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 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 nine thousand 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 Audio
On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through
I am a big Iain M. Banks fan, and any new Culture novel is a cause for celebration. If you aren't familiar with the Culture -- set in a far future post-scarcity society where AIs, humans, aliens, and impossible engineering co-mingle in interesting ways -- this may not be the ideal book to start with (Player of Games or Consider Phlebas might be better), but all of the books are pretty independent.
As a fan of the series, I wouldn't consider this to be the best offering, though it is far from bad. There is the usual mix of action, wry humor, philosophizing, and amazing flights of imagination that mark Culture novels. But the story itself, while full of great ideas and interesting sections, doesn't really connect the way the most compelling novels do. Perhaps that is because the novel is a bit of a ramble through a civilization that is about to evolve to a higher, immaterial, state. There is an overarching plot about a millennia-old religious secret, but the book is really about the picturesque locations visited in attempt to solve the ancient Da Vinci Code-style mystery. The perpetual parties, people with faces made of bowls of soup, sculpted moons, eccentric robots, and other clever details encountered seem like a slightly harder-edged version of Douglas Adams.
Because the novel veers between humor and seriousness rather suddenly, or perhaps because so many of the main characters are Minds, the super-intelligent ship-board AIs, the book is really interesting but rarely feels emotionally compelling. Since Banks is more than capable of writing at the highest level, this is a little disappointing, but the book is still very much worth listening to, and is generally both thrilling and fun, with a little serious navel-gazing thrown in for interest.
The reading is terrific, but, listener be warned, there are a few very explicit moments voice-acted in great detail. Make sure to have headphones on for, say, the visit to the party ship, or the start of the second half of the book. Overall, I don't think any fan of imaginative science fiction, and especially any fan of Banks, will be disappointing they took the time to listen to the novel.
I'm a technician that does a lot of driving for his job. I use the "windshield" time to listen to audiobooks.
Giving this 4 stars seems like I'm saying, "80 out of 100", and that's not the case. probably 90 out of 100. Not Banks' best novel, but easily an above average novel, and I doubt you'll be left feeling cheated, or it's time wasted. A good read.
As always, Peter Kenney captures the sarcastic wit and quirky personalities of the Culture's AI "minds," giving each a distinct voice and delivery. In many of Bank's Culture novels, the ships themselves are the most interesting characters, and that's certainly the case here.
In several scenes, we see a half dozen of the ship minds arguing, talking, whining, wheedling, and generally taking pot shots at each other as they all work toward a common goal from different perspectives. It presents a wonderful feeling of watching a room full of highly precocious, often very funny, brats.
With the number of characters involved, and the rapid fire conversations, it would be easy to become lost, but Kenny does a fine job of making each character distinct. There are some characters among the ship minds that rise to the level of parody when it comes to accents or pacing, but that seems entirely fitting with the literally larger-than-life personalities.
Absolutely. And thanks to a long drive, I came very close.
If you've enjoyed Bank's previous Culture novels, you'll find more to love here. However, there's a bit of a melancholy note on top of the quirks and general humor. For all the Culture’s busy-body interest in their neighbors, there seems to be a bit of a… winding down. A sense that even the Culture may sense that the Culture really doesn’t have all that much to contribute to the broader civilization at this point. That maybe it’s still glittering, but a little pointless.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Culture either splintering or looking to “sublime” in the next few stories.
It was an interesting story about the whole subliming business that civilizations keep doing in Sci-Fi novels. There was a lot of intrigue about the secret past of this civilization and trying to determine if it's true, and what it could mean if this was made public. And of course, Culture minds sticking their metaphoric noses in everyone else's business.
I am always thrilled to see the next Culture book drive, and this one did not disappoint.
While somewhat slighter in scope than his previous instalment, "Surface Detail," "The Hydrogen Sonata" hearkens back to "Players of Games" in its relatively straight-forward narrative. There were several side story lines, but one character's story takes centre stage.
Banks has often written his newer culture books to echo events or characters from previous books in the series: "Look to Windward" is the follow up to "Consider Phlebas,"Surface Detail" completed a character arc that started in "Use of Weapons." "The Hydrogen Sonata" does not seem to be particularly closely linked to any of the other books. Perhaps, there are similarities with "Excession" as Minds play a somewhat larger role than usual, but that's a tenuous link at best.
This book has everything you'd expect from Banks: crazy tech battles, smarmy Minds, political intrigue, wacky aliens, up/down-loaded consciousnesses, utopic societies, hilarious ship names (my favourite being: The Washing Instructions Chip in Life's Rich Tapestry) and amazing landscapes (cities that wrap around whole planets, sand "water"-falls).
If you've read the Culture series so far, be prepared to enjoy another excellent novel in this addition to the series.
If you're new to Iain Banks, you might want to go back to the beginning and read them in order, though this is not necessary. Seeing that only four of the Culture novels are available on Audible (at least where I live), "The Hydrogen Sonata" is probably the best one to start with; "Matter" is not the strongest book in the series, and "Use of Weapons" and "Surface Detail" are best read as a pair. Unfortunately for first time readers, "Use of Weapons" is the most dense, difficult but ultimately rewarding of the series. It can be a little off-putting in that the new reader has to get their head around the fragmented narrative and the Culture universe.
The narration was very excellent as always. Bravo Mr Kenny!
This books gets a strong recommendation. Give it a try!
Enjoy the adventure
I enjoy Iain M. Banks’ Culture books. If new to this series, suggest beginning with “Consider Phlebas”, “The Player of Games” or my favorite, “Use of Weapons”. (Unfortunately, it is not available on Audible, and sigh, must be read.)
In the Culture, humans generally augment themselves to enhance physical and mental capabilities. There is no poverty and no one really seems to have a job. Machines perform much of the day to day tasks, and since they are equipped with Artificial Intelligence, also do much of the thinking. AI’s are self aware and have unique personalities - many with an attitude.
My favorite part of “The Hydrogen Sonata” are the Culture Space Ships who are among the most intelligent of the AI’s. The Ships are attempting to solve a mystery that is thousands of years old, but, if resolved, may change the fate of a civilization. Like most Culture books, there is a lot of action as well as philosophical discussions. So I got my heart rate up and improved my mind.
Quite a good story made even better by Peter Kenny's always excellent narration.
Not quite as goosebump-generating as some of the earlier books, specifically Player of Games and especially Use of Weapons, but I appreciated the more positive ending than some of the other, slightly depressing "everyone dies in the end" books from earlier in the series.
I like the fact that the Culture was presented here with flaws, and potentially beatable, rather than as all-powerful.
Listening to all the silly names of the ships.
His discussion on the morality and futility of advanced simulations was extremely interesting as I work in the field of Computer Science. Very profound.
The Mistake Not
I laughed out loud several times and even spit out my drink once.
Sad he's gone.
Not my favorite Banks, but Peter Kenney's performance elevates the work. Plus, it lasts almost exactly as long as it takes to drive from Nashville to Boulder!
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