Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Iain M. Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata


Great stuff, comprising mostly core Culture equipage -- your avatars, your drones, your sims, suits, digitised souls & above your the deeds of AI Minds in fussy, ornery, giving-Destiny-a-ginger-nudge (or maybe not) modality.

The chief civilisation chumming the Culture here, the Gzilt, are a lot sort of scummier & petty than I'd expected for a civilisation on the verge of Godhead, but it all makes sense in context, and what could have been a theological event is demystified as a socio-political one, in a manner thoroughly befitting the Culture mythos.

At first I felt a little short-changed by the Subliming sitch (it seemed wee bit similar to stuff in earlier novels, about the elegant & immersive & existentially distinctive daydreaming many Culture Minds get off on) but gradually the low-down in its various versions begins to suggest new questions, new opacities, & the rich evasiveness of Subliming is reinstalled regardless of the debunking.

The set-pieces & other ideas spilling out of Banks's notebooks are often so bloody good I'm prepared to let them slide straight into his novels without a second glance at their justifications; but I also think with Hydrogen Sonata Banks, by easing up on the world-building (compared with say Matter) & relying a little more on established ingredients, has given himself a canvas on which he can arrange these many various intriguing contrivances & witticisms without them coming across gratuitous.

That rich M. Banks tone / attitude is as captivating as ever – hot piping moral ambiguity, a materialist’s sense of the messiness of history, a sophisticated and sidelong relationship with sensawunda. Shtick abounds, and even the most brutal sequences are infused with understated humour. The heroic is accessed via the mock heroic. It's a big book but my only real grumble is that it wasn't even bigger.

Alfred Bork / Jeff Lint's warnings re The Space Gnome, His Glamour nevertheless stick with me.

Review first appeared on Goodreads. Elsewhere: Adam Roberts on The Hydrogen Sonata.  Lara Buckerton on The Hydrogen Sonata.

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