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Channeling Douglas Adams, but mostly serious,
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This review is from: The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture) (Hardcover)
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... A place where some race drilled holes through mountains to turn them into giant organ pipes played by the wind... A repository of a race's artifacts, including... no, you'll have to read that part...
But there is this background of a race opting out of "The Real" to the "Sublime." This is, in some ways like the transcendence in "Fire in the Deep," but different. It is literally making a jump, as a race, to another dimension, where, to use the expression from another book, the individual minds (biological or AI) are "vastened." Banks has mentioned the Sublimed before, but we get a little closer look this time around, just as in "Surface Detail" we got a look at "life" in a Virtual Reality.
It's mostly a one-way trip. Supposedly everything is better... but is it? Communications with the Sublimed tend to be scarce. It's a definite "leap of faith" and our story takes place in the last 24 days before a race of humanoids (Gzilt) who helped found the "The Culture" (but who never joined it) takes the plunge to Sublime. By the way, Banks' choice of the the word Sublime is sublime!
That's when a ship from the inheritors of a race who had left some of their technology to the Gzilt, shows up. And their message is that the main text that help guide the Gzilt in building their civilization was a fraud. Murder happens, and a cover-up is attempted... But those snoopy Culture Minds get wind, and want to know the truth... and off we go!
Did I forget to mention that a very old humanoid, alive when the Culture was founded, is a key to the truth? Banks tries to address the question of how and more particularly why, someone would want to live that long (over 9000 years at the time of this book). There is some philosophical meat in the book, including the usual questions arising from making duplicates of one's self, and can one distinguish a simulation from reality.
There is plenty of action and many more interesting ideas than I have yet mentioned. Readers of Banks earlier Culture books know how different the Minds can be from each other. It appears that not only can the Minds become eccentrics, but that they can "go native" with non-Culture civilizations.
So many ideas! Banks reminds me why I fell in love with science fiction so long ago.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 13, 2012, 4:40:29 PM PST
Amazon Customer says:
Channel Doug Adams??? Huh??? Opposite ends of the spectrum. I like(d) Doug but come on, he was a comedy writer. Banks is all whit, I assume you know the difference?
Posted on May 4, 2013, 5:52:44 PM PDT
"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. "
"And their message is that the main text that help guide the Gzilt in building their civilization was a fraud. "
What struck me while I was reading was that the authors of that text were doing the same thing (and making a similar comment) as the composer of the musical piece "the Hydrogen Sonata". The same can be said of some of the characters moving along the action in the book.
All in all, it made me think of the novel (named for a piece of music) as being a chord whose notes happen to be spread out over several thousand years.
Tricky bastard, that Banks.
In reply to an earlier post on May 22, 2013, 10:18:41 PM PDT
Nice insight, chemBob. Are you saying that perhaps the music piece the Hydrogen Sonata and the Gzilt holy book were both intended to and did elicit/provoke into being something similar- the instrument yet to be invented that could play the sonata, and the Gzilt themselves as the "instrument" that played the holy book? And we readers are part of the chord struck by the novel.
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