Review of The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

ImageI’m a fan of Iain Banks’ works I haven’t read many of them but what I have read I have really enjoyed. In particular I am enjoying working my way through his Culture series which since I am a big sci-fi fans is really in my wheel house. So when I began listen to ‘The Hydrogen Sonata’ off audible my expectations were high.

Recently, I’ve enjoyed and would recommend ‘Surface Detail’ and ‘Player of Games’. The concepts in this were interesting and gripped me. I wish I could say the same of “The Hydrogen Sonata” (THS).

THS deals with the ‘subliming’ of the Gzilt race into the universe i.e. the ascension of an entire race into the spirit world. This is initially an interesting idea but quickly runs into the fact that the ether or the land you sublime into is inherently unknowable.

So you have a central concept which cannot be explained but everyone makes clear that subliming changes everything completely. It renders former animosities and rivalries as pointless. This of course makes it difficult/impossible to care about the actions of both antagonists and protagonists. Which in turn makes the story hard to care about or be interested in.

The idea of subliming is interesting enough if it was in the background rather than the main thrust of the story. One of the side issues is the ‘scavenger’ races waiting to pick over the corpse of the Gzilt civilization.

If these has been made the central feature of the story it could have been a really gripping story. Space pirates fighting over each other to loot the super-tech of a galactic super-power. Sign me up!

Instead we got this slow boring story with no real stakes. I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to finish the final fifth of the book so I am going to have to regretfully give this a 1 out of 5.

I’d still recommend Banks as an author. I recommend almost any other of Iain M Banks’ works. Steer clear of the Hydrogen Sonata though.

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