The Hydrogen Sonata : Culture

  • by Iain M. Banks
  • Narrated by Peter Kenny
  • Series: Culture
  • 17 hrs and 14 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.
An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture 10,000 years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.
Amid preparations, though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted - dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago.
It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Culture meets Hitchhiker's Guide & Da Vinca Code

I am a big Iain M. Banks fan, and any new Culture novel is a cause for celebration. If you aren't familiar with the Culture -- set in a far future post-scarcity society where AIs, humans, aliens, and impossible engineering co-mingle in interesting ways -- this may not be the ideal book to start with (Player of Games or Consider Phlebas might be better), but all of the books are pretty independent.

As a fan of the series, I wouldn't consider this to be the best offering, though it is far from bad. There is the usual mix of action, wry humor, philosophizing, and amazing flights of imagination that mark Culture novels. But the story itself, while full of great ideas and interesting sections, doesn't really connect the way the most compelling novels do. Perhaps that is because the novel is a bit of a ramble through a civilization that is about to evolve to a higher, immaterial, state. There is an overarching plot about a millennia-old religious secret, but the book is really about the picturesque locations visited in attempt to solve the ancient Da Vinci Code-style mystery. The perpetual parties, people with faces made of bowls of soup, sculpted moons, eccentric robots, and other clever details encountered seem like a slightly harder-edged version of Douglas Adams.

Because the novel veers between humor and seriousness rather suddenly, or perhaps because so many of the main characters are Minds, the super-intelligent ship-board AIs, the book is really interesting but rarely feels emotionally compelling. Since Banks is more than capable of writing at the highest level, this is a little disappointing, but the book is still very much worth listening to, and is generally both thrilling and fun, with a little serious navel-gazing thrown in for interest.

The reading is terrific, but, listener be warned, there are a few very explicit moments voice-acted in great detail. Make sure to have headphones on for, say, the visit to the party ship, or the start of the second half of the book. Overall, I don't think any fan of imaginative science fiction, and especially any fan of Banks, will be disappointing they took the time to listen to the novel.
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- Ethan M. "On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through"


I enjoy Iain M. Banks’ Culture books. If new to this series, suggest beginning with “Consider Phlebas”, “The Player of Games” or my favorite, “Use of Weapons”. (Unfortunately, it is not available on Audible, and sigh, must be read.)

In the Culture, humans generally augment themselves to enhance physical and mental capabilities. There is no poverty and no one really seems to have a job. Machines perform much of the day to day tasks, and since they are equipped with Artificial Intelligence, also do much of the thinking. AI’s are self aware and have unique personalities - many with an attitude.

My favorite part of “The Hydrogen Sonata” are the Culture Space Ships who are among the most intelligent of the AI’s. The Ships are attempting to solve a mystery that is thousands of years old, but, if resolved, may change the fate of a civilization. Like most Culture books, there is a lot of action as well as philosophical discussions. So I got my heart rate up and improved my mind.
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- Connor "Enjoy the adventure"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-09-2012
  • Publisher: Hachette Audio