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The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture #10)

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  7,579 ratings  ·  822 reviews
The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective deci
Kindle Edition, 529 pages
Published October 4th 2012 by Orbit
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Banks seems content to spin out increasingly fractal world building episodes while adopting an ever more and more affected and feathery writing style filled with qualifiers and digressions and dangling clauses, becoming in each new work ever more tangled in conscious - or perhaps unconscious – imitation of the complicated, ever qualified, speech of his most famous creations, the great ship Minds, whose all-too self-aware multi-layered and consciously ornate dialogue forms the greater part of th ...more
Jun 09, 2013 Alan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sophisticates
Recommended to Alan by: A great body of work
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 ...more
Nick Merrill
“Is it true your body was covered in over a hundred penises?”
“No. I think the most I ever had was about sixty, but that was slightly too many. I settled on fifty-three as the maximum. Even then it was very difficult maintaining an erection in all of them at the same time, even with four hearts.”

Iain M. Banks’s latest Culture novel is representative of almost everything that has made the series so great. There’s enlightened interference, hedonism, spectacular setpieces, diversely characterized Mi
I'm getting an erection just thinking about reading this.
Seamus Thompson
One my favorite in the Culture series which means I rank it with The Player of Games, Look to Windward, and Excession. Below are a couple quotations that struck me as I read them. Below that is my little paean to the series as a whole, written before I started the book. I'm not up to the task of writing a lengthy review at the moment but I will say that this, like Excession, is probably *not* the best introduction to the series. As I read the final 100 pages I felt that delightfully bittersweet ...more
John Brothers
While Mr Banks retains his ability to assemble brilliant imagery of the far future, I have to admit that this book was disappointing. It's a bunch of small ideas stitched together, instead of a big idea, mixed with a bunch of small ideas. For example: The Player of Games, Surface Detail, Excession, Matter and Use of Weapons all have "big ideas" that animate the central plot. And by the end of it, you understand what has happened, and why - the mystery is mostly unveiled and you enjoy the puzzle. ...more
Several years ago I decided not to read any more Culture novels. I felt the whole idea was thoroughly explored by the end of the third book and that all of the subsequent ones represented a decline from that peak. With the sad early demise of Banks I relented; there were only two I hadn't read and there won't be any more. Some time later I've read the penultimate Culture novel and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Initially I was concerned that I'd made a mistake - old problems were all p
Alexander Popov
(The review was originally published at

“I told you before: I have a perverse delight in watching species fuck up,” says one of Mr. Banks’ characters, purportedly the oldest human being remaining in existence. Which in the universe of the Culture means that he is thousands upon thousands of years old. That statement applies well enough to the novel itself: it delights in spectacular cosmic-scale fuck-ups.

I admit I am a latecomer to Ian Banks’ body of work
on its way here; yes, it's here today (Sept 18); now to find the time/energy that this huge asap deserves...

started the book tonight (Sept 18) and here is the first paragraph of the novel per se after a prologue chapter with talking ships (as you can see it is vintage IM Banks and awesome):

"At sunset above the plains of Kwaalon, on a dark high terrace balanced on a glittering black swirl of architecture forming a relatively microscopic part of the equatorial Girdlecity of Xown, Vyr Cossont - Lie
Fans of Iain Banks' Culture series of novels, and particularly those in which the Minds - those hyperintelligent entities who run the vast ships and habitats of the Culture - are major if not principal characters will, for the most part, enjoy The Hydrogen Sonata. A long-hidden secret threatens to derail the Gzilt civilization's plans to Sublime, or move on to the next stage of evolution. Various cabals in Gzilt society seek to verify the truth of the secret, to suppress it, or just to get what ...more
**edited 12/30/13

The final frontier.
These are the voyages of the starship "Mistake Not"--um, and some others, to boldly go where...well, where lots of people have gone before.

