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#16092 - 11/07/06 07:20 PM Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi All,

Am I the first to post here?

Banks is one of the most thoughtful SciFi authors I have read in Years.

Lots of interesting ideas come together in this, his latest, novel.

The idea of slowed perception.
Ancient intelligent species.
Worm hole entries at the center of a gas giant.

Has anybody read/thought this?

Dr. R.

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#16093 - 11/07/06 09:24 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
TheFallibleFiend Offline
Megastar

Registered: 06/08/05
Posts: 1940
Loc: http://thefalliblefiend.blogsp...
I've heard the title, but am not familiar with the contents. However, in reference to "ancient species," are you familiar at all with David Brin's Uplift Saga?

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#16094 - 11/07/06 09:44 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi FF,

I am familiar with Brin's uplift world. I compare/contrast this to Asimov's Foundation/Empire series. Asimov translates a typical human empire into outer space and zooms it up. It makes a good yarn, but it is only a fantasy - like a musical comedy. In the Brin world, we go "out there" and find a situation nothing like anything in human history. That's what I like about Brin - it's not just space opera - it has some substance. Here's a Wiki on Brin:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brin

Now, Banks is worth a read. He has several very interesting novels. This is especially true of his "Culture" novels. There is a Wiki on him:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iain_M._Banks

I enjoy the more thoughtful writers as opposed to the ones that are grinding out space opera pulp.

Dr. R.

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#16095 - 11/07/06 10:13 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
TheFallibleFiend Offline
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Registered: 06/08/05
Posts: 1940
Loc: http://thefalliblefiend.blogsp...
I guess I don't see the "ancient intelligent species" angle in the Asimov sagas. I liked those series well enough, but they're not my favorites. In his universe, there's no aliens, which is a very odd thing in SF. It's all about relations between humans, robots, and technology.

Another in the vein of "ancient intelligent species" is Hogan's Gentle Giants trilogy. I'm not sure what you categorize as a thoughtful writers, but I would put him in that category.

Also, the basis of Saberhagen's Berserker Saga is ancient competing species who have destroyed each other with their creations - and the only thing left is their killing machines. These are purely xian propaganda, but pretty good stories anyway.

On a slight tangent, there's the Well of Souls stuff which is not great writing (particularly the second series which seems very rushed and poorly edited), but is an intruiging idea. In this story the universe as we know it gets reset periodically to start from scratch again. However, there's this one race that no longer exists, except that the guy whose responsibility it is to reset the universe who gets transmogriphied into a being from that ancient race, because they're the only ones intellectually capable of multitasking to the degree necessary.

I think the "ancient intelligent species" concept is pretty common in SF, though there tend to be 2 diametrically opposed views:

1) the ancient species have such perfect wisdom that they understand us thoroughly and we are mere idiots before them, we are unworthy to the vastness of their intellect. we simply cannot be trusted with their knowledge. Example: ST universe prime directive.

2) the ancient species are no better than we are, really, even if they think they are and we believe them. Examples: uplift saga and berserker saga.

There is a sort of one-off approach: Gentle Giants type approach. The ancient species is extremely wise, but they are unprepared for the visiousness of the human (and other Earth) species.

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#16096 - 11/07/06 11:27 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi again FF,

I'm sory I didn't mean to say Asimov was writting about ancient civilivations. I was just commenting on what we find or make "out there". No aliens is just the sort of thing that I mean.Asimov is "more of the same" while Brin and Banks are real thinkers. I would include Hogan and Saberhagen in that category as well.

The Berserker novels also have that cyber thing.

The Well of Souls I did not like and never finished reading.

As for ancient species and aliens in general I would add a third view:

3) They are so completely weird that we cannot recognize them much less understand them.

For example, intelligent rocks or pond scum. (I've read about such but cannot remember where.)


Dr. R.

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#16097 - 11/08/06 06:33 AM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Kate Offline

Senior Member

Registered: 10/16/04
Posts: 334
DR, you are indeed first to post here - congrats! I was going to get something up yesterday but felt too sick (have the flu at present).

The Algebraist is a cracking good read and Luseferous is one of the most despicably hateful villains I've seen in Banks' books.

I'd have to say I think Excession is probably my fave Banks book though.

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#16098 - 11/08/06 03:19 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
TheFallibleFiend Offline
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Registered: 06/08/05
Posts: 1940
Loc: http://thefalliblefiend.blogsp...
Changed my mind. Well of Souls really exemplifies the ancient species as having great wisdom. I agree that the writing is not all that great. This reminds me that a clever idea doesn't necessarily translate to good literature.

"For example, intelligent rocks or pond scum. "

Is this sf or fantasy?

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#16099 - 11/08/06 04:34 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi Kate,

Lusefrous is beyond despicable - but he gets his in the end.

Excession is also one of my favorites as well!

Hope your feeling better.

