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The Algebraist
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Group Reads Discussions 2009 > "The Algebraist" First Impressions *no spoilers*

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message 1: by Richard (last edited Dec 05, 2009 03:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard (ThinkingBlueCountingTwo) | 246 comments I spent most of November threading my slow way through this rather large book, so that I'd be ready to to join in the discussions in real time with the professional readers in this group. As I therefore appear to be ahead of the pack at the moment I thought I'd kick off with the usual.

So my first impressions, without thinking too deeply about it are :
A little slow to start, suffering from Iain M's usual wordiness, but picking up pace as we got further in.
Interesting set up; liked the idea of the Mercatoria with aHuman and rHumans, with all that that entails.
I found it clever without being intellectual, but overall just good fun, and even funny, with all the ingredients of a good 'Hard' SciFi 'Space Opera' yarn.

Anyone enjoying it yet, or is anyone even considering 'Tossing' it yet ?


message 2: by Richard (last edited Dec 08, 2009 04:38PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Richard (MrRedwood) | 162 comments [A different Richard!:]

I'm only 75 or so pages in, and have no clear idea where this is going. Well, actually, I unfortunately glanced at the text of a GR trivia question about the book that told me more than I wanted to know, darn it.

I'm enjoying the complexity and confusion, but it had better be worth it. I've had to go back to earlier passages to check names and dates just to clarify.

So far, it reminds me most of Dune.


message 3: by Cindy (last edited Dec 10, 2009 09:40AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Cindy (Newtomato) | 123 comments I agree with Richard! ;)

I'm about halfway through, and enjoying it as a really good escapist story. The scope is pretty overwhelming, but has also been surprisingly more accessible as I've gotten into the story. The narrative also keeps you guessing - with each new section, you're not always sure who is talking to whom and in which time period.

I love that Banks gets the science right! He even mentioned reionization which warmed this geek's heart.

The variety of aliens is fascinating! The distinction between the Quick vs. Slow creats seems unusual, but somehow not surprising. Has anyone encountered such a concept before by another writer?


Michelle (fireweaver) | 325 comments i know i'm resurrecting a dead thread here, but first impressions didn't quite pan out on a few points for me. Richard (the 1st!) you brought up the ahuman vs rhuman thing - this was one of the more frustrating parts for me. i really enjoy books that drop me into the middle of the world and expect me to be clever enough to figure things out on my own. the 1st mention of the differing flavors of humans came very early in this book, and it was intriguing enough that i wanted very much to see where he went with in. not so much, though, just a brief explanation of the concept halfway through or so. sigh - if that's all you're going to do with it, why wait for the explanation?


Sandi | 145 comments RUN-
ON-
SENTENCES!
In the first 150 pages, I counted 187 words in one sentence, over 160 words in three sentences, and at least 130 words in a dozen more. (And those were in only those sentences I bothered to count.) Seriously - where was Iain Banks when periods were handed out?


message 6: by Karen (new) - added it

Karen (LibraryKatz) | 95 comments I. JUST. COULDN'T. I've already set it aside. SciFi isn't my typical genre but I do plan on doing more reading within it. However, space opera may never be. Banks' wordiness and and the world he has created is a bit much for me to attempt at this time.

Score one for the quitters? =/


message 7: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
I can't believe you counted! Wow, that made me laugh. I won't be starting it until next week but this is good to know. I have a hard time understanding the whole of very long sentences. I think my eyes glaze over.


Hank (Hankenstein) | 404 comments I love this book so far. It is taking me an incredibly long time to read it but so far it is destined to end up on my favorites shelf. I can easily see how non-awesome it will be to others but.....I love it. So much to let my mind fly through.


message 9: by Melanie (new)

Melanie (Typpy) | 24 comments Sandi wrote: "RUN-
ON-
SENTENCES!
In the first 150 pages, I counted 187 words in one sentence, over 160 words in three sentences, and at least 130 words in a dozen more. (And those were in only those sentences I..."


This is good to know. I will not read a book with this problem. The author must not know the definition of a sentence.


message 10: by Micah (last edited Jan 15, 2016 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Micah Sisk (MicahRSisk) | 682 comments Sandi wrote: "RUN-
ON-
SENTENCES!..."


