I learned about author Iain M. Banks when I was in San Francisco, swing dancing with a woman, who recommended him to me during a twirl. I paid her back by executing a successful “death drop” dance move on her. Amazingly, she did not end up with a cracked skull.
The Algebraist is not one of Banks’ popular Culture stories, taking place only a couple thousand years in the future instead of ten thousand, but it’s still fun.
An armada of deeply evil bastards is coming, commanded by an entertainingly over-the-top villain (think the Joker with access to a spaceship and genetic engineering). He wants information about a possible secret network of wormholes. The good guys want to get to that information first, and the only person who has any chance is Fassin Taak.
Fassin Taak has dedicated his life to studying the alien Dwellers, who may or may not control this network of wormholes. The Dwellers are a multi-billion-year-old alien species that have colonized nearly all of the Jupiter-like gas planets in the galaxy. With such an ancient species, you’d expect some Yoda-like decorum and quiet wisdom. However, the Dwellers comport themselves like tipsy dilettantes and are consistently untrustworthy just for the hell of it.
Much of the book’s charm is Fassin Taak negotiating the impressively alien society of Dwellers (for example, they hunt their young for sport).
Recommendation: Buy it. I did. It’s excellent, space-faring fun and as always, Banks delivers creative, hard science fiction.