SF Review: The Hydrogen Sonata (Iain M. Banks) UPDATED

UPDATED 3rd April 2013:

It came as quite a shock when I heard on the news just now, that a man I have never met nor spoken to has inoperable gall bladder cancer and has been given an estimated year to live by his doctors. I am talking about Mr Iain Banks. I can honestly say, I am utterly shocked. There are not that many good writers and there are very few in Mr Bank’s class. In a world where talent and ability have been usurped by confidence tricksters and grovelling toads, Iain Banks stood out through sheer quality. Let’s all hope that something wonderful happens.

The original review:

Iain M. Banks hit the mother lode with his ‘Culture’ series. It’s hard to make a living as a novelist-how many successful, contemporary novel writers can you think of? So I tip my cap, Mr Banks must be making a fortune. Hot on the heels of ‘Surface Detail’ we have ‘The Hydrogen Sonata’.

Like many a SF fan, I loved ‘Consider Phlebas’, Mr Bank’s second Culture novel. However,  for me this was the first full-on, hard-core, wide-screen space opera staring the weird and wonderful Culture. From a sketch of an idea in ‘State of the Art’ with Consider Phlebas, Banks takes the Culture concept along for a ride in his imagination and goes brilliantly nuts. I mean, how do you think that shit up? I was simply gutted that it wasn’t real-I wanted to book a holiday on an ‘O’ and chat to a drone.

The thing about Consider Phlebas is that it was edgy, it was SF gritty realism. Of late though I find Mr Banks has started to get a bit, dare I say it, a bit pretentious. Maybe he has every right to- I can’t help but view it all through my SF purist goggles.

With the above in mind, on to The Hydrogen Sonata. Don’t get me wrong, this guy can write (as is evident by his workaholic back catalog).

Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers, just to say The Hydrogen Sonata involves the urgent search for what was considered, by many, to be a mythical being- a Culture citizen approximately 9000 years old. All and sundry are after this guy and needless to say, there’s a lot of high-tech shit going on.

As it’s impossible to reveal anymore about the story than its blurb, just let me say that I felt the same as I did with Surface Detail. The stories, although extremely well written; with that turn of phrase and descriptive writing Mr Bank’s is renowned for (the glitter cliff…), lack something. Both novels contain brilliant ideas and concepts but lack a satisfying story line. Maybe it’s me, maybe I should stop reading SF for a while and wait until I have my SF ‘mojo’ back.

Having said that I’m off to read ‘The Player of Games’ again, for the third time.

What did you think of The Hydrogen Sonata? Leave a comment.


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