Iain M. Banks, Hydrogen Sonata

Interesting: the commercial-type reviews of Iain M. Banks' Hydrogen Sonata are way positive (like the Guardian is, say, or the Independent), but the fan-type reviews are kind of lukewarm. I'm not an established fan of Banks' Culture books, this being only my second one, and the first in 15 years, but lukewarm sounds right to me.

I enjoyed the novel a whole bunch, Banks is a terrific writer, and clearly I've got to read Consider Phlebas and Use of Weapons, but parts of this novel are like five-finger exercises. Mind you, there's no law saying a novel has to do everything that it possibly can, and given that Hydrogen Sonata is part of a series, maybe Banks' representation of the Culture realm is best served by a bunch of books that don't each try to do everything. Taken together, maybe they do it all better than they would if they were all fab, you know?

But still: I love being unable to resist a novel's reaching out to drag me under the surface, in fact that's kind of what I'm looking for, and that's never going to happen to a reader of Hydrogen Sonata.

The best blogger review I've seen of Hydrogen Sonata is this one, and it's good enough that I barely need to write my own: basically, Banks can write fiction as well as anyone can, but in this novel, he's just not interested in either the story or the characters. That's kind of a problem, but if you're excited enough about the ideas he's juggling, or about the notion of an "exciting space romp," you might not notice. The novel's full of, as Random put it, "seemingly pointless aerobatics." It's vastly more rewarding than Cirque du So-lame, but unfortunately there's a family resemblance.

You're SO going to enjoy it anyway!

(Also, this Random person deserves way more readers. No idea what the backstory is, but stop by when you've got a chance.)


Fraze said…
Spot on. The author phoned this one in. It has the momentum of the other, better, novels behind it, so for fans it still moves along, but it doesn't have enough torque of its own to bring newcomers up to speed.

Like a collection of second-rate rare bootlegs from a musician you love.
richard said…
Score one for me, then.

Except that I didn't feel NOT up to speed, and definitely I'd call myself a newcomer. It's kind of obvious that given the quality of the writing, the odds would definitely favour there being some excellent volumes in the series.

Or we could just suck it up and admit that plot and character are outmoded bourgeois conventions, hopeless pre-Y2K.
Fraze said…
"Up to speed" referring to interest,, rather than comprehension.
Anonymous said…
Hi, Richard! Thanks for the mention, I hadn't seen your post until just a few days ago. The blog has been sort of dead for about half a year, but now that I have more time, I'll try to be more active. Actually I'm thinking about checking out something else by Mr Banks, as a kind of tribute to him. Feersum Endjinn or Use of Weapons perhaps.

Popular Posts