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The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture) Hardcover – October 9, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 353 customer reviews
Book 10 of 10 in the Culture Series

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Editorial Reviews


"This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks's far-future semi-utopian society.... The action tumbles along at a dizzying pace, bouncing among a fascinating array of characters and locales. It's easy to see why Banks's fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites."―Publishers Weekly

"One of Banks' best Culture novels to date."―Booklist on The Hydrogen Sonata

"It's fantastically good fun that throws in some big ideas about life, the universe and everything, and like the unabashed leftie that he is, Banks manages to get in there a few sizable shots at unthinking, dogmatic religiosity for good measure."―SciFi Now

"Banks's charming prose and the scale of his imagination continue to delight Culture vultures."―SFX

"The Culture, the post-scarcity, hedonistic, Machiavellian, libertarian, arse-kicking science-fiction society created by the late Iain M. Banks...one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future."―The Guardian

"Incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action...sheer delight."―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel, The Wasp Factory, in 1984. Consider Phlebas, his first science fiction novel, was published under the name Iain M. Banks in 1987. He is now widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful, innovative and exciting writers of his generation.

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Product Details

  • Series: Culture
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; 1 edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316212377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316212373
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (353 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #577,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Culture series can always be counted on for showing Iain Banks' writing at its best and the Hydrogen Sonata proves to be no exception to the rule. If we haven't really had the full-on science-fiction ideas combined with explosive action experience since Excession, the series thereafter has shown a certain maturity, slowing down the pace to consider philosophical and metaphysical questions brought up in that book relating to the Other Side, on questions of Life, Death, Oblivion and the nature of what lies beyond the material world. Those questions are to the fore again in The Hydrogen Sonata, thoughtfully considered and brilliantly interweaved into the whole culture of the Culture, but happily Banks' writing and the plot surrounding the story is once again at a dazzling level of wit and brilliance that we haven't seen from this author for a long time indeed.

You might not expect that from the initial premise, where yet another civilisation, the Gzilt, have reached that stage in their evolution where, tired of existing with the mundane realm of matter and energy, they've made the collective decision to Sublime, crossing over to that indefinable place (between the seventh and eleventh dimensions we discover here) where all advanced cultures and civilisations eventually accede and effectively retire. Some are surprised that the Gzilt have decided to make the big jump at this stage in their development, but with only 23 days left until the Instigation, many have already crossed over, leaving only a small remainder of their people to take care of the final ceremonies and housekeeping formalities, fending off Scavenger races and generally dealing with any last minute business that might crop up. Inevitably, one ship turns up with a big surprise for the Gzilt, and suddenly chaos erupts.
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I do love the "Culture" novels. They represent interesting ways of looking at interactions of alien civilizations. And, of course, they feature the Minds... those AIs who make up the real power of the Culture. I have had many a good snicker or outright laugh at Banks names for the Minds (check Wikipedia for a list). The keen intellects have a taste for whimsy, but a very, very serious side as enforcers for the Culture, especially those associated with Special Circumstances. I am pleased that Banks spends more time now with the Minds. His earlier stories are quite good, but he really has been taking off in the last few books.

My title refers to the fact that when I read some of the text, I hear the narrator from "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," especially when Banks capitalizes words in sentences. For example I might write that the story revolves around A Really Big Secret, but when Banks writes something like that, you grin. (Well, I do.) Probably also has to do with Brit phrases creeping in now and then. All good with me. There is definitely a lot of humor in the book. Remember, Luke, Leia & Han in the garbage compartment? Banks goes one better (or should I say worse?) here, and it is perfectly plausible.

The truth about composer's intent for the piece of music called "The Hydrogen Sonata" has such irony as to be both sad and terribly funny. Banks has a lot of nice touches in the book. But the book is, as my title indicates, mostly serious. The humor is secondary or tertiary.

The book is a minor travelogue. Some very interesting places are visited. Imagine a race like McDevitt's Monument Builders, but building on a planetary scale. We visit an Orbital (a Ringworld type object), where in a remote desert section, an AI is building an analog to a waterworks...
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Format: Kindle Edition
I spent the Summer re-reading all the Culture novels, so they're fresh in my mind for comparison. There is usually something that resonates long afterward; a character, a concept, a turn of plot, but why does The Hydrogen Sonata leave me empty?

There doesn't seem to be a problem with narrative drive or pacing. The book zips along and there is plenty of action. It could be the characters. While the primary Mind Mistake Not... is the most fleshed out character, the humanoid protagonist is thinly drawn. There certainly isn't a scene stealer like Demeisen or Skaffen-Amtiskaw in this book. What was the point of the familiar other than a lost opportunity? No other Gzilt had a familiar. Then there is the question of motivation. The entire Gzilt society is behaving (appropriately) like a High School senior class in May, but what is the motivation for everyone else?

The book feels quickly written and disconnected. At this point, if Banks writes a culture novel, it will translate to a certain amount of money. I'd hate to think this was his motivation, but it doesn't feel like it was a story he 'had' to get out of his system.

The Hydrogen Sonata has all the elements of a Culture novel that I'm deeply interested in such as an important musical reference, plenty of chatter among Minds, and a setting that allows for the examination of deep philosophical questions. Does it matter? This question comes up multiple times. Arguably, it is the point of the book. It is also how I feel after finishing it.
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