The Hydrogen Sonata, Culture Volume IX
Written by: Iain M. Banks
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
How would the human race be different if one of the major holy books had begun predicting the future instead of retelling the past? If one of them contained instructions for making technology or the locations of sentient life that we subsequently discovered, how would the popular opinion of said holy book change among scientists and other academics? In other words, would such a reality bond science and religion together? And what would the ramifications of this be?
This quandary is at the center of The Hydrogen Sonata. Though, despite this great issue and my love for Banks’s writing, the book lags too much towards the end and doesn’t provide the normal explosive conclusion his works have spoiled us with.
Considering the great beginning and topics, maybe I’m being overly critical, but this was one of my least favorite of Banks’s Culture works. Not only was I unsatisfied with the conclusion, but the topics introduced so eloquently were left half-abandoned by the end of the book. The protagonist was also weaker than normal, the villains less clearly fleshed.
I enjoyed the book, and from almost any other author it would be a great novel, but for Banks it is slightly disappointing and underwhelming, even more so because it wound up being his final Culture piece.
Still, the greatness of the Culture mythos will stand the test of time as one of the greatest science-fiction epics ever written, entrenched with the likes of Foundation, Dune, Remembrance of Earth’s Past, Mars, and the Bas Lag novels.
Don’t let this lone review stop you from venturing into the Culture, just don’t start here.