You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Algebraist

In The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks creates an imaginative future where the galaxy's civilizations are connected via wormholes. The society of the galaxy is billions of years old, having had several iterations of government and cycles of growth and stagnation. As the story starts, a small section of the galaxy consisting of several hundred worlds has been cut off from the rest of civilization for hundreds of years, the Cluster Epiphany Five Disconnect. The E-5 Disconnect has been taken over by a man intent on total domination and control of as much of civilization as he can.

The central character is Fassin Taak, member of a family of Seers in a system called Ulubis. The Seers spend time in gas giants interacting with the ancient species called Dwellers, large round beings who are as engimatic and long-lived as they are large and powerful. The Dwellers can change their time perception, slowing down to experience years as days. Taak has spent decades studying with the Dwellers in the gas giant Nasqueron, slowing to their time scale. One day he is summoned to a giant meeting with the military and political leaders of the system and the galactic government, the Mercatoria. Ulubis has been totally disconnect from the rest of the galaxy since its wormhole was destroyed over a century earlier. But they have received a message, in the form of a banned AI, warning them of imminent danger from the E-5 Disconnect. Moreover, the threat is due to knowledge that Taak gained in one of his visits with the Dwellers.

Taak had received a volume of knowledge from a Dweller friend, and when other academics finally decoded, translated, and understood it, it was discovered to contain dangerous knowledge. It referred to an ancient and secret system of wormholes controlled by the Dwellers, and a secret algebra to convert the list to its current coordinates.

This top secret information turns Taak's life upside down. Preliminary attacks are made on the Ulubis systems, including Taak's home. He is required to revisit his Dweller friends but barely survives entering the atmosphere. He discovers that the friend who gave him the secret volume is dead, or perhaps not. Taak finds himself at a Dweller regatta near a formal war, when all hell breaks loose after the military's spy systems discover him speaking of the secret volume and attempt to intervene. The Dwellers send a large ship called a planet protector, previously only a rumor, to destory the offending ships.

Taak's journey sends him to a lost library, riding on a Dweller spaceship, encountering secret AI's, and visiting faraway worlds. He interacts with ancient Dwellers, commando units, and strange aliens. The suspense builds as the Disconnect forces close in on the Ulubis system with thousands of war ships at near light speed. The counterattack is coming but months behind. Taak is conflicted because he has no love for the Mercatoria and its AI-hating philosphy, but the Disconnect and their allies are a serious threat to his home. The Dwellers and the AI's are enigmatic and entertaining, and the plot is full of surprises. A-

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