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The Hydrogen Sonata Hardcover – 9 Oct 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 407 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 9 Oct 2012
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 517 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; 1 edition (9 Oct. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316212377
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316212373
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 4.4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (407 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,026,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"This is an engrossing novel of ideas ornamented by fantastically cinematic set-pieces."-- The Guardian (UK)

"Surface Detail is the type of widescreen space adventure we've come to expect from Banks, full of elaborate games, spellchecker-busting names, salty dialogue and, above all, a thrilling sense of the limitless scope SF affords an author's imagination."-- Financial Times (UK)

"Banks' labyrinthine and devious ninth Culture space opera novel...adeptly shifts perspective between vast concepts and individual passions."-- Publishers Weekly

Praise for Surface Detail:

"Banks' ability to combine humor and horror, the cosmic and the human, as he builds an action-packed story on a moral framework, as well as his wonderfully original characters and, of course, the lavish descriptions of weapons and spaceships, makes "Surface Detail" all you could ask for in a space opera. Nobody does it better."-- Times (UK)

"One of Banks' best Culture novels to date."-- Booklist on The Hydrogen Sonata

"Scotland-resident Banks' Culture yarns, the science-fiction equivalent of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, brim with wit and wisdom, providing incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action seamlessly embedded in a satirical-comedy matrix."
-- "Kirkus Reviews"

"This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks's far-future semi-utopian society.... The action tumbles along at a dizzying pace, bouncing among a fascinating array of characters and locales. It's easy to see why Banks's fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites." ""Publishers Weekly"""

"One of Banks' best Culture novels to date." "Booklist on The Hydrogen Sonata""

"It's fantastically good fun that throws in some big ideas about life, the universe and everything, and like the unabashed leftie that he is, Banks manages to get in there a few sizable shots at unthinking, dogmatic religiosity for good measure." ""SciFi Now"""

"Banks's charming prose and the scale of his imagination continue to delight Culture vultures." ""SFX"""

"The Culture, the post-scarcity, hedonistic, Machiavellian, libertarian, arse-kicking science-fiction society created by the late Iain M. of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future." ""The Guardian"""

"Incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action...sheer delight." ""Kirkus Reviews"""

Book Description

The new Culture novel from one of the most exciting science fiction writers of modern times - a tour de force of storytelling, world-building and imagination. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a long time Iain M. Banks fan I must admit I have been a bit disappointed with some of his latest stuff. For example Surface Detail and Matter, while good reads, left me feeling like maybe the prime had been passed. So I didn't have huge expectations for this latest Culture novel. However I was very relieved to find that The Hydrogen Sonata was what might be described on a back cover as a rip-roaring return to form for this master of whatever it is he does when he writes a good Culture Novel.
In Short, if you loved 'Excession' and 'Look to Windward', if you love the way Mr. Banks can craft a single paragraph that somehow manages to take the plot forward, deepen the mystery, enrich the characters and be an elaborately crafted joke while commenting on the contrasts between The society of the Culture and our own, then don't be afraid to go into this book with high expectations.

....Well, I liked it anyway.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mundane disclosure first: I have been a huge Iain (M) Banks fan for a long time, so I won't pretend full objectivity. In fact, had this been a new author's work it would have been a 5 star review. Banks novels set the bar so highly for me that I may be slightly more critical of them than I would be otherwise.

For fans of the Culture series, however, this is a worthy addition: not quite the best (Player of Games remains my all-time favourite, followed closely by Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward - the latter not shared by everyone, I know, and I also have a lot of time for Surface Detail). I found myself, however, looking for any opportunity to return to this whenever possible and, as so often with Banks's novels, am disappointed it's over.

The humour of the Minds is sparkling in this book - Banks's gods in the machines (literally) always remind me of slightly squabbling Olympians, with all those human foibles the Greeks projected onto their deities. However, there is one element that does grate with regard to the book: lots of people die in this novel - including some significant characters (no spoilers) - but the culture of the, ah, Culture is such that the major ones are pretty much all backed up (there is one exception to this, but even that is not, in the end, completely final). I offer this in contrast to the (early) George R R Martin novels, where you come to feel greatly for major characters who then die. Gone. That's it - no coming back (and even Martin baulks at this in later novels). Banks seems to have written himself into a tight spot re. tragedy where the Culture series appears unable to deal with it on the profoundest level. And yet, in Consider Phlebas I really felt the waste and tragedy of the Idiran war.

One note re.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you've never read any of The Culture novels, then don't start here. You'll be doing yourself a great dis-service. Go back to Consider Phlebas, The Player of Games or Use of Weapons. Only then (assuming you like them) will you truly enjoy the last novel from Iain M Banks.

Being a long-term fan, I approached The Hydrogen Sonata with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation; would it be everything I'd come to expect from one of my favourite authors or would it be a bit of a let-down? Being the last Culture novel, I wanted it to be good. I wanted another Excession and I wasn't disappointed.

It's all there; the grand, sweeping, space-opera of old. The heroes and villains are beautifully written and, of course, there's the ships. For many fans, the ships "are" The Culture, their Minds the driving force behind The Culture's continued existence. Hugely powerful and with all the personality traits of their human charges, they're just....well, you have to read the books. The ship to ship banter alone can justify the cover price. And their names. If there was a book of just Culture Ship Names, I'd buy it. In the meantime, there's wikipedia.

I finished The Hydrogen Sonata with a mixture of satisfaction and sadness; satisfied that it was everything I hoped it would be and sad that there wouldn't be any more. And it underlines what a great loss to the genre that Iain's untimely death was.
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By n7misc TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 23 Oct. 2012
Format: Hardcover
I'm really sorry to write what will be a fairly negative review of this book. I have greatly enjoyed many of Banks' previous works - particularly his sci-fi and I absolutely feel that he helped to create a genre within the genre as the uncontested king of space opera. Despite my growing preference for his earlier works - some of which constitute masterpieces in my view - I was still excited to get the newest offering. Unfortunately I was ultimately disappointed.

I can't deny that the writing style remains almost as good, but for me, there is none of the passion and conviction that Banks used to demonstrate. The characterisation is weaker, the narrative / plotting equally so -I got to the end of the book and thought - "Well, so what? I don't care!". Which is really sad. I think ultimately, this book explores a topic that possibly merited a short story and with a braver editor it may have made a great novella - instead I found myself reading what is essentially technical rhubarb and - shock, horror - skim reading pages. If I want weapons specs there are better authors out there for that type of sci fi - what I want from Banks is the grandiose - the awesome. I think perhaps the attempt to cover the issue of subliming is meant to cover that from a philosophical perspective - but I don't think he achieved it. The eventual denouement is practically 'phoned in' I'm afraid.

I've read earlier books several times each, connected with the characters, thrilled at the plotting, held my breath at the amazingly complete, exciting - stunning worlds (galaxies/ universes / realities) that Banks created.
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