THE HYDROGEN SONATA by Iain M. Banks
Kirkus Star

THE HYDROGEN SONATA

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Addition to Banks’ wonderful space-opera series (without the middle initial, he also writes impressive mainstream novels) about the far-future galactic Culture (Surface Detail, 2010, etc.), a liberal-anarchic, multispecies civilization guided and sustained, more or less invisibly, by Minds, artificial intelligences that take such physical forms as spaceships and habitats.

Vastly more intelligent than humans, millions of times faster and mostly benevolent, Minds are truly godlike entities. (Asked “Is this what gods would actually be like?” Banks replied: “If we’re lucky.”) Now, the Gzilt civilization, an almost perversely peaceful military society whose precepts arise from the Book of Truth, an ancient tome containing technological and intellectual predictions nearly all of which have proved correct, are preparing to Sublime, or vanish, into a set of higher dimensions where existence is thought to be almost infinitely rich and complex. As the Gzilt make their preparations, several rather primitive scavenger species gather nearby (one ship comes into orbit, as Banks puts it, with the “warp-engine equivalent of loud clanks and clouds of black smoke”), ready to grab whatever goodies the Gzilt leave behind. But then, a sudden, devastating attack destroys the Gzilt Regimental High Command. The reason seems to involve a shattering secret about the Book of Truth and the establishment of the Culture 10,000 years ago. One of the few survivors, reserve Lt. Cmdr. Vyr Cossont, a bewildered four-armed musician with, self-confessedly, no military skills, receives orders to locate and question Ngaroe QiRia, possibly the Culture’s oldest living person and the only one who might have some idea why the Book of Truth is so important and what really happened 10 millennia ago. Problem is, even assisted by Berdle, a powerful Mind avatar, and an erratic battle android who’s convinced everything’s merely a simulation, can she survive long enough to complete her mission? Scotland-resident Banks’ Culture yarns, the science-fiction equivalent of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, brim with wit and wisdom, providing incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action seamlessly embedded in a satirical-comedy matrix.

Sheer delight.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-3162-1237-3
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Orbit/Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2012




BEST FICTION OF 2012:

FictionTHE COVE by Ron Rash
by Ron Rash
MysteryBLOODLAND by Alan Glynn
by Alan Glynn
FictionACCIDENTS OF PROVIDENCE by Stacia M. Brown
by Stacia M. Brown
FictionAMERICAN DERVISH by Ayad Akhtar
by Ayad Akhtar

MORE BY IAIN M. BANKS

Sci-FiLOOK TO WINDWARD by Iain M. Banks
by Iain M. Banks
FictionTHE BUSINESS by Iain M. Banks
by Iain M. Banks

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

IndieTHE DARK TERROR by William F. F. Wood
by William F. F. Wood
IndieThe Divinity Paradox by Vincent Vale
by Vincent Vale
IndieThe Anuvi Incident by James Vincett
by James Vincett