The Algebraist (Iain M. Banks)

A Hugo Nominee

One of the many advantages of leading an imaginary life is that you can do it anywhere. And so it was I found myself standing on the towpath beside the Forth and Clyde Canal watching Billy's Barge float along. And, wonder of wonders, that kid from down the street was there, too, halfway around the world in Falkirk, Scotland.

Of course, I still couldn't remember the lad's name.

"Hey, Jimmy!" I said. "Have you never seen such a sight in your life or what?"

"I've seen a canal boat before."

"The Wheel, Ian, the Wheel!" I flapped my arms for emphasis.

"Eh, what's that for?"

"What's it for? What's it for?" I walked in a tight circle. "I'll tell you what's it for. It's for transportating boats, George. Canal boats. That canal up there at the tippy top -- a hundred and fifteen feet high -- see, it goes to Edinburgh. While this canal down here -- the Forth and Clyde -- it goes on back to Glasgow."

"It looks like a big Ferris wheel." That kid sure does have a way with the obvious.

"Smart lad, my boy. It's just like a Ferris wheel, only for boats."

"Who built it?"

"Ah, weeell," I said while I tried to capture an idea. Sadly, they were all hiding back there behind the medulla. "Ron, I'd have to admit it were the Mercatoria who built that there structure. The Mercatoria put it there to keep us connected with other civilizations."

"The who?"

"It's also the main way," I went on, "for them to send through their war boats. 'Course they're skinny little things, but they have to be to float along the canal."

"Now, you just think you're being clever."

"Oh, no. We need their protection." At this time a little war craft floated by. I saluted. The boy just stared. "Without them, the Beyonders would take control."

"Wait a minute." He scrunched his forehead as he paused. "You just stole that right out of a book!"

"I did not!" I was offended.

"Did so! Those are the people in Iain M. Banks' book, The Algebraist. And the ships are thin because of the wormholes."

"Iain M. Banks? See, now you're thinking of Canal Dreams. That's a whole 'nother bloke than the guy that wrote The Algebraist. He's Iain Banks -- no 'M'."

Michael rolled his eyes. "They're the same guy! You know, like Superman and Clark Kent."

He wasn't going to get me on that one. No. "What are you going on about? They can't be the same guy. Clark Kent wears glasses."

The lad huffed, growled, and flung his arms out perpendicular to the canal. Then he started walking back to the parking lot. I followed as quickly as I could.

"Don't you want to talk about the floaty people, Norm?" I asked. "I liked the floaty people. And the wonder twins were kinda cool."

He kept up his pace. I think I heard him mumble, "irredeemable," but I'm not sure.

"Well, Malcolm, I wanted a curry any way. You think the pub has anything interesting? Maybe Auntie Katie has something brewing?"

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