BooksOfTheMoon

The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture, #10)

By Iain M. Banks

Rating: 4 stars

It is the end of days for the Gzilt, an ancient species about to take the next step in its civilisation’s life and Sublime: move on from this reality to the great Beyond. However, not everything goes smoothly in the lead up to this process and the musician Vyr Cossont finds herself caught up in events that may threaten the whole Sublimation itself, aided only by a Culture ship and an android who thinks the whole thing is a simulation.

The book was a somewhat odd read. It felt slightly… inconsequential. Not the novel itself, which is huge, complex and thoroughly enjoyable, but the events it describes. During a civilisation-defining event, all this tinkering by the Culture, and the quest to find the oldest man in it, someone who was there at its founding, seems like a sideshow. It’s all very interesting, but as we’re told fairly early on what the big secret is that everyone is after, and most of the principal players know it as well, it’s all about confirmation, rather than discovery.

The Gzilt are an odd people as well. For a species that’s been civilised for ten thousand years, and was almost a founder member of the Culture, they seem oddly petty. They certainly don’t seem like a species that’s ready to take the leap into the next level of existence, but then our perspective is from a small number of ambitious and powerful people, who may not be representative of the species as a whole.

The Minds play a pretty big role in this book. Not quite the commanding presence they had in Excession (the Interesting Times Gang from that book gets namechecked, which is pleasing, for a long-term fan like myself), but they are certainly the movers and shakers. In saying that, the Gzilt politician scheming even in the end days comes pretty close.

Probably the most interesting character in the book is QiRia, the oldest man in the Culture, who was part of the negotiations that formed it. His philosophy and reasons for living are interesting, and one wonders if anything of Banks himself is in him. As far as I know, Banks didn’t know he was dying when he wrote The Hydrogen Sonata, so having a man who lives forever is probably just a morbid coincidence.

Although it wasn’t intended as such, it’s impossible not read this book as anything other than The Last Culture Novel, and try and read closure into it. Being about endings helps in that regard, and this does feel like a satisfying end to the stories of the Culture.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356501499
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2012

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