellers might be like. The epic scope of the story adds to the excitement, and the slightly imperfect human nature of the protagonist draws you in and invites you to identify with his predicament. In all, I haven’t had this much fun reading sci-fi since I first read the Known Space books by Larry Niven, and that’s high praise indeed coming from me.