I love me some good science fiction (and I quit watching the so called “syfy” channel when they changed the name). I like cerebral science fiction mostly, provided it’s not too dark. Steven Baxter is a great writers, but his stuff is so depressing. He’s destroyed the Earth 3 or 4 times, destroyed two universes at least once.
Anyway, Ian M. Banks is among my favorite writers. The Culture books are just great. The massively hedonistic, post-scarcity group of meddlers is just so much fun.
The Hydrogen Sonata is the latest book in the Culture universe. It deals with something mentioned in previous books, but never really examined… Subliming. When a culture (small ‘c’), a species, a Mind (capital ‘M’) vanishes from this world and transfers to a state of pure energy beyond the measly little 11-dimensional space we occupy now. It’s not heaven, it’s not hell (those are in other books). This is just not feeling like dealing with the physical anymore.
It’s very odd to write a review about the Culture novels. If you read them, then I don’t have to write about it… you’ve probably already read it or you are reading it and don’t want me giving away things. If you haven’t read the culture novels, then there is absolutely nothing I could say that will make sense to you.
The Culture novels started with The Player of Games. I would encourage you to start there as well. It’s a great introduction to the Culture and how it all works. You’ll feel much more prepared for some of the crazy stuff in later books. For example, the first line of Player of Games starts “It begins with a battle that is not a battle and ends with a game that is not a game.” Then it gets really wild.
What’s really interesting about the Hydrogen Sonata is that the main theme of the book is religious manipulation, but you don’t realize it until the end. The main group of people in the book, the Gzilt, have lived, as a sentient, technology driven species for tens of thousands of years. But they have a Book of Truth. But what’s really interesting is that their book is true. They know it’s true because, unlike the Bible, the Book of Truth is internally and externally consistent. It has also predicted hundreds of future events over the course of the Gzilt history.
The book was given to them by another race who had Sublimed ten thousand years ago or so. What they didn’t know was that the Book of Truth was a trick. It was an experiment by that Sublimed race in cultural manipulation. It was all true, but it was written specifically to manipulate the Gzilt.
Twenty eight days or so before the Gzilt, as a species, Sublime, a remnant population of the other Sublimed race tries to tell the Gzilt. When that ship is destroyed, it sets in motion a chain of events that is almost unprecedented. A dozen Culture Minds get involved and when they discover the truth… that the Gzilt have been manipulated. They just walk away. After hundreds of deaths, even a Mind and the Culture ship it’s responsible for is destroyed… the rest just walk away.
It’s a very interesting philosophical discussion. What do you do, when you discover a harsh truth, but you have almost no time to do anything about it. Plus, it wouldn’t matter anyway. Do you think you could change the minds of an entire species in just a day or two… about a Book of Truth that they know is true.
It would be like an alien species coming to us and saying, “All that science stuff is really wrong. We just made it look that way.” Would we be able to stop science?
I enjoyed it, because I enjoy stories about the Minds. Excession is probably my favorite of the Culture books with Player of Games a very, very close second. I don’t think it’s the best Culture book, but it’s better than most.