Extrapolation

In the Shadow of the Culture

The Ethics of Intervention, AI Rights, and Utopia in Iain M. Banks’s The Algebraist

Extrapolation (2021), 62, (2), 181–197.

Abstract

Iain M. Banks’s The Algebraist (2004), a Hugo Award nominee for Best Novel in 2005, has attracted far less critical attention than his Culture novels despite being a remarkable work. Born of the author’s wish to develop his science fiction beyond the Culture’s universe, The Algebraist is a complex novel displaying in its dense pages Banks’s wondrous imagination. Here I consider the ways in which the main civilizations he depicts in it, the Mercatoria and the Dwellers, connect with key issues raised in the Culture novels: the ethics of intervention in other civilizations, the use of AIs, and the nature of utopia. The Culture, as I argue, casts a long shadow but Banks’s decision to explore another narrative universe allows him to examine these fundamental issues from a different angle. The Algebraist complements, nonetheless, his main tenets in the Culture series.

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Author details

Martín, Sara