Posts Tagged ‘Iain M Banks’

The Hydrogen Sonata

January 22, 2013 - 2:04 pm 1 Comment

The Hydrogen Sonata
Author: Iain M. Banks
Publisher: Orbit
Page count/size: 528pp
Release Date: 4th Oct 2012
Reviewer: Ken Norman

There’s a whole heap of reasons for you to not read this book. It’s the latest book in a long line of books written by Mr-Banks-With-An-M that revolve around the ‘Culture’, a far future civilisation in a galaxy far, far away. If you haven’t read a Culture novel before, there’s a good chance you will be hopelessly lost by page 14 and just put it down again. There’s also that nagging suspicion that Mr-Banks-With-An-M has just knocked out another SF book just in time for Christmas, in companion to the recently released ‘Stonemouth’ by Plain-Old-Mr-Banks-Without-An-M Mr Banks; his publisher certainly knows the market and how to turn a profit.
In case you’ve never heard of Iain Banks, I’ll facetiously sum him up as follows:
Iain Banks, author of fiction about the minutiae of the lives of a character ensemble, best read in a strong Scots accent.
Iain M. Banks, author of Science Fiction of the space opera subgenre.

If you’re still with me… the story is pretty convoluted and bizarrely imaginative, as you’d expect and hope from a Culture novel. There’s this four armed musician, and her entire race is about to transcend into what equates to an elective afterlife, so to pass the time she tries to master a fiendishly difficult piece of music written for a very difficult instrument – that’s why she has four arms, of course. I could expand on what happens in the tale, but as usual, it has multiple threads and doesn’t really bear too much summarisation.

The story is leaning towards the political and religious aspects of the exploration of his universe, which I’m starting to see as a leaning of the overall series. Perhaps it’s his advanced years that push the changes toward a more contemplative viewpoint. The prose is classic Banks, full of words that I don’t recognise, unforced exposition and inventive dialogue; I suspect that almost all Scotsmen speak this way and have done since they attended school. In a recent interview, Iain admitted that he was getting into playing and recording music for his own amusement, so the story perhaps has elements of his own struggle with mastering a stringed instrument.

If you haven’t read any Culture novels, then you are missing out on something special. Whilst the stories stand alone to a point, the immersion in the back-story that you get from starting at the beginning and working upwards definitely enhances the whole. Don’t hang about though – he might knock out another next Christmas. Incidentally, if you haven’t read any of the Mr-Banks-Without-An-M stuff, then I’d recommend reading them too. He sells a lot of books for good reason!