I finished this one two days before the devastating news of Iain's cancer hit. I've not been able to review it because I didn't have enough emotional distance in order to talk about the book, and not about what Banks-the-author means to me. But it's time. The review pile isn't getting any smaller. Thus, to work:
The Hydrogen Sonata is Banks at his finest. It has Culture minds high on galactic politics and their own superiority over biological intelligence, a little bit of violence, a little bit of gross, and a large dose of snark and sarcasm, all mixed into the enormous social and psychological troubles of an equiv-level civilisation about to Sublime.
I've read a criticism somewhere that Banks doesn't introduce anything truly new and gobsmacking here, but I will say unto those heathens, ANTAGONISTIC UNDECAGONSTRING
. No, there's no earth-shatteringly new concepts
here, but this is a Culture
novel, exploring the political difficulties you encounter when you ask an entire civilisation to leave all that's wordly behind.
I enjoyed it hugely. HUGELY. I love the Culture, so if it's 'more of the same', then I'll have a LOT more of the same, please. In fact, some of my favourite moments were the hat-tips to [b:Excession|567677|Excession|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1201732519s/567677.jpg|1494164], probably my all-time favourite science fiction novel. The first mention of the Interesting Times Gang had me punch the air with joy, and I loved that the current group of involved minds played out their cloak-and-dagger roles in very much the same style. What's not to like? In short, while the humanoid protagonist left me pretty cold, I loved the AIs, as always.
My favourite, favourite thing about the entire book are the chapters told from the Ronte's perspective. Banks displays an incredible knack for POV-writing here, where the POV is a hive mind encompassing an entire fleet of ships. I laughed like a fool every time "a ship dance was required." May I quote?On entering a new environment, a ship dance was required. [...] Accordingly, the fleet drew to a local stop halfway between the stellar systems of Barlbanim and Taushe and the ship dance "Glowing Nymphs Dance Ascending And Descending In The Light Of An Alien Sun" was performed.
COME ON! This is awesome.
I liked this an awful lot. 4 stars because I really, really could've done without the sexy times - superfluous at best, gratuitous at worst. Seriously, what did Banstegeyn's sexual adventures add to the story? Nothing. His escapades with Orpe were introduced as a necessary set-up for the assassination of the president but ended up not being necessary at all. And, unless I missed something fundamental, everything would've gone pretty much to plan even without that assassination.
I'll finish with my favourite quote:There was something comforting about having a vast hydrogen furnace burning millions of tons of material a second at the centre of a solar system. It was cheery.
- The Mistake Not...
, contemplating stars
What? No, I'm not crying. Something in my eye, is all.