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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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1,054497,976 (3.91)1 / 58
Member:WaterBooks
Title:The Hydrogen Sonata
Authors:Iain M. Banks
Info:Orbit (2012), Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

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English (48)  French (1)  All (49)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
It’s taken some time to get around to this book. Knowing it is the last from my favourite author, knowing that once I’ve read this there’ll be no new tomes to look forward to, to get excited about, no further exploration of the Culture and the universe that it inhabits. Fortunately he has left us with many fine and several (IMHO) great books, in both the ‘M’ (scifi) and ‘M-less’ personae. The short interview the appends this paperback edition is particularly poignant, as he refers to the many ideas he has for future tales.


As are the majority of Banks’ SF novels, this is set in the vast, ancient, post-scarcity society of The Culture - or, rather, almost entirely outside of The Culture, where it interacts with the civilisations which it encounters and with which it interacts (this is a necessity; as Banks himself has pointed out, an entirely peaceful utopia makes for very dull storytelling, and he was a self-professed fan of big explosions). In this case, the main focus is the Gzilt, a humanoid society as venerable as the Culture and, in fact, one that was instrumental in forming the latter and was very nearly one of the founding members civilisations.


Ten thousand years on, the Gzilt have decided to Sublime - to move, en masse, to a higher dimension of consciousness and physicality, as have many elder civilisations before. This is something that Banks has referenced occasionally, usually in respect of long-gone peoples who have left behind vast, mysterious artefacts, but here he address the idea, the politics and the logistics of this event head-on.


Of course, there has to be a complication, here in the form of a potential secret involving the strange fact that the Gzilt seem to be the only civilisation in the history of the universe in possession of a holy book that actually seems to be factually accurate, held in the brain of a possibly mythical Culture individual who has been around since the formation ten millennia before. This leads to a long and involved galaxy-arm-spanning hunt-and-chase involving several Culture Ships (each possessed of a Mind, the AIs that are the backbone of the Culture and of whom it has been said are so much more powerful than biologicals that biologicals can’t even imagine how powerful they are), facets of the soon-to-Sublime Gzilt and two lesser ‘scavenger’ civilisation intent on using the discarded knowledge and tech to boost their own progress.


We have all the usual parts you would expect from an Iain M. Banks novel - the superb writing, the wit and humour, the insane action pieces (often using technologies such as anti-matter missiles, field manipulators and hyperspace), the superb characterisation (including several strong, rounded female characters, of course) and the humanistic examination of different cultures, outlooks and political viewpoints. There are many interesting and intriguing parts - other than the ten thousand year old human, the Culture is almost entirely represented here by the Ship Minds (itself an fascinating idea of how a vast, powerful and entirely non-hierarchical utopia gets things done), the continuation of politics despite the hard deadline for when the society will cease to be, including deciding on a ‘preferred’ scavenger species to allow to take all your best stuff.


I would have loved the Hydrogen Sonata to be Banksie bowing out with one of his great novels - but, with the run of the last four or five being so very good, this was perhaps a big ask. It is very good, but falls short of great, I think because it doesn’t hold together as a piece in quite the way that his finest novels (I think particularly of [b:Look to Windward|12016|Look to Windward (Culture, #7)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1288930978s/12016.jpg|124371] and [b:Surface Detail|7937744|Surface Detail (Culture, #9)|Iain M. Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1287893375s/7937744.jpg|11345814]) do.


I am not quite finished with Mr Banks yet. I still have [b:The Quarry|17909006|The Quarry|Iain Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1369927748s/17909006.jpg|25093214]. While I don’t think there has been a really good non-M book in some time (a sharp decline after [b:Whit|290569|Whit|Iain Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356132227s/290569.jpg|2133], with only [b:The Business|290583|The Business|Iain Banks|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1367267580s/290583.jpg|1418704] really coming up to muster), perhaps this will be a fitting farewell. And, in any case, he has left us with more wonder and humanity and compassion and excitement from his thirty year career than we have any right to expect.


Farewell, Banksie. And thank you. Your voice will be sorely missed.
( )
2 vote Pezski | Jun 8, 2017 |
The William Gibson plot: Artistic Woman is hired to find Mysterious Artist ( )
  ZoneSeek | Mar 3, 2017 |
So. We arrive at Iain Banks's last SF novel, his last Culture novel, The Hydrogen Sonata. I'm pleased to say that, after the last two novels, Matter and Surface Detail, where the Culture seemed a peripheral presence, this is a return to the rip-roaring space opera of Consider Phlebas or Excession. And while it's not quite in that league it is a fine and fitting last journey with the Culture and it's idiosyncratic Ships.

The plot is the usual Banksian conundrum with alien civilizations (in this case the soon-to-Sublime Gzilt), a mysterious, millennia old citizen of the Culture and a deep, dark secret that may, or may not, have consequences for the Gzilt. It's a sprawling book with many interweaving plot strands, but the prose, as ever with Banks, is fluid, witty and easy to read.

The joy for me is the presence of a plethora of Culture ships, with suitably strange names. Not since Excession has a Culture novel featured so many ships, I think, and indeed the events of that earlier novel are referenced here.

The sadness is that this, with Banks's death, is the last Culture story. He, and they, will be missed. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
Although undeniably imaginative and with a few entertaining bits of dialogue, I can't say this is an enjoyable read. There is a large cast of named characters, but only a handful of distinct personalities all of which have unclear motivations. The prose is odd to the point of distracting and the setting is so strange it's sometimes difficult to figure out what is going on, let alone why. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
This is one of the better Culture novels, it expands the universe as well as being a cracking story with plenty of twists and turns. ( )
  jmkemp | Jul 5, 2016 |
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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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Orbit Books

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