The Hydrogen Sonata
Iain M. Banks
If Iain M. Banks isn’t the reigning king of space opera then he must be very close to the throne. The Hydrogen Sonata is the latest volume in his wonderful Culture series, and once again it takes us zipping around the cosmos to visit strange planets and people (most of them with unpronounceable names) in pursuit of a plot so dense and convoluted it’s impossible to summarize. Suffice it to say that the Gzilt are about to be Sublimed (that is to say, uploaded to a higher dimension), but a secret known only to the oldest man in the universe threatens to derail their checking-out party.
As always with Banks it’s an endlessly inventive page-turner that leaves you a little in awe at the power of the author’s imagination. Just when you think things are starting to settle down, we’re off to visit “Ahen’tayawa, a hearkenry on the slopes of Mount Jamanthrus in the Querechui range, Cethyd.” You have to imagine Banks smiling to himself as he writes stuff like that, and there’s a lot of it. The most fun, however, are the humorous, bickering computer Minds, who have all the best lines as well as the most engagingly human personalities.