But are they actually run on sentences or just really long sentences which are nonetheless punctuated properly? There is a difference. One of them is grammatically incorrect, the other is simply a stylistic choice.

I don't remember this being an issue, but then I don't mind long properly punctuated sentences, and I have noticed that they are more prevalent in UK writers.

I had other issues with this book...gave it 3 stars. Primarily, I found the chief antagonist to be painfully archetypal, and in the end rather superfluous.

But it wasn't bad.


message 11: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
They appear to have proper punctuation. I rather like it so far but I'm on page 3 :)

Seer Taak was just introduced and I read it as "Star Trek".


Steve Roach | 95 comments I'm currently reading Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner, and 187 words would be a rather short sentence in it. It's all a matter of perspective, I guess.


message 13: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
Some day I will read that :) I'm still trying to recover from the trauma of reading The Sound and the Fury.


Sandi | 145 comments No, they were run on sentences, filled with asides, qualifications, unnecessary lists, parenthetical thoughts, etc (but not description, which would almost be reason for interminable length). And I am sorry but 100+ word sentences are not necessary and he had many 150+ monsters. I couldn't believe the number of sentences I was compelled to stop and count simply because by the end of the paragraph, I was trying to figure out where it had begun (these were usually the one sentence, third of a page paragraphs)(43 words:). This propensity of Banks probably would not seem so egregious in a properly narrated audio version since the narrator would go ahead and add in enough pauses to satisfy. But I have never been able to enjoy an audio book that I had never before read.


Micah Sisk (MicahRSisk) | 682 comments Sandi wrote: "No, they were run on sentences, filled with asides, qualifications, unnecessary lists, parenthetical thoughts, etc (but not description, which would almost be reason for interminable length)..."

I'm not doubting that Banks was beyond actual run-ons, but just to be clear (aka pedantic):

A run-on is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses (i.e., complete sentences) are joined without an appropriate punctuation or conjunction.

Long sentences with asides, qualifications, unnecessary lists, and parenthetical thoughts are not inherently run-on sentences. They are most certainly a stylistic choice and only become run-on when they fit the definition given above.

Long sentences can be confusing and unclear...but so can short ones.


Sandi | 145 comments "Nevertheless, an artist had to work with what there was to hand, and where there had once been just another swarming seaside city, lying tipped upon the land, variously hilled, messily distributed round a tributary river, with all the usual urban sprawl, great buildings, docks, breakwaters and anchorages – in other words what it had always been, roughly, no matter that there had been earlier so-called catastrophes like earthquakes or floods or great fires or bombardment from sea or air or earlier invasion – now there was an image of a fair and distant place, now there was a new kind of savage beauty, now there was a fit setting for a new city reborn in the image of his sovereignty, there was a sort of – even – healing joining with those other people and places who had surrendered to his will, in suffering and in image, for this majestic crater, this latest work, was just the most recent of his creations, one more jewel on a string stretching back to the primacy of elegance that was Junch City. " (177 words)

You are right that it may be correct English, but is it necessary?


message 17: by Bruce (new)

Bruce (Bruce1984) | 299 comments That's quite horrible!


message 18: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
I'm alarmed at the number of commas. I don't think I've ever seen that many.


message 19: by Richard (last edited Jan 17, 2016 02:51PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Richard (MrRedwood) | 162 comments The em-dashes break this, in my opinion, in the author's favor.

I read a lot of verbatim transcripts as part of my job, mostly deposition testimony. This is actually much closer to the way people in real life talk than neat and tidy, well-constructed sentences.

People often lose track of where their sentences started heading after a while and effectively interrupt themselves — that's one of the functions of the em-dash, to signal an interruption — so their utterances become disjoint and less linear.

I suspect that if you'd heard this paragraph done in an audiobook, you'd not have found it problematic.

My objection is that it appears this isn't character dialog, but authorial text, and there really isn't a good reason to tempt confusion with linguistic verisimilitude except in dialog.

Sarah wrote: "I'm alarmed at the number of commas. I don't think I've ever seen that many."

Read a verbatim transcript and you'll find it is absurdly full of commas and em-dashes as the transcriptionist struggles to make a real person's rambling speech coherent on the page.


Sandi | 145 comments I actually agree with you Richard but when I am reading a book and am faced with that sentence paragraph (and that one was not the worst, just the first one I picked out when I opened the book just then) and it is not represented as actual speech, I cringe. It really does slow down my reading late at night when I am trying to figure out exactly what the author is trying to convey.

