So, at last, the latest Culture novel – The Hydrogen Sonata. Waited for, and welcome, even if it took some time to get around to. And it starts out promising. An entire civilisation – the Gzilt – is about to Sublime.
Throughout the Culture experience references are sometimes dropped about the Sublimed – entire civilisations that has decided they are finished with this corporeal existence, ready to transfer to another dimension. Still there, somehow, but not in any material way, and not bothered or bothering with everyday life of the physical.
So, do this novel give us any new clues, cues, or questions?
Well, not really. Because while the story do centre on the last days of the Gzilt it only makes clear that civilisations about to Sublime are just like any other civilisation – small-minded, scheming, conniving, lusting for acknowledgement, and on an individual level just trying to survive.
On the brink of Sublimation the holy text of the Gzilt is at risk of being revealed as a fraud; perhaps the result of an experiment initiated by a long-Sublimed civilisation not around to judge the success but maybe trying to send an envoy revealing the truth. Immediately the powers that set great personal pride in the finalisation of the process to Sublime starts to take measures, trying to ensure that the process will continue as planned.
But also starting to connive are some Culture ship Minds. Not entirely sure what they will do if and when they discover the truth they seem to meddle more for the general joy of it than anything else, and we get to read some funny dialogue all the while.
In the end nothing that happens – deaths and mayhem included – will change anything.
Of course there is discourse on some topics familiar to the reader of Banks’ Culture books, such as what makes one sentient; what is the ideal way to organise society, politically and economically; and the value of morality. Nothing of this feel like it adds anything to the discussion.
It is possible that my present mood makes the book injustice – while I read this my dad had a bad stroke which didn’t get treated decently despite that fact that he already was at the hospital. Such things puts something of a wet blanket on just about everything.
Because to be honest I never felt the story to drag and the dialogue between the ship Minds often made me smile. But nonetheless I feel confident in saying that while The Hydrogen Sonata is an able addition to the Culture sphere it isn’t up there with for example The Player of Games. Like with Excession this should be read by those who already are addicted to this particular universe.