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The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
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The Hydrogen Sonata (edition 2012)

by Iain M. Banks

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7623512,170 (3.87)1 / 43
Member:lorax
Title:The Hydrogen Sonata
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:New York, NY : Orbit, 2012.
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:the culture, science fiction, hb

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The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Excellent Banks, one of his best........................................excellent characterisation, compelling prose, wide-ranging story-line and impressive Tech.......................what more could you want from a Space Opera?! ( )
  malcrf | Jan 6, 2015 |
The Hydrogen Sonata, for better or worse, will always be the last Culture book. The death of Iain M. Banks hovers over the whole book, impossible to escape even three years out. Some of that is the effect of the subject of the book, and some of it happens in the action, but that sense of death, of dread, undercuts the whole thing.

The plot is sufficiently space-operatic. A whole civilization, the Gzilt, is about to kick off into several dimensions above and within our own, a place where cultures go when they are ready to retire from galactic realpolitik. It’s a difficult technological journey, meaning that only high-level civilizations can go. The Gzilt are roughly as old as the Culture, having been one of the races in on the negotiations to start the Culture as a whole, and as such are technologically about equal. When a diplomatic ship carrying a message about Gzilt history is destroyed under fishy circumstances, about a month from the drop-date of the whole species, a Culture ship in the local volume notices it, and is asked to investigate. What follows is a mad dash, from the Culture and the Gzilt alike, to uncover the truth of the Gzilt’s history and technological prowess, with an eye towards how that knowledge might affect the transition into the next life.

The text is filled with various ways that people try to combat the boredom and difficulty of life. There is a lengthy discussion of what it means to create whole digital people for the purpose of forecasting, and what sort of cruel god that makes you. The wonderful Mind-to-Mind discussions return, full of problems that only hyperintelligent AIs can possibly begin to have, and the catty comments that come with it. There is discussion about the nature of living forever, and choosing to forget memories, as well as how people go into and out of oblivion, unable to describe what they lived for or why they might return someday.

Throughout the whole book, there is a real sense of dread and defeat as well. Aliens are slaughtered in numbers not seen since the earliest, darkest, Culture book. This is also the first time we really see ship to ship combat among equal civilizations, and while there is some triumph, there is defeat as well. The Culture loses, properly and completely, at more than one occasion.

One also notes how much time has passed. This is a book about the trip into the hereafter, roughly a thousand years after we all first joined the civilization. And, ultimately, it is a fitting end, filled with the humor and joy that we expect, the ideas big enough to fill chalkboards of math and make our brains hurt. But it’s a book about death, and the ways that we approach it. I wonder, still, what Banks knew when he was writing it. May he rest, like his creations, in peace. ( )
1 vote Vermilious | Jan 4, 2015 |
I hadn't read anything by Iain Banks before even though I enjoy science fiction so I thought I would give this audiobook a try. I didn't realize until I started it that it is the 10th book in a series about a space-faring nonhuman species. It's probably not a good idea to start that deep in a series although this story stood on its own fairly well.

The Gzilt, not technically part of the Culture but associated with it, have decided to Sublime. Although it is not quite clear what happens when a species sublime because very few people come back from it, generally it is believed that the species becomes part of a higher order of being. Generally, before a species sublimes any other species who has kept a secret from them confesses it. A species called the Zihdren planted a book that predicted the development of the Gzilt and, on the basis of this book, the Gzilt declined to join the Culture. Some of the authorities in the Gzilt do not want this secret to be divulged and they go to great lengths to prevent it.