Hi FallibleFriend,

I tend to agree with you about the Well. The idea of intelligent rocks and pond scum are from hard core SciFi that I have read. I can't remember the titles or authors. The one about intelligent rocks was a story about a pair of worlds that orbit each other while orbiting their common star. The intelligent inhabitants aged and turned into rock-like but living creatures. The one about hi IQ pond scum was also a sraight up SciFi story. Maybe pond scum is a bit harsh. The idea was that these beings were a film on a water surface more like an oil slick rather than pond scum. The idea is that these beings were two-dimensional or nearly so. It is an interesting idea.

Just for the record when I speak of Hard Core SciFi I am thinking along the lines of Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C41+. This short novel is a one of those "day in the life of" tales. It is about an ordinary guy that has an interesting day. What makes it Hard Core is that it shows how science, technology and related things impact people and human events. This, of necessity, must be speculative, but it is not pure fantasy. I'm not dropping on fantasy, but as a scientist I prefer the hard core stuff science fiction.

Here are a couple of wikis on Gernsback and the award named for him:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Gernsback

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Award

Dr. R.

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#16100 - 11/10/06 01:08 AM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Blacknad Offline
Superstar

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 901
Loc: Coventry, England
Quote:
Originally posted by dr_rocket:
That's what I like about Brin - it's not just space opera - it has some substance.
I like Larry Niven's 'The Mote in God's Eye' for similar reasons. The Moties are a fantastic creation and are not just humans in alien costumes - they truly are alien. I love Niven.

Though I also really love EE Doc Smith's - The Family D'Alembert series - pure, easy reading, unsophisticated Space Opera. A cracking read.

Blacknad.

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#16101 - 11/10/06 01:16 AM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Blacknad Offline
Superstar

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 901
Loc: Coventry, England
A friend of mine has the idea of writing a sci-fi story about explorers landing on a planet only to find that everyone had committed suicide simultaneously. A whole planet-wide suicide pact maybe? They would investigate and unfold the story. Would need something threatening to give it legs and dramatic tension.

Any creative ideas about what happened? I'm sure he would welcome suggestions.

Blacknad.

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#16102 - 11/10/06 11:51 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
jjw Offline
Superstar

Registered: 09/07/05
Posts: 636
Loc: USA
I never read much SciFi but I have enjoyed scifi movies- not so much Star Wars stuff of shoot em ups. The topic has more recently become much more interesting to me.

Blacknad:
My personal view is that your friend is boxing himself in, kinda like starting at the end and doing flashbacks to fill in the causes. I once thought the easiest way to write a mystery was to write up an interesting story, a murder or some such, and then mix up the chapters with the last chapter in front, etc.

As to your friend, I suggest, if he is set on that particular project, to have his space travelers arive at the planet, observe the strange behavior of the populace, learn that they are going to commit mass suicide, and then search out the reason for same while trying to disuade them. A valid reason could be an earth style cult conditioned to beleive that space travelers arrival would be the sign for their new life in "heaven" and our travelers unknowingly trigger the predictions by their arrival. Of course, as with all novels, this meager plot must be streched out adinfinitum.

Pass it along, you may lose a friend.

I enjoy any reading material, including subjets that could be classified as scifi if they have very imaginative creations. I have a book I started possibly 14 years ago close to being finished that remains undone because I did not feel my hero's creation and space experience was unique or imaginative enough. I go back to it every now and then but it sits waiting for the required spark to make it more worthwhile. There is no point writing about the obvious and or the commonplace. Cheers.

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#16103 - 11/11/06 08:52 AM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
terrytnewzealand Offline
Megastar

Registered: 08/02/06
Posts: 1031
Loc: Whangarei New Zealand
Blacknad wrote:

"A friend of mine has the idea of writing a sci-fi story about explorers landing on a planet only to find that everyone had committed suicide simultaneously."

I'm sure you are familiar with the TV series "Red Dwarf". For anyone not so try to find a DVD. I'm sure you would enjoy it. Anyway one of their programs was about a planet where everyone committed suicide, some virus had invaded. Our heroes had to fight off the virus and escape. Maybe "Red Dwarf" should be another thread?

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#16104 - 11/12/06 03:50 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi Blacknad,

the Mote in God's Eye was gereat.

Speaking of E. E. "Doc" Smith, have you ever checked out the Lensmen series? I have often thought that the Gray Lensman would make a gooe movie, especially with the CGI available these days.

Dr. R.

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#16105 - 11/12/06 10:39 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Blacknad Offline
Superstar

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 901
Loc: Coventry, England
Quote:
Originally posted by jjw:

My personal view is that your friend is boxing himself in, kinda like starting at the end and doing flashbacks to fill in the causes. I once thought the easiest way to write a mystery was to write up an interesting story, a murder or some such, and then mix up the chapters with the last chapter in front, etc.
Cheers Jim.

