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The Hydrogen Sonata | [Iain M. Banks]

The Hydrogen Sonata

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

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4.2 (263 )
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  •  
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 10-23-12
    Ethan M. Cambridge, MA 10-23-12 Member Since 2000

    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

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    "Culture meets Hitchhiker's Guide & Da Vinca Code"

    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.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    george United States 11-12-12
    george United States 11-12-12 Member Since 2011

    I'm a technician that does a lot of driving for his job. I use the "windshield" time to listen to audiobooks.

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    "Good, but not his best. 90 out of 100"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Sumner Imperial, MO USA 03-15-13
    Mark Sumner Imperial, MO USA 03-15-13 Member Since 2009

    Devilstower

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    "The most ship-centric Culture novel"
    What made the experience of listening to The Hydrogen Sonata the most enjoyable?

    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.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Hydrogen Sonata?

    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.


    What about Peter Kenny’s performance did you like?

    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.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Absolutely. And thanks to a long drive, I came very close.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shawn Barrie, Ontario, Canada 02-19-13
    Shawn Barrie, Ontario, Canada 02-19-13 Member Since 2010
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    "Intrigue at the End of Civilization"
    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    James Kingston, ON, Canada 01-27-13
    James Kingston, ON, Canada 01-27-13 Member Since 2007
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    "Another excellent chapter in the Culture series"

    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!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Connor North Carolina 10-21-12
    Connor North Carolina 10-21-12 Member Since 2011

    Enjoy the adventure

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    "A REALLY BIG SECRET"

    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.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shane SAN FRANCISCO, CA, United States 01-23-14
    Shane SAN FRANCISCO, CA, United States 01-23-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Best so far"
    What other book might you compare The Hydrogen Sonata to and why?

    Terrific culture novel that goes into lots of detail about ships and the sublime. Great listen right after surface detail.


    What about Peter Kenny’s performance did you like?

    Peter Kenny's performance is incredible as always.


    Any additional comments?

    I listen to these while running and only wish there were more culture novels w/ Peter Kenny narrating now that I have finished all of them.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Fred Tucker, GA, United States 07-14-13
    Fred Tucker, GA, United States 07-14-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Not the best Culture book, but not bad."

    Not the best Culture book, but Peter Kenney continues to deliver. If you are a fan of the Culture series, you will enjoy this book, but it's not the best of the series. The audio performance is as good as ever by Peter Lenney.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alexander B. Shepard Seattle, WA USA 03-04-13
    Alexander B. Shepard Seattle, WA USA 03-04-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Classic Iain M Banks, strong performance"
    If you could sum up The Hydrogen Sonata in three words, what would they be?

    classic space opera


    What did you like best about this story?

    The space opera, the epic scale, the politics.


    Which character – as performed by Peter Kenny – was your favorite?

    Probably one of the spaceship AIs


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Epic Space Opera


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    springn1 Alma, MI United States 11-20-12
    springn1 Alma, MI United States 11-20-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Good I.M. Banks book"

    Not Banks best work, but definitely entertaining. The narrator does a good job with different voices so it's easier to distinguish the characters.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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