I've just finished the book The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks, and I enjoyed it very much, but I don't seem to fully understand the events around the alien artefact that was found by Fassin, Saluus, Ilen and Taince.

What is the significance of the alien artefact? Is it the Second Ship that's talked about later? What does the discovery of the artefact have to do with the rest of the story, and especially with the four friends?


1 Answer 1


The "artefact" (an alien ship of ancient and indeterminate design, possibly Voehn) was almost certainly nothing to do with the Dwellers or their mythical "Second Ship" that traveled from our galaxy to another and then back again.

The incident that spurred Taince to kill herself (and take Saluus with her) was that during their trip into this ancient ship, Saluus killed Ilen. Taince suspected that Saluus tried to get fresh with Ilen and Ilen clawed at his neck. In the ensuing fight, something happened and Ilen fell over the edge. The 'twisted piece of metal' has no special significance beyond that Saluus presumably grabbed it to save himself from falling or possibly to hit Ilen with.

'Let me explain, in case you still haven't got it: I saw the marks, Sal. I saw the three red lines on your neck, before you put your jacket collar up. Remember that? Remember pretending to shiver and saying, "C-collar," or whatever it was? Remember? Just one of those little false notes that you don't notice at the time because of all the fear and adrenalin, that doesn't start to nag at you until long afterwards. Kept that collar up afterwards, too, didn't you? Kept the jacket on like some sort of comfort blanket until you could get to a bathroom and a first-aid kit, didn't you? I remember. And when I was reaching down to Ilen, I saw her fingernails. With the blood under them. Saw them very distinctly. Fass didn't; still has no idea, even yet. But I saw them. I wasn't entirely sure about the marks on your neck, but then I checked. Remember that last farewell fuck, a couple of weeks later? Just checking. They were very faint by then, of course, but they were there all right.

'You always wanted her, didn't you, Sal? Always so desired the beautiful Ilen. Did you think because she went into the ship with you she was saying yes? Did you? Did she, then changed her mind? Doesn't really matter, I suppose. I saw what I saw.

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    @digorydoo - I've taken all the pronouns out of that sentence to make it clearer. Taince thinks that Saluus tried to rape Ilen and that Ilen fought back and in the ensuing fight, Ilen went over the edge. Saluus was found on the edge holding what could either be a hand-hold or a murder-weapon.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:49
  • Saluus kept the piece of metal, it is mentioned later, I think Fassin sees it in his office. Does that really make sense if it was just used as a murder weapon?
    – digory doo
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:52
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    @digorydoo - Yes, he even puts it on a little plinth. He's pretty traumatised by the whole thing and nearly confesses to Fassin "Saluus held the piece of odd-looking metal up before Fassin's eyes. 'This is that thing I got out of that fucking downed ship, my man.' Sal looked at it, swallowed and took a deep breath. Fassin saw Sal's lip tremble. 'This is what—' (This is what I used to kill her?)
    – Valorum
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:53
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    @digorydoo - He was showing off to his friends and (possibly) wanted to use it as an excuse to go somewhere with Ilen so they could have sex
    – Valorum
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 12:56
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    You might also want to note that the timescales are entirely wrong. This particular vessel is only a few thousand years old and not exciting technologically. The 'Second Ship' (by comparison) would be part of the Dweller's million-year-old plan to colonise the galaxy and dramatically more advanced; The ship had been dead for millennia. Nobody seemed to be sure quite how many, though the most plausible estimates put it at about six or seven. It was just one more foundered vessel from one or other of the great fleets which had contended the War of the New Quick, [etc]
    – Valorum
    Commented May 17, 2019 at 13:03

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