Skip to main content

The Hydrogen Sonata (SF) - Iain Banks ****

I've generally loved the Iain M. Banks 'Culture' novels, but was decidedly disappointed when I happened on Consider Phlebas, (admittedly his first) - but thankfully The Hydrogen Sonata was much more the kind of on-form writing I've come to enjoy.

I will get one moan out of the way up front - it's too long. I can't be doing with these doorstop books as a whole, and quite a lot of it felt in need of a good tightening edit. But having said that, there's a whole lot to enjoy here in the complex machinations between different races and seeing different Culture ships exhibit behaviour that isn't necessarily quite what you'd expect.
As usual with Banks there's plenty to ponder in the 'what if' department, here particularly around the concept of 'subliming' where individuals or whole races opt to become part of a disembodied multidimensional spacetime - probably some people's idea of heaven and others of hell. But equally, as Banks did so well, there's plenty of straightforward action, humour and adventure.

This is definitely one of the Culture books I'd recommend to get immersed in the Banks' canon - as all his best books do, it sucks you in early. There are a lot of characters to get your head around, and occasionally I struggled with which ship was which - but generally speaking, as long as you're prepared to go with the flow, it's a great ride.

Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…