The Hydrogen Sonata

Discussion in 'Iain M Banks' started by J-WO, May 3, 2012.

  1. Moonbat

    Moonbat Chuckle Churner

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    Oops, I forgot to mention I had finished this, a few days ago now.
    I really enjoyed it, I don't want to post any spoliers so I wont say much.

    It was another great culture novel, not my favorite, but very good, some interesting ideas and some wonderfully Banksian touches. Not sure where it stands in my list of culture novels, not particularly high, but probably deserves a re-read before I can list it accurately.
     
  2. Bowler1

    Bowler1 Senile Member

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    I have my copy and after I finish reading a members WIP, this book is next. It's good to know it holds up, I'm a big culture fan.
     
  3. Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    I'm about half-way in now (I had to finish Reamde before I could start) and that is exactly how I'm feeling. It hasn't really given me the Wow factor, but there are interesting ideas and set-pieces as ever. The visit to the never-ending final party and the android who thinks everything is a Sim stand out for me.

    I just read the part about the Great Simming Problem and I wondered, is Banks an animal rights campaigner? His arguments made there could easily be made against farming animals and it seemed to be deliberate on his part. Only Banks strikes me more as a member of the Carnivore Society than he does animal rights organisations?

    What exactly is the familiar, Pyan? Is it a bat, or some kind of living carpet tile?
     
  4. Moonbat

    Moonbat Chuckle Churner

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    I'm not sure what it is/supposed to be. I thought of it more of a sentient piece of cloth, part cape part bird, but it was never fully explained as far as I remember.
    The great simming problem was more of a allegory for the old "is reality a dream" type philosophical question in my opinion. I had never thought of it with regards to animal rights and farming before.
     
  5. williamjm

    williamjm Well-Known Member

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    I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago. I liked the book although I agree with some other comments that it isn't one of the best Culture books. There were some good scenes in it but it was maybe lacking anything as memorable as Banks' best moments, although I didn't think Surface Detail was flawless I thought it was a much more compelling story overall. It was slightly frustrating that the two more intriguing elements of the story, the subliming and the formation of the Culture, never got explored in any detail, although by it's very nature it would be difficult to really explore the Sublime.

    I would recommend reading in order of publication, although the precise order doesn't matter too much since they're almost all standalones. I think reading Hydrogen Sonata first could be a bit confusing even though the plot is separate from the other books since it does reuse some terminology from previous books without really explaining it again so I think it would help to be familiar with the Culture background.

    The first book in the series, Consider Phlebas, does offer a better introduction (although I don't think it's Banks' best work) since it's largely written from the perspective of an outsider so the Culture is introduced slowly.
     
  6. iansales

    iansales Well-Known Member

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    I was waiting for some twist in the end, but no, it ended exactly the way to had looked likely to end from about page 100. Except for the somewhat implausible outbreak of violence. One of the weaker culture books. I thought Matter was much more interesting. On reflection, you can tell the good Culture books because their titles reference their plots and not just some small irrelevant element in the book...
     
  7. Thadlerian

    Thadlerian Riftsound resident

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    I just finished The Hydrogen Sonata, and found it mostly very good. Almost all the way to the end, it could easily have been my favourite - the story was very forcused, very easy to follow, very thoughtful, the action sequences were engaging, the scenes with Cossont staying with QiRia were serene, and on the overall it was beautiful in several places.

    However, the nicest parts were the ones with pure human character interaction, which is rather sparse in the book. Excession demonstrated that ship-to-ship-chatting gets tedious very quickly (as the ships have no distinct personalities - even when Banks tries to create this, we know it is meaningless, as the Minds cannot have character flaws). Most of the dialogue does however seem to be human-machine, which can be engaging when played well (like in The Player of Games, with Gurgeh and the wonderful Flere-Imsaho), but not so much when it mostly goes on between a passive female lead and a ship avatar.

    In the end, it was hard to get away from the fact that Vyr Cossont does not really seem to drive the story to any greater degree - she's just pushed around by Reikl and Berdle. Also, as the Culture series moves on, I find it hard to swallow what seems to have become a trope ending: a machine/ship/drone turns out to be far more powerful than what we were led to believe, a reveal with no real cost.

    Finally, I never really understood the deal with the Ronte fleet and Beats Working.

    At least, Banks avoided the badly thought out kind of ending twist that lessens books like The Player of Games, Use of Weapons and (to a lesser degree) Surface Detail.
     
  8. Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    Also just finished...
    I have to agree with Ian on that, which meant the end was somewhat of an anticlimax.
    I think it became more clear that it was some type of neck-tie.
    I guess everyone still needs a hobby, but it is rather patronising the way these Minds treat what they deem to be primitive species. Or maybe that is Banks whole point about the Culture as a metaphor for world government. If so, isn't Beats Working a kind of Lawrence of Arabia/ Dances with Wolves/ Last Samurai character to the Culture 'establishment'?
     
