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 10,000 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 decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations: They are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.
Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted - dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over 9,000 years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous.
©2012 Iain M. Banks (P)2012 Hachette Digital
"Nobody does it better." (Sunday Times)
"The standard by which the rest of SF is judged." (Guardian)
"Essential for SF fans." (Library Journal)
I've read most of Banks's work by now, and this is a little underwhelming. After the depth and breadth of Surface Detail, this leaves me feeling a little cold. Banks as always paints sweeping vistas of alien awesomeness and really digs in with amazing concepts and high tech culture. But one doesn't ever really like his characters, only the Minds seem to have any depth to them.
It won't be the last Banks i read, he does keep me hooked enough to continue. But I hope they get better rather than worse from here.
Any of the Culture series by Banks or the Polity by Neal Asher
Yes. Even better, excellent accents, consistent interested delivery.
Don't miss it
With the Culture novels I always particularly enjoy the Ships and they are central to this story too.
The interaction between the humans and Ships
The one in which the full name of one of the Ships is revealed - perfectly done with maximum impact and enjoyment :)
I would say that I was most effected by my favourite scene but at many points I found myself pondering the implications of the events and their impact on protagonists and myself in their place alike.
In The Hydrogen Sonata Iain M. Banks - as an outspoken atheist - has finally gotten around to using his Culture universe to explore faith and religion. Though there have never been any gods in his creation (the Minds, though near-omnipotent, are way too vain and profane to fulfill that role) there has always been Subliming: a Heaven-like afterlife for civilisations or Minds to ascend to. He’s never tackled Sublimation head-on before and I was intrigued to see how he would do it; this being Iain M. Banks though, he did it with wit, thoughtfulness and panache (with great dollops of action, sex and intrigue thrown in to spice it up). I couldn't tell which came first, the plot or the theme, but its not important; the plot rattles along - a wondrous travelogue around his beautifully imagined universe - and the theme lies there in the background adding depth to the conversations of the characters we’re following on their various wild-goose chases. Along the way we get to chew over different aspects of religion through the different characters we meet: a hermit Mind who returned from the Sublime representing resurrection; evil and guilt (or lack thereof) are explored through the main antagonists; forgiveness and acceptance of our sins and the meaning of life, the universe and everything according to a millennia-old human. There’s no spiritual epiphany to found though, either by the characters, the author or the readers; the moral (if there is one - I’m not sure it’s even relevant) could be that a truly loving God would welcome all his flawed creations into heaven. Or maybe that personal Truth can be true even if it’s based on lies (and doesn’t hurt anyone). I don’t know, but I love the way that the great mystery at the heart of the story could seem almost irrelevant except for the fact that it’s incredibly important to those involved. Anyways, I really enjoyed the book and it was sublimely narrated (no pun intended) by Peter Kenny - thoroughly recommended!
Yet again Banks supplies a gripping tale of eons spanning intrigue. This story doesn't have quite the depth of some previous Culture novels but it gives another insight into the many layers that make up his Universe. The Culture ship Minds steal the show yet again but you can't deny that without their seemingly 'pet' biologicals they would get bored and have no choice but to Sublime which would seem to be the point of this book.
"Space opera at its finest."
The story- It spans several planets and star systems, flitting from one viewpoint to the next, all using the countdown to the 'subliming' of an entire empires population to keep the pace up. The characters are interesting, the debates between ships is both hilarious and enthralling as is customary with Culture novels, and the prose are smooth. Probably the best Culture novel since Consider Phlebas.
The narrator- Both enthusiastic and entertaining, Peter Kenny reads the books as though he were the sole actor in a multi-part play. Giving each major character a unique and recognisable voice, he has ensured my first download from audible was a very good one.
I genuinely cannot think of any way to improve this audiobook, and I'll be buying more from both the author and narrator. Five stars from me. Love it.
"A Cultured Culture Novel"
I'm very late to the Culture. Like lots of readers of science fiction and fantasy, I'd heard of this amazing - but very complex - series of novels. I'd even bought a couple of paperbacks that have knocked about the house (unread) for a few years. It's been Audible - or, rather, Peter Kenny - who finally got me into the series. And I'm very glad of it, too. I started with the first couple of audiobooks (both narrated expertly by Kenny) and, because this was the newest and just out, listened to The Hydrogen Sonata.
The novel has all the great qualities of a space opera epic: an alien race about to "sublime" into another dimension, robot ships, political intrigue and a quest by a six-armed main character to discover what was at the heart of a deadly mystery. I've noticed that Banks loves dramatic - almost widescreen cinematic - scenes set on giant spacecraft involved in a disaster and this one has one that literally had me on the edge of my sear (I was driving to work as I listened). It's also far from serious: there's a great deal of humour, too.
