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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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7403112,599 (3.89)1 / 41
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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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 |
His best since Player of Games. ( )
  listog | Oct 7, 2014 |
Let's see . . . a 9000 year old man who has his eyes replaced with a second set of ears, a woman who has "augmentation surgery so she can play an instrument, the Antagonistic Undecagonstring, which is impossible to play without four arms, a party promoter with 53 penises and a cabal of world weary,sarcastic sentient spaceships. These are just a few of the characters in Iain Banks shaggy dog thriller/space opera, "The Hydrogen Sonata". Banks is one of the best prose stylists writing in English. ( )
  HenryKrinkle | Jul 23, 2014 |
A very good, if at times, melancholy, swan song for a modern SF master. Overly long, & in need of severe editing & pacing in the middle third, it remains readable throughout. An elegant premise, with much in the way of satirical comparisons to the modern world, it concerns a young aliens journey into looking into the foundation of the Culture, & the difficulties of a civilisation about to Sublime. Worthy of a look for Culture fans, & certainly that for SF fans. Not his best, but far, far from his worst. Goodbye, Mr Banks, it's been good. ( )
  aadyer | Jul 17, 2014 |
Another wonderful book in the Culture Series - Ian M. Banks manages to capture the hard science fiction, but with interesting characters that a reader really cares about. In this book - the Gzilt Civilization is preparing to Sublime - that odd place where cultures go when they reach the end of a civilization. What the sublime is... no one is quite sure, except you become more than you are. This isn't a book about the sublime. Its a book about an ancient mystery that has come to light - and for a Culture Mind, there is no greater allure. On top of it, we have two civilizations with low-tech that want to raise their tech-level, using what is left behind of the Gzilt worlds.

So... this is the setting that we come to, and it is big. We have small stories and big stories, old and new, all weaved together in something that make for an excellent book. Its not just a great Science Fiction Book, but great literature. I've read other stories in this series (Consider Phlebias, and Player of Games). I enjoyed reading both of them, but I think that this book is where everything comes together perfectly.

I love how the Hydrogen Sonata (or as its official name "T.C Vilabier's 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented" is used as a metaphor for the entire story - It adds a level this book that is quite beautiful.

Highly recommended. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Jul 15, 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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