  9. Grunkins

    Grunkins Couch Commander

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    Whoah, whoah, whoah...settle down. The Minds have all variety of character flaws and eccentricities. Without digging out the books and combing through them I have no chance of getting the ship names right, but think of the single mindedness of the warship ("Will you accept my mind-state!") in Excession, or the aloof ponderousness of the Sleeper Service (think I got that one right), or in that first meeting of the ITG while discussing the excession all the various personalities at work (one responding in as purple a prose as it could muster, and another, not to be out done, answering in iambic pentameter - that had me laughing out loud for a good few minutes), or the feigned disinterest but actual intensity of the SC ship in Surface Detail, or the pompous GSV in The Hydrogen Sonata, or, in that non-spatial meeting mansion the eccentric ship that manifests as only a cloud that, as the conversation progresses and gets a bit heated, starts raining.
    Banks gives his ship Minds as much if not more character than his people. They are capable of unknowable brainpower (compared to the feeble human mind), but they are all different and become their own distinct personalities, and more so the older they are.
    Or, on even a larger scale than ship Minds, think of the excession itself, at the very end of the book, wanting from now on to be known as The Excession (cue sunglasses smileyface), that's a huge amount of character added, last minute, to an otherwise unknowable infinitely superior being.


    Funny.
     
  10. Dave

    Dave Wherever I Am, I'm There Staff Member

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    No seriously, there was a line in the book later that said he didn't even bother to tie himself in a knot.

    As for the Ship Minds, I'm thinking that all 'Immortals' in literature and also film and TV are generally depicted as eccentric, with a fascination in the minutiae of human lives, and a propensity for practical jokes. This was true of Ngaroe QiRia, but is just as true of the Minds, which are really just machine Immortals. It all adds to the sense that Utopia is boring. People only Sublime when they have run out of things to do.
     
  11. Hermit the frog

    Hermit the frog Active Member

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    What was the name of that ship? Grey something or the other, otherwise known to his friends (or not, and on the quiet) as Meat ******. That one definitely had issues.
     
  12. zaltys13

    zaltys13 Well-Known Member

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  13. KillingTime

    KillingTime Just got here

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    That was me.
    Er, sort of.
    :rolleyes:
     
  14. Grunkins

    Grunkins Couch Commander

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    Ah, yes it was. Killing Time. Thanks.
    I love his plot arc.

    Welcome to the boards :).
     
  15. KillingTime

    KillingTime Just got here

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    Thank you er, Grunkins :)

    I pre-ordered THS on the Kindle in August I think, and I promptly forgot about it, so when it appeared on the screen a few months later I dropped everything I was doing and went incommunicado instantly to read it.
    I wasn't disappointed.
    Well, just a bit. After the antics of the picket ship Falling Outside The Normal Moral Costraints and the War for the Hells in Surface Details I was perhaps expecting more of assorted Culture citizenry blasting or effectorising things ("Effectorise the f****r!"). When that eventually happens - inside a lift shaft of all places - it is small-scale but satisfactory nevertheless :D

    My point is of course that IMB has written a novel on the meaning of life for both humans and Minds. Not much shooting or Equiv-tech wizardy called for - especially in a plot with no war, and where all the Culture does is to be curious and proper at the same time.

    I've read it twice, and I might read it a third time, in time. Not among those IMB books I need to re-read every few years to feed my sense of wonder.
     
  16. gully_foyle

    gully_foyle Here kitty kitty kitty!

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    Hmm, finished it a couple of weeks ago and ofcourse I enjoyed it, but I'm trying not to think too much about it. The whole subliming bit was less than convincing, the Gzilt did not really seem to be that much above a standard western culture to be the types to go off subliming. I liked the Minds, although it would have been more impressive to bring the ITG back, although that would have been way more linkage between novels than Iain permits. Overall the plot was kind of standard fare.

    I have some other meditations on The Culture in general that I shall have to come back with.
     
  17. Rodders

    Rodders |-O-| (-O-) |-O-|

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    I would've thought that the minds themselves would be the most likely candidates to sublime.
     
  18. gully_foyle

    gully_foyle Here kitty kitty kitty!

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    Individual minds have, and a subplot of HS is one of them coming back,though my simple minds is stillscratching itself over the significance of this. The minds are The Culture, so in order for The Minds to sublime, The Culture must sublime, and they are all still having way too much of a good time to do so.
     
  19. Bowler1

    Bowler1 Senile Member

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    I'm about half way through the book and its ok, not Bank's best in my view. I'll finish it, so it's still good and it has my interest. Did anyone else think it was heavier on the padding/a little over written when compared to some of his other books? The plot running a bit slow because of this?
     
  20. Spacer

    Spacer New Member

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    This was his second culture novel in a row. Has he done this before? He usually alternates between IMB and IB.
     
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