You're probably right. He may be flogging a dead horse. 'After the facts' stories don't usually work well. Niven did it in 'Ringworld' where large parts of the story were about investigating the remains of a long dead civilization. But he can write, and carried it off. He works very well with astronomical scale and the sheer size of things was mind-blowing. In relation to mixing up chapters, not SF, but have you seen Momento?

Blacknad.

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#16106 - 11/12/06 10:48 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Blacknad Offline
Superstar

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 901
Loc: Coventry, England
Quote:
Originally posted by terrytnewzealand:
I'm sure you are familiar with the TV series "Red Dwarf".
Terry,

I love Red Dwarf - not seen that particular episode though. Good to see it's travelled as far as NZ.

Rimmer: "I used to be in the Samaritans."
Lister: "I know. For one morning."
Rimmer: "I couldn't take any more."
Lister: "I don't blame you. You spoke to five people and they all committed suicide. I wouldn't mind, but one was a wrong number! He only phoned up for the cricket scores!"

- Rimmer and Lister, The Last Day

Cat: "Hey, I got it! We laser our way through!?"
Kryten: "Ah, an excellent suggestion, Sir, with just two minor drawbacks. One, we don't have a power source for the lasers, and two, we don't have any lasers."

- Cat and Kryten, White Hole

Rimmer: "Do you think it's because the sub-space conduits have locked with the transponder calibrations and caused a major tachyon surge that has overloaded the time matrix?"
Kryten: "Ah, no, sir. I've just been jabbing it too hard."

- Rimmer and Kryten, Tikka to Ride

Blacknad.

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#16107 - 11/12/06 11:07 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
Blacknad Offline
Superstar

Registered: 10/05/05
Posts: 901
Loc: Coventry, England
Quote:
Originally posted by dr_rocket:
Hi Blacknad,

the Mote in God's Eye was gereat.

Speaking of E. E. "Doc" Smith, have you ever checked out the Lensmen series? I have often thought that the Gray Lensman would make a gooe movie, especially with the CGI available these days.

Dr. R.
Hi Dr. R.

Yes, I spent my teenage years lost in 30s and 40s Sci-Fi. I still maintain that it's still some of the best, even though it's often badly written, and whenever they portrayed women they were ridiculously one dimensional. That makes me think of all these academics who were too geeky to have ever dated. Early Asimov is wonderful.

Gray Lensman would make an excellent film:

"This book is sort of archetypal E. E. "Doc" Smith in the progression of the scale of destruction. It begins with taking out Helmuth's Grand Base with the energy beams of the Patrol, and ends using free planets and a planetary negasphere to take out the enemy's planets themselves. Also, it is intersting to look at how fast the plot advances. If written today, I have a feeling this single volume would be a trilogy. Brevity is the soul of wit."

Some trivia on Smith:

"In January 1936 Dr. Smith took a job, for salary plus profit-sharing, as a food technologist (a cereal chemist) at the Dawn Doughnut Company of Jackson, Michigan. This initially entailed almost a year's worth of eighteen-hour days and seven-day workweeks. Persistent but unconfirmable accounts maintain that Dr. Smith developed the first process for sticking powdered sugar on doughnuts."

Blacknad.

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#16108 - 11/13/06 10:19 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks
dr_rocket Offline
Member

Registered: 12/06/06
Posts: 196
Loc: Palo Alto, CA, USA
Hi Blacknad,

That was the coolest thing about Doc Smith. Using planets to blast an enemy base. Talk about grand scale epic. Of course there are the stylish appointments appropos to the Galactic Patrol - every patrolman needs the Twin Delameter blaster, heavy duty space ax and, of course an interialess flitter to get around in. The stuff is classic.

Dr. R.

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#17354 - 12/19/06 08:24 PM Re: Algebraist by Iain Banks [Re: dr_rocket]
Anonymous
Unregistered


I'm reading The Algrebraist at the moment but some of the themes you mention crop up elsewhere.
The Cassini Division by Ken McLeod pits meatspace humans against post-humans in and around the purlieus of our very own gas giant.
Replicated minds, accelerated mental processing and wormholes to boot, great read.

Light by John Harrison is a great mind bender and once you're into it, you're off into the void salvaging the dodgy scrap and equally iffy old tech of long gone species. The ship's pilot, Seria Mau gets around in much the same way as Fassin does when he's Delving only the AI's aren't such an abomination in Light.
The math is cooler in Light than The Algebraist, it does tricks.

Greg Egan's Diaspora pretty much bails on biology entirely and has everybody uploaded by 2975 with an option on exosuits if you must play in the dirt. Then it gets technical and you've never seen such liberties taken with ideas from science (duly listed in the references). Our species doesn't so much become ancient as incredibly distant in a whole new way.

Hope these aren't too far off-topic but they kept me going in-between Banks' books.

MC

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