Skip to main content

The Hydrogen Sonata (SF) - Iain Banks ****

I've generally loved the Iain M. Banks 'Culture' novels, but was decidedly disappointed when I happened on Consider Phlebas, (admittedly his first) - but thankfully The Hydrogen Sonata was much more the kind of on-form writing I've come to enjoy.

I will get one moan out of the way up front - it's too long. I can't be doing with these doorstop books as a whole, and quite a lot of it felt in need of a good tightening edit. But having said that, there's a whole lot to enjoy here in the complex machinations between different races and seeing different Culture ships exhibit behaviour that isn't necessarily quite what you'd expect.
As usual with Banks there's plenty to ponder in the 'what if' department, here particularly around the concept of 'subliming' where individuals or whole races opt to become part of a disembodied multidimensional spacetime - probably some people's idea of heaven and others of hell. But equally, as Banks did so well, there's plenty of straightforward action, humour and adventure.

This is definitely one of the Culture books I'd recommend to get immersed in the Banks' canon - as all his best books do, it sucks you in early. There are a lot of characters to get your head around, and occasionally I struggled with which ship was which - but generally speaking, as long as you're prepared to go with the flow, it's a great ride.

Paperback:  

Kindle 

Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The AI Delusion - Gary Smith *****

This is a very important little book ('little' isn't derogatory - it's just quite short and in a small format) - it gets to the heart of the problem with applying artificial intelligence techniques to large amounts of data and thinking that somehow this will result in wisdom.

Gary Smith as an economics professor who teaches statistics, understands numbers and, despite being a self-confessed computer addict, is well aware of the limitations of computer algorithms and big data. What he makes clear here is that we forget at our peril that computers do not understand the data that they process, and as a result are very susceptible to GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Yet we are increasingly dependent on computer-made decisions coming out of black box algorithms which mine vast quantities of data to find correlations and use these to make predictions. What's wrong with this? We don't know how the algorithms are making their predictions - and the algorithms don't kn…

Infinity in the Palm of your Hand - Marcus Chown *****

A new Marcus Chown book is always a treat - and this is like a box of chocolates: a collection of bite-sized delights as Chown presents us with 50 science facts that are strange and wonderful.

The title is a quote from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence: 'To see a World in a Grain of Sand, / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, / And Eternity in an hour.' It would seem particularly appropriate if this book were read on a mobile phone (so it would be literally in the palm), which could well be true for ebook users, as the short essays make excellent reading for a commute, or at bedtime. I found them distinctly moreish - making it difficult to put the book down as I read just one more. And perhaps another. Oh, and that next one looks really interesting...

Each of the 50 pieces has a title and a short introductory heading, which mostly give a feel for the topic. The very first of these, however, briefly baffled me: 'You are a third mus…

How to Invent Everything - Ryan North ****

Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are…