Get PDF The Hydrogen Sonata: A Culture Novel (Culture series Book 10)

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Why did I have to dig so much into what Sonata is about? I want to go back to feeling sorry for poor old Iain Banks.

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View all 26 comments. Mar 13, Matt rated it liked it Shelves: science-fiction. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have a lot new to say, though he does indeed succeed in painting some pretty pictures. At this point, there is little difference between the Minds and your average comic book super-hero in terms of intellectual experience.


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If you want vicarious joy ride alongside kilometer long cocksure cock shaped high tech super-weapons, then this book delivers perhaps as good as Banks has ever delivered and it's just as good for an adrenalin buzz as watching say the Avengers. The closest Banks comes to exploring new turf in his now past middle aged writing years is the character of the ever aged QiRia, who is written with a certain rawness about growing old that suggests that either Banks is putting something of himself into the character, or else, doing a passably convincing immitation of same.

And once again, I note without elaborate comment, the seemingly compulsive need of a certain class of aging writers of science fiction to write of technological Raptures. I do hope though that he is building to something more interesting. Some bit of deconstruction or self-criticism would do the Culture, books, and maybe author some good. Anyway, if you are familiar with Banks, all the tropes are on grand display. High magic turned technology, god-like Minds with charming names scoffing at mere matter, religion as farce, science as True Religion, and a massive galactic canvas used as a background for commentary about the banal ways people hurt each other again and again; also, with bittersweet coda.

This has been a hard review to write. Not because of the book itself, about which I have only nice things to say, but because, as he recently announced , Iain M. Banks is dying of inoperable cancer, the sort of general systems failure which makes a mockery of notions like "intelligent" design.

He's in good humo u r about it, considering, but this is still far, far too soon—he's just a scant few years older than I am! It's been a significant shock to the system as well for his multitude of fans, a This has been a hard review to write. It's been a significant shock to the system as well for his multitude of fans, among whom I most certainly count myself—as Goodreads' own statistical wizardry will confirm, Banks is the author I've read and reviewed most often since coming to this site, back in the early days of Galactic civ.

The Hydrogen Sonata is a Culture novel, part of that vast and complex tapestry of future history with which Banks revitalized the subgenre of space opera and, in large measure, helped to make SF in general fun again. It's probably not the best starting point for a new reader, though—I think it would work as a standalone novel, but there are many nuances and asides which would be lost on someone not already familiar with the Culture.

In this installment, the Glitz sorry, Gzilt are, though not themselves members of the Culture, nevertheless a highly-developed small-c culture who have been around since before the big-C Culture's founding.

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The Hydrogen Sonata

They're within a few days of Subliming—that is, transcending en masse to a mathematically-provable afterlife where entropy and death are irrelevant concepts, Enfolded in alternative dimensions whose existence has been confirmed by reliable if frustratingly vague reports back from beyond. In preparation for their disappearance from this universe and its concerns, the Gzilt have made careful arrangements for the disposition of their effects—leaving the engineered planets and other massive artifacts which they'll no longer need to the care of other, younger civilizations.

These Scavengers eagerly await their access to the Gzilts' discarded toys. The vast majority of the Gzilt look forward quite keenly to being Enfolded in the Sublime, and the transition is expected to be orderly. Vyr Cossont is a musician, among other things. She's one of the Gzilt, ready if not exactly ecstatic to leave this universe behind on schedule—but before she Sublimes, she'd like to perfect her rendition of the Hydrogen Sonata, a musical composition for the Antagonistic Undecagonstring, an eleven-stringed twenty-four, really, but who's counting?

How difficult is this composition? For one thing, it requires four arms to play properly as a solo performance. Fortunately, the Gzilt are a mature civilization nearly equal to the Culture in level of technological development, so giving Vyr the requisite appendages was easy enough. The hard part for Vyr is going to be finding enough time to practice Suddenly that smooth transition no longer seems so smooth. The Culture's Minds, those intelligent starships with their whimsical names, always avidly interested parties, become interested.

And so, things do begin to get In retrospect, it's fascinating and a little poignant to see the many ways in which The Hydrogen Sonata examines mortality. Subliming itself is a way for an entire culture to attain immortality, of course. There's a major character who is, if not immortal, certainly extremely long-lived even by the standards of Galactic civilizations. Some characters, injured unto death, get repaired by near-magical medical technology. Others are backed up and reproduced as avatars and androids, diluting their mortality among multiple instances.

It's as if Banks had already been thinking about such things for a long time, even before his formal diagnosis. That's not especially surprising, of course. Mortality and the avoidance thereof have always been major themes in the Culture novels. Sex and death are the two big topics, after all, and sex is often very hard to write about convincingly as my recent experience with Nicholson Baker 's very different novel House of Holes made very clear to me.

Although actually The Hydrogen Sonata does include a couple of scenes that would fit right into one of Baker's Holes , they are merely an exotic fillip on top of the story, not the point of the endeavor. Does the truth about the Book of Truth become known? Does Vyr ever play the Hydrogen Sonata to her own satisfaction, never mind to anyone else's? I could tell you the answers to those specific questions, but one must read the book to understand their importance. This is a vital point, I think You have to be there, to live through them.

Barring intervention from some Culture wiser and more ancient than our own, though, the sketches we have in The Hydrogen Sonata and its predecessors will have to suffice.

Iain M. Banks The Hydrogen Sonata Launch in Bath

As I write, Banks does have one more completed novel pending publication— The Hydrogen Sonata is not quite, to use a phrase I found irresistible, his swan song—but this one would also be a fine and fitting note upon which to make an exit. Update, 9 June Requiescat in pace , Mr. Oct 02, Nick Merrill rated it really liked it.

I think the most I ever had was about sixty, but that was slightly too many. I settled on fifty-three as the maximum.

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Even then it was very difficult maintaining an erection in all of them at the same time, even with four hearts. The Gzilt, an advanced humanoid civilization which almost joined the Culture way back when, are about to sublime. The ship is destroyed, and ever curious Culture Minds opt to tackle the crisis. In Excession, an elite group of Culture Minds collaborated to deal with a potentially galaxy threatening event.

Here, the Minds are amusingly aware that their mission could end up completely pointless, yet they interfere anyway. Does the Truth matter?

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Do civilizations matter? Does anything matter?

Different characters, from a previously sublimed Mind to QiRia himself, offer interesting perspectives. The result is that Banks provides some thought provoking commentary on the nature of meaning in an ancient galaxy populated by thousands of civilizations only minor blips in the scale of history. This is a very fun book, from the setpieces to the humor. The Minds are as funny and witty as ever. The characters are satisfying, even if none are as great as Zakalwe in Use of Weapons. Cossont is an interesting figure with a compelling backstory, but her role as a protagonist becomes less important when the Culture Minds really start to drive the action.

The plot wraps up nicely, reflecting many of the book's themes. The Hydrogen Sonata really delivered on what I want in a Culture novel; a compelling story, richly written Minds, sense of wonder settings, big idea themes, and some laugh out loud moments. Nov 05, John Brothers rated it liked it.