Welcome to the future, where most cultures have evolved past want and need, where AI is so advanced that the nonbiological minds have left the humanoids in the dust, where it is possible to take a trip to the afterlife and return--if you wish. The Gzilt, an advanced group of humanoids, are about to take the next ste
I love Iain M. Banks, and I while I really enjoyed the chance to revisit the Culture again, and it's a fun story, I just felt that by the end, there were a bunch of big, loose ends flopping around that he never got around to tying up. It's that whole "Chekhov's gun" thing -- Banks trots out several big plot threads over the course of the novel, but most of them don't really come to fruition by the time everything's over. (More detail below.)

(view spoiler)
May 09, 2013 Susanne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: SF readers in general, Culture fans in particular
I finished this one two days before the devastating news of Iain's cancer hit. I've not been able to review it because I didn't have enough emotional distance in order to talk about the book, and not about what Banks-the-author means to me. But it's time. The review pile isn't getting any smaller. Thus, to work:

The Hydrogen Sonata is Banks at his finest. It has Culture minds high on galactic politics and their own superiority over biological intelligence, a little bit of violence, a little bit o
Elf M.
So, it took a week, but I finally finished Banks' new Culture novel, The Hydrogen Sonata. It was a better novel that Matter, Transitions, or Surface Detail, but Banks is turning into a one-trick pony here.

The Hydrogen Sonata (also known as T. C. Vilabiers 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, catalogue number MW 1211) is a fiendishly difficult piece of music to master, yet Lt. Cmdr. (reserve) Vyr Cossant is determined to master it. She's close, very close-- but in les
It is clear that Iain Banks is one of our generations' greatest science fiction authors, a peer of Asimov for the new century, and one of last keepers of Asimov-style SF (that being both high concept and soft science). It's too bad that (failing an unlikely pop adaptation into another format like film) the soft-ish nature of the SF (mostly abandoned for hard SF, like Karl Schroeder or outright Sci-Fi Fantasy of the Star Wars variety), the extensive length of most works and the regular slower-tha ...more
Ricardo Sueiras
I will start this review by stating that I am a huge Ian M. Banks fan, ever since I picked up Consider Phlebas quite by accident whilst travelling, I have been taken in by these stories and the entity known as the Culture. These early books really defined for me, an era of SF that seemed to have evolved to a higher level, and combined his contemporary fictional writing skills but without any constraints or boundaries of reality.

I have not ready any however, for the past 10 years, so bought this
The great and glorious Gzilt civilization is about to Sublime. To Transcend, to achieve Ascension, to cross the Singularity, to pass beyond and join the bleedin' choir invisible. It's scheduled for the end of the month. And so all the Gzilt have settled down to do exactly what you'd expect of a Culture-level civilization on such a momentous occasion: one last round of cocktail parties, hiking vacations, and orgies (as suits one's preferred level of debauchery), while receiving congratulatory mes ...more
there's something about a Culture novel that makes a non-geek really want to become a geek: to comb over every detail of every Culture novel, looking for connections and cross-references and overlapping treatments of themes, and have a list of Culture ship names tattooed up one's legs. one wants to go to Culture conventions dressed up as a character from the novels, and pretend very hard that one is a Culture citizen.

this novel will only add to that ever-growing desire.

so, what happens when it b
Dec 03, 2012 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Culture addicts; space opera fans
Shelves: sf-fantasy
There is a perceptive review of The Hydrogen Sonata at The Guardian website that more or less sums up what makes the Culture novels so interesting. Follow the link for a review of the Culture and a summary of the book in question so I can get on to things about the book that particularly struck me (it’s short).

That done, expect spoilers:

It’s true that (IMO) Banks still hasn’t regained the heights attained in Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons or – especially – The Player Of Games in this latest en
I worry that I'm starting to lose my admiration for Banks' Culture books. Although I enjoyed this one, I feel like this book continues my downward trend of enjoyment of the series in the last few books. I still love the banter between Culture Minds (probably my favourite part of this book), and Banks' ability to describe alien places in such vibrant language. The interaction between the Minds and the two Scrounger races was very lively (albeit a little ST:TNG at times).

