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The Hydrogen Sonata

(Culture #10)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  18,881 ratings  ·  1,225 reviews
The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, 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 colle
Hardcover, 517 pages
Published October 4th 2012 by Orbit
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JT Recommend you read the Cultre books more or less in order, with Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons as a start, and a determination to not let either o…moreRecommend you read the Cultre books more or less in order, with Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons as a start, and a determination to not let either of them turn you off (they're both great books, and good places to start, neither of which I liked much). I found Player of Games, Excission, Surface Detail, and Matter outstanding, and Look to Windward quite good. Inversions is a good story, but unnecessary to the series (though unnecessary and not worth reading are definitely different things). I'm still trying to separate my grief at this being the last (Ian has Sublimed) from the effect of the book, so I can't yet tell you where this one fits. I can tell you it's at least ironically a fitting end.

Short answer: Start at the beginning and read them all.(less)

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Mario the lone bookwolf
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: banks-m-iain
The last work of this great master, dealing with life, death, afterlife and the sense of art and its use as an expression of cultural identity.

How might not only individuals but whole states or intergalactic empires deal with death, when there is an afterlife, another dimension, alternative universes with other timelines, etc., available? Ignore it, fight it or be openminded and interested in it, it all depends on the ideological base.

The motivation for the transformation may be influenced by di
Kevin Kelsey
Oct 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Living either never has any point, or is always its own point; being a naturally cheery soul, I lean towards the latter.”

“In practice, people don’t believe for good reasons anyway, they just believe and that’s it, like we don’t love for good reasons, we just love because we need to love.”

And then there were no Culture novels left at all, and I was left with an Iain Banks shaped hole in my existence. If that sounds melodramatic, it’s because it is. But honestly, I am depressed as hell to be fini
There's this eternal debate about the extent to which you should be looking at the author's life when you try to understand their work, and The Hydrogen Sonata is a fine example. It's the tenth and last volume in Iain M. Banks's Culture series, it's about the death of a major Galactic civilisation, and Banks himself died not long after the book was published. So really the book must be about Banks, and the Subliming of the Gzilt must be about his own impending death? While I was reading it, I wa ...more
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
End Days.

Oh yes, the end is coming for the whole Gzilt civilization. They're tired of making music and screwing. They're tired of being so damn *good* at everything. So, let's follow the holy text and hop aboard the higher-dimensional expressway and SUBLIMEo ourselves!

They're not the first culture to do it, and I'm sure they won't be the last, but the Culture has something to say about it. Yes they do.

I need to warn you, folks. There's sensitive information ahead. Even slightly spoiler-like and
Mar 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
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
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
“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
John Brothers
Nov 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf
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
Seamus Thompson
Sep 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Alexander Popov
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
(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
Ricardo Sueiras
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No disrespect to Mr. Banks, but reading a Culture novel is the literary equivalent of watching a Hollywood SF blockbuster ... only with an infinitely better script, and lots more weirdness, sex and drugs.

One of the reasons why Disney is unlikely to buy the film rights to the Culture novels is that a key character in THS is a sybarite with 60 penises grafted onto his body; he also has four hearts to sustain so much convective tissue; the most number of people he has ever had sex with at one time
Elf M.
Jan 17, 2013 rated it liked it
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
I love Iain M. Banks, and 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)
Daniel Roy
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
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
Nov 13, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The final installment in “the ongoing history of Terrific Things The Culture And Its Brilliant Ships Had Got Up To Over The Years.” didn’t disappoint!

Quick bare bones : there’s this girl called Vyr Cossont just moseying on , getting on with life or the end of it, to be more accurate. Her civilization has collectively agreed to rapture sublime out of this existence into the greater (supposedly amazing) unknown, now that they feel they’ve achieved everything there is to achieve in the here
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
You don't fuck with the culture.
Dec 02, 2017 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Although the dialogs made me chuckle a few times, I'm giving up in Chapter 3. I haven't read such an overbloated text, chock-full of adjectives and tell-don't-shows, in a long time. :-O
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Culture addicts; space opera fans
Shelves: sf-fantasy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: worth_re-reading
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
Althea Ann
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't wait for this one to come up on my wish list... I checked it out from the library. The first thing I noticed was that Mr. Banks has a new jacket-flap photo. Aaagh! He looks old! That means I'm old too!

I love all of the Culture novels, but some are better than others. This is one of the better ones.

The Gzilt culture have scheduled the time at which they, as a culture, will Sublime - leave the concern of this world behind for a higher plane of existence.

Before this happens, a young wom
tom bomp
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've read through the whole series of Culture novels over the past 6 months, starting the next one after I've finished the last. It's sad coming to the end of the series which I've enjoyed a lot (even when I've criticised it), especially knowing that it's the end because the brilliant author has died. But in many ways this book feels like a fitting end to the series because it's so focused on endings and death in general.

The basis of the plot is around a whole civilisation about to Sublime - go
Oct 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi, own, ebook
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
Arielle Walker
Dec 28, 2012 marked it as to-read
As sometimes happens with the Christmas Gift, I received this book, which I really really wanted to read when I saw the synopsis - and then discovered it's #10 in a series. Now, do I read it anyway, series be damned, chronology is over-rated! I can always go back to the beginning after! Or do I adhere the the strict structure of serial works and slog through the first nine, getting more and more desperate to reach the final goal of that book that I actually own?

Actually that's more that just a
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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

Other books in the series

Culture (10 books)
  • Consider Phlebas (Culture #1)
  • The Player of Games (Culture, #2)
  • Use of Weapons (Culture #3)
  • The State of the Art (Culture, #4)
  • Excession (Culture, #5)
  • Inversions (Culture, #6)
  • Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
  • Matter (Culture, #8)
  • Surface Detail (Culture #9)

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