Essentially, that is the story which is played out over the last few weeks before the Gzilt Sublime. Kind of interesting but not enough that I will try to read any other of this series. ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 18, 2014 |
The Culture series has been hit or miss for me. Some of the books I totally devour: the tech, the battles, the storyline. But in this one there is precious little of any of that. As with all Culture novels, the character names are impossible to pronounce, and there isn't enough action. ( )
  Mrdrewk | Dec 2, 2014 |
Cossont had a hard enough time really comprehending hyperspace, the fourth dimension, let alone the next three or four that somehow encompassed the Reality and allowed for nested universes to climb away from the universe-creating singularity at the centre of things and either circle back round some immense cosmic doughnut to be re-compacted and born again, or radiate away into whatever it was that surrounded this mind-boggling ultra-universe. And the Sublimed lay in dimensions beyond even that; unutterably microscopic, unassailably far away but at the same time everywhere, shot through the fabric of space-time not so much like the individual fibres of this metaphorical weave, or their tiniest filaments or their molecules or their atoms or their sub-atomic particles but – pointedly – like the infinitesimal strings that made up those, that made up everything. In dimensions seven to eleven; that was where the Sublimed lay.

The Gzilt were one of the pan-human civilisations involved at the very beginning of the Culture, but decided against joining at the last moment. The Gzilt civilisation is a military one, with everyone having at least a notional rank in the armed forces (although I can't see Cossont's self-centred mother and the President's dim-witted PA having made good soldiers), and their ships are crewed by the mind-states of dead Gzilt rather than being run by Minds like the Culture's Ships.

I had always assumed that Subliming was done by ancient civilisations that had become decadent and bored (much like Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time), but the Gzilt are about the same age as the Culture and their leaders continued to scheme and manipulate right up to the end, so I was surprised that they would think that they were ready to Sublime. The story is triggered when something happens that could potentially prevent the Gzilt from Subliming in less than 30 days time, which causes a group of Culture Minds to become involved, taking over from the no longer active Interesting Times Gang.

Due to an agreement required to bring about the aforesaid pressure, the Empiricist will now become part of the group at the next signal, though it has expressed a preference for haunting rather than manifesting, as it were. The Empiricist itself now expects to be arriving at Zyse in eleven or twelve days. That’s all for now. ∞ xGSV Just The Washing Instruction Chip In Life’s Rich Tapestry oGSV Contents May Differ Oh, hurrah. Now the Empiricist gets to hover glowering over everything and step in when it thinks we’ve done enough of the hard work to make the outcome sufficiently positive to enhance its gloriousness. ∞ Size has its privileges.

I listened to The Hydrogen Sonata as an audiobook and really enjoyed the voices that Peter Kenny gave the ships. They were all very distinctive so I always knew which ship was speaking as they plotted, squabbled and put each other down. But overall, this is not one of my favourite Culture novels. Even though a lot of interesting things happened in the various plot threads, I don't think they meshed together to make an enjoyable whole. The Gzilt differed from the Culture in interesting ways, I enjoyed reading about the scavenger species, especially the Ronte's ship dances and their relationship with the Culture ship that was shepherding them, and there were some exciting scenes as Cossont and Scoaliera tried to track down QiRia, but I found it surprising just how dull the prospect of Subliming was made to sound. Saying 'no thanks' to Subliming and joining the Culture instead sounds like a much better bet to me. ( )
  isabelx | Nov 20, 2014 |
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Epigraph
Dedication
To the memory of
Paul Gambol
and
Ronnie Martin
With thanks to Adèle, Tim, Les, Joanna and Nick
First words
In the dying days of the Gzilt civilisation, before its long-prepared-for elevation to something better and the celebrations to mark this momentous but joyful occasion, one of its last surviving ships encountered an alien vessel whose sole task was to deliver a very special party-goer to the festivities.
Quotations
She hadn't forgotten all her military training; one point she certainly recalled being taught was that anything that looked like an outrageous coincidence was probably enemy action.
It would be far preferable if things were better, but they're not, so let's make the most of it. Let's see what fresh fuckwittery the dolts can contrive to torment themselves with this time.
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Haiku summary
To Sublime or not?
The Sonata is a fugue
With exploding ships!

To Sublime or not?
Politicians scheme and fix
But the ayes have it.

To Sublime or not?
Nosey Minds may interfere:
Methusela knows.

No descriptions found.

Suspected of involvement after the Regimental High Command is destroyed as they prepared to go to a new level of existence called Sublime, Lieutenant Commander Vyr Cossont must find a nine-thousand-year-old man to clear her name.

(summary from another edition)

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