So where does the colour
Jeff post
You don't fuck with the culture.
*Sigh* At the end of every new Culture novel these days I feel frustrated. Not because I didn't enjoy them, but because it means I'd have to wait a couple of years before the next one. :(

Anyway, I enjoyed this more than others, mostly because of the humor despite the grimness of the situations. Banks, as always, delivers incredibly astute observations on the predilections of societies, disguised in trite British humor but none the less true for it.

(view spoiler)
Daniel Roy
Culture novels are my guilt-free SF pleasure. They feel like SF 301; that is to say, pretty much dense and inaccessible to SF neophytes, but a delight when you want to read all about super-intelligent starships and 7-dimensional spacetime and super-advanced military tech. And the best part is, Banks even throws in the occasional juvenile joke.

The Hydrogen Sonata follows this precise formula, which makes it an average Culture novel; that is to say, it's great. This entry in the series concerns it
It is very well written, and is much better than Matter just in terms of its character and plotting... But the Ghizt don't make any damn sense at all. They are like a Heinlein military kludged together with Culture tech, and they have all the street sense of a 1950s sitcom character. The Sublime is needlessly obfuscated and repeated as ineffable,but there's no logical reason for it to be quite the mystic experience that it is described as... And the Minds themselves can't quite work out why they ...more
Tudor Ciocarlie
Even if The Hydrogen Sonata suffers a little because there aren't any strong and very interesting human/alien characters in it, this novel is still a great addition to The Culture series. And instead of interesting humans, we have very interesting Minds, lots and lots of Minds.
Excellent book and one of the more accessible in the Culture series. Such a shame it's also the last.

I put off reading this book for so long. Ian M Banks' Culture novels have been amongst the most enjoyable Sci-fi books I have ever read and his recent passing meant this would be the last time I could read a new one. But I couldn't put it off forever, nor would I want to. So my approach to this book was potentially rather reverent. Even more poignant then to discover that the story hinges around
Another brilliant, imaginative Culture book that hits a few new notes in its now moderately well-established formula. Which isn't to say that the fascinating characters or settings will strike anyone as formulaic. Quite the opposite. But, as another Goodreads reviewer noted, a Culture book these days means the Minds going crazy and sending each other lots of hilarious messages, with a young, almost always female humanoid and her nutty non-humanoid companion at the center of it all getting ferrie ...more
Iain Banks is back with another Culture novel, and's a doosey. In fact, I can't remember enjoying Banks as much as this. For the uninitiated, "the Culture" is a sprawling Galactic civilization, originated by human species but now dominated by "Minds," the artificial intelligences that inhabit and control the massive star ships in which most Culture citizens reside. The Culture is a mass of contradictions. It is a polity with no apparent government, except that it has a very powerful and in ...more
What a shame that my feeling on finishing this Culture novel was that of relief that it was done.
Let me start with the positives, because I love Iain M. Banks with all my heart, and respect his work utterly. Here we find again that wonderful quirky British humour. We enjoy some wonderful action scenes, with that attention to detail that is a hallmark of his writing. We meet again the Minds, that unique group of Culture citizens, with their wonderful names that we have, as readers, all grown to l
I know it's hard to pull off, but I'm a sucker for communication that works on multiple levels. I always enjoyed those classes that were accessible to both the novice and expert. I get a kick out of films that both those with no background and those who virtually live in the particular universe can appreciate. And I thoroughly enjoy books that can achieve the same multifaceted audience.

For those new or recent to the Culture universe, this book provides an interesting yarn about the end times of
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Iain Banks / Iain...: The Hydrogen Sonata 18 76 Dec 28, 2012 03:48AM  
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Iain M. Banks is a pseudonym of Iain Banks which he used to publish his Science Fiction.

Banks's father was an officer in the Admiralty and his mother was once a professional ice skater. Iain Banks was educated at the University of Stirling where he studied English Literature, Philosophy and Psychology. He moved to London and lived in the south of England until 1988 when he returned to Scotland, li
More about Iain M. Banks...
Consider Phlebas (Culture, #1) The Player of Games (Culture, #2) Use of Weapons (Culture, #3) Excession (Culture, #5) Surface Detail (Culture, #9)

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