I can't recommend this audiobook highly enough. The story is thoroughly enthralling and is made so much more so by the amazing voice(s) of Peter Kenny. Download now. Go on - I insist!
"The Last Culture Story?"
Deeply saddened to learn of I.M.B.’s dreadful illness. Got to admire the panache of his public statement. More power to his elbow!
Read the publisher’s review for the plot, this is what I think...
A proto-Culture... The Mysteries of the Sublimed Elder races? Too good to miss.
Once again incredible imagination with soaring concepts. If you’re interested in Culture novels this isn’t a bad place to start.
Well if this is the last Culture novel, what a stunner to go out on.
"Another great book by Banks"
I had read the book on release and really enjoyed it. It's not as complex as some of his other books, but still delivers the usual twists and turns in great Banks style. As a big fan of his previous audio books, I couldn't resist buying the audio book version. Peter Kenny does his usual fantastic job and makes this book a true joy to listen to. I don't think I've ever heard a voice artist give so much to a book. His range of character voices make following the story so much easier and you find yourself rising and falling with the emotion of the book that Peter delivers perfectly.
Buy this audio book..... then buy the rest. You wont regret it!
"More mind stuff"
I love culture minds and this book gives a broader view of them and shows that they're not all the same. After reading the summary I was looking forward to see how the culture would behave with another level 8 civ. I wasn't disappointed. There is the usual mesh of threads and some organically we get to care about (including a cute pet!). There are never enough "fights" for me but the ones here are up to the usual standard. If you read the book you'd know when you're getting near the end; with an audio book it can "end" quite precipitously - in this one the author does tie things up quite suddenly. If you enjoyed surface detail you'll love this one. If you've never read a culture book, I envy you. You're in for a real treat. BTW peter Kerry (reader) is brilliant using just enough "voices" to make it enjoyable without going into the eccentric. I just wish Audible would fill the Culture gaps (books 4-7?)
I thought that listening to a book I've read would make me impatient. Not a bit of it. Kenny's delivery is excellent, and the luxury of absorbing the story at this pace was palpable.
The Minds are always the best bit with Banks. Their world weariness (universe weariness) always leads to the intruiging question - why do they need all the wetware. Entertainment I suppose, and this book is very entertaining. Loads of fun, especialluy the barking mad pre Subliming party.
Yes - a perfect book for a long car journey across Europe. But tghe journey didn't take long enough.
This book does two things - it highlightds Banks's imense talent for narratives about immensity and the reassuringly fickle nature of sentience; and it is a stark reminder of a a talent that has left us
"A return to form"
Banks can be a bit hit and miss, sometimes is all gels and the adventure whips along and you're caught up in the characters and the narrative and the whole rollecking narrative. Other times he gets bogged down with tedious descriptions and blind flights of fantasy. A good story would fight to get out.
With Hydrogen Sonata, he hit got it almost perfect again and for me is the last book he should have written.
The Last party, Banks back on top form with CGI effects turned all the way up to 11
The end is ... almost melancholy. No one is really punished for past indiscretion and events unfold regardless. Thats not to say its disappointing, its more though provoking and questions just what is truth and who really needs to know it.
"You gotta love those Ships Minds."
I have loved the Culture novels and I guess I was a bit reluctant/sad to start this book knowing it was going to be the last. It's fitting that the theme of this book is the idea of subliming that has been present in a number of other Culture novels.
I thouroughly enjoyed this book, it has all the hallmarks and traits of all the best bits of the Culture. I really enjoyed the story, which although was not mega complicated at any point was a great yarn and a gripping story. For me the ships Minds were the stars, their discussions about the dilemma of whether to intefere or not and whether it was their responsibility or not was great.
The subliming species, the Gezilt (may have spelt that wrong as I have only heard the word!) were interesting in terms of they did not seem to be of such a state of social evolution that they in fact were worthy of subliming. But I think that was what made the story so interesting, their acceptance and expectation of what it was to sublime. I also liked the idea that you could stay behind if you didn't want to do the subliming thing. An interesting idea for another novel by someone else maybe if indeed anothe author would be allowed to pick up the Culture's reigns.
There's a lot of humour in the book, in fact the humour from the ship Minds reminded me of Douglas Adam's style quite a lot from the Hitch Hikers series which is great. Plenty of action of course and the Culture tech awesome as usual. The ship to ship stand offs with some great Mind/alien conversations were some of the highlights.
Great last novel Mr Banks - thank you for all of the other Culture books as well by the way.
A quick word on Peter Kenny the narrator, he really made this novel work so well in audio format with great voice acting - and I really really loved his portrayal of the Minds. Great job there Mr Kenny.
So, I suggest you read / listen to this novel. Now.
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