With all that said, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on that I can't wait to discuss. I did not mean to get so sidetracked on this silly issue. It just was something that did make the reading process a lot less natural for me. It took me twice as long as it would normally to choke down this book and although it might merit a reread at some far future date, I am not sure how enthusiastically I would contemplate the prospect. (And for me, I truly consider the best books as those that offer as much appreciation and enjoyment the second time through as the enjoyment and sense of discovery experienced during the first encounter).


Steve Roach | 95 comments To follow up on my comment from a few days ago, Absalom, Absalom was in the 1983 Guinness Book of Records for the longest (grammatically correct) English sentence, clocking in at 1292 words.
And yes, Sarah, The Sound and the Fury did require some recovery time.


message 22: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
I'm on page 66. I'm not having trouble with the length of the sentences, although the number of commas is so appalling that I googled to see if anyone had counted. They had not. I find these shifts back and forth in time (I think that's what's happening) quite confusing.


Micah Sisk (MicahRSisk) | 682 comments Sandi wrote: "You are right that it may be correct English, but is it necessary?"

No stylistic choice is necessary.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote short, simple, terse little sentences. Was that necessary? No. He could have done the same thing with comfortable mid-sized sentences. But that wasn't his style.

I can see why some would find long sentences problematic, but when I read (narration or dialog, it doesn't matter) I literally hear the words spoken in my head like an audio book. So when I read a long, grammatically correct sentence I don't even notice that it's so long. The word tumble along in my mind and if the sentence is written well, a natural rhythm becomes apparant and it feels like I can hear the author speaking directly to me.

I've always found Banks to be moderately talented in that regards. I've read a lot of his works, but they usually only just pass muster enough for me to keep reading his work. I find him to be a fairly mainstream, never really challenging, but never really completely pedestrian.

So it's all a matter of personal taste.


Maggie K | 549 comments I am about a third through, and am not having trouble with the sentences. I am a little confused on the time line, but I figure it will clear up for me. So far, I like it a lot!


Edwin Priest | 494 comments Maggie wrote: "I am about a third through, and am not having trouble with the sentences. I am a little confused on the time line, but I figure it will clear up for me. So far, I like it a lot!"

Yup, that's my reaction too. No problem with the writing or sentences, but some problems with keeping track of who and when with all of the of jumping around going on.


message 26: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
That's what's driving me crazy. He doesn't give markets so you know when and where something is happening. He also hasn't said what's happening when and I'm 115 pages in. Very confusing.


message 27: by Edwin (last edited Jan 22, 2016 04:26AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Edwin Priest | 494 comments I am almost done. There are still occasional seeming non sequiturs thrown in, but Banks does seem now to have settled down to a couple of characters that he is tracking. I am having a mixed reaction to this book, and will be interested in some spoiler thread-ing when I do finish.


Michele | 389 comments One of the strangest books I've ever read. It's quite a ride!


message 29: by Sarah Anne, Miss Loquacious (new) - rated it 1 star

Sarah Anne | 3109 comments Mod
I had to take a short break. I started listening to Leviathan Wakes and the two at the same time were quite confusing. I'll restart Monday. I'm glad to hear it's good :)


Francis Franklin (FrancisJamesFranklin) | 57 comments I remember enjoying this book, although the relativistic physics was all wrong, annoyingly so, and there was something nonsensical about the ending that left me shaking my head in disappointment.


message 31: by Michele (last edited Jan 24, 2016 02:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michele | 389 comments Francis wrote: "...the relativistic physics was all wrong, annoyingly so..."

Could you elaborate? Being completely physics-illiterate, I pretty much believe whatever the author tells me. Except for wormholes, I know those aren't real. Or are they?


Francis Franklin (FrancisJamesFranklin) | 57 comments Gosh, it's so long ago, now...

Wormholes are theoretically possible, though whether you could stabilise them and use them for travel, I don't know.

I do remember ships travelling at near light speed. For crew on such ships the journey time would seem very short, although external observers would. measure the journey in years. A battle engaged at that speed would seem to the crew to last seconds, and manoeuvring would be almost impossible; while others would experience the same battle across a period of days or weeks.


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