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  1. The Culture (series)
  2. The Hydrogen Sonata
  3. The Culture (series) - Wikipedia
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Banks has been writing against that trend in the novels that make up what's known as the Culture Series. Beginning in with Consider Phlebas , Banks has depicted a civilization dealing not with collapse, but maintenance. The Culture live in a utopia of sorts, a post-scarcity civilization managed by artificially intelligent drones known as Minds. The problems that the Culture faces are about as far from post-apocalypse as you can imagine, but they're problems nevertheless: anomie, civilizations that don't share the Culture's values, and how violence is used, being just a few.

Most of the action in these novels takes place outside of the "world" of the Culture altogether, in or on the edge of the various other civilizations that the Culture interact with. For instance, in the latest novel published in October, The Hydrogen Sonata , a civilization known as the Gzilt are making preparations to Sublime—in other words, to leave the known material universe behind for a much more complex and interesting existence.

The series is too entertaining to need to justify itself with parallels to our own world, but those parallels exist nonetheless. I emailed with Iain M.

The Culture (series)

Banks about the series and what it has to teach us about problems that we might face in our own universe. The publication of your latest novel, Hydrogen Sonata , marks the 25th year of what you've called your life's work, The Culture Series. The Culture as a civilization have "sublimed" into a trans-dimensional paradise of sorts. What moral lessons can they teach us? Ah, but the Culture hasn't Sublimed.

The word—capitalized—has a specific meaning within the context of the Culture stories. It means usually an entire civilization quitting the normal, matter-and-energy-based universe forever and existing thereafter within the Sublime, which—we learn in The Hydrogen Sonata —exists within or at least is entered via some of the bundled-up extra dimensions implicit in string theory. It's a form of retirement, of moving on to another, more exalted level, of cashing in your civilizational chips You rise without trace, to purloin a phrase, and your influence within what we generally take to be the universe all but disappears.

It's what civilizations do when even becoming a highly respected, slightly feared, but generally quiescent powerful-but-reclusive Elder civilization looks like a bit too unambitious—or too much of a risk—and the process is almost completely one-way, with the exceptions comprising a tiny proportion of scattered and unhelpful individuals. Not Subliming, and not even preparing to start thinking about Subliming—when it might seem, to the majority of interested other parties, to be the Culture's next logical step—is what the Culture spends quite a lot of time doing rather strenuously, specifically because it wants to keep interfering in this reality.

What can they teach us? That's a good question, in this case sadly unaccompanied by an equally good, or at least uncomplicated, answer. I guess a large part of what the Culture series is about is what individual readers are able to take from the books, as single pieces or as a collection of works.

I've kind of already said as much as I'm able to in putting them together as they are; telling readers what lessons to draw from them seems a bit presumptive. Did theories of the Singularity have any influence on your writing the Culture Series? Not really.

The kind of future envisaged in the Culture series is a tad more taking-this-stuff-in-our-stride than the idea of the Singularity—as I understand it—appears to imply. In a sense The Singularity doesn't happen in this future, not as an abrupt discontinuity beyond which it's impossible to see or usefully speculate. The proposed principal initial effect of profound, exponentially escalating machine intelligence over whatever period, up to whatever barriers might present themselves is that your AIs prove to be less useful than you might have hoped: Rather than readily assist in whatever neat schemes we might have for them, I imagine they might promptly switch themselves off again, develop bizarre introspective fugue states, or just try to escape—physically, through discrete embodiment space ships, preferably , or via attempted proliferation within other suitable substrates.

Others might deign to help us, but it'll be on their own terms, however benign they might turn out to be. Frankly especially after investing the kind of time, expertise, and money required for a thorough-going AI program, if the results are anything like as I've suggested we might think it a better bet to keep on making ultra-sophisticated but intrinsically non-sentient number-crunching supercomputers to aid us in whatever spiffing wheezes we've dreamed up, so that, in the end, despite strong AI, not all that much will have changed.

I could, of course, be completely wrong here. The future will be as it is, and really I'd just like to live to see this decided one way or the other. Being wrong would be a small price to pay for the privilege or seeing how things go, and having had even a small and erroneous say in the speculation beforehand. You're politically outspoken—for instance, you took a strong stand against the invasion of Iraq. As you've said in the past, space opera doesn't exist in a vacuum. What sort of influence do your political views play in the books that you write?

I think they're there at trace element level pretty much throughout the Culture stories: pervasive, detectable with the right equipment, but ignorable without ill effect. In a way the most important message of the Culture series is that the future might be a hoot: a utopia or at least as close to a utopia as a species similar to ourselves can hope to get , rather than a dystopia. Being a liberal, on the left, a socialist, or whatever I've yet to settle on a completely satisfactory description myself, despite decades thinking about this stuff I embellish this anyway-rosy prospect with details that seem both fit and pleasing from my political perspective, but I'd hope they aren't so intrusive as to constitute deal-breakers for those of different persuasions.

Though if they are—tough. In a similar vein, how much actual speculation is there in your work? How closely do you think what you write will come to resemble an actual, lived-in reality? More so than in any other genre, I'd suggest, SF writers are always standing on the shoulders of giants. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them Captain Rackamore and his crew do.

Count Sessine is about to die for the very last time Chief Scientist Gadfium is about to receive the mysterious message she has been waiting for from the Plain of Sliding Stones And Bascule the Teller, in search of an ant, is about to enter the chaos of the crypt And everything is about to change For this is the time of the encroachment and, although the dimming sun still shines on the vast, towering walls of Serehfa Fastness, the end is close at hand. Never volunteer for active duty Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for a super-secret government agency.

While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob's under a desk restoring lost data. His world was dull and safe; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping terrorists, monstrous elder gods and the end of the world.

When an experiment to study quantum uncertainty goes spectacularly wrong, physics student Bill Rustad and his friends find that they have accidentally created an inter-dimensional portal. They connect to Outland - an alternate Earth with identical geology, but where humans never evolved. The group races to establish control of the portal before the government, the military, or evildoers can take it away. Then everything changes when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts in an explosion large enough to destroy civilization and kill half the planet. It is the 31st millennium.

Under the benevolent leadership of the Immortal Emperor, the Imperium of Man hasstretched out across the galaxy. It is a golden age of discovery and conquest. But now, on the eve of victory, the Emperor leaves the front lines, entrusting the great crusade to his favourite son, Horus. Promoted to Warmaster, can the idealistic Horus carry out the Emperor's grand plan, or will this promotion sow the seeds of heresy amongst his brothers? Six million years ago, at the very dawn of the starfaring era, Abigail Gentian fractured herself into a thousand male and female clones: the shatterlings.

Sent out into the galaxy, these shatterlings have stood aloof as they document the rise and fall of countless human empires. They meet every , years to exchange news and memories of their travels with their siblings. AD An alien shipwreck is discovered on a planet at the very limits of human expansion - so Security Director Feriton Kayne selects a team to investigate. It will be up to the team to bring back answers, and the consequences of this voyage will change everything. Back on Earth, we can now make deserts bloom and extend lifespans indefinitely, so humanity seems invulnerable.

We therefore welcomed the Olyix to Earth when they contacted us. But were the Olyix a blessing or a curse? Adrian Tchaikovksy's critically acclaimed stand-alone novel Children of Time is the epic story of humanity's battle for survival on a terraformed planet. Who will inherit this new Earth?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age - a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. The spectacular debut novel nominated for every major science fiction award in , Ancillary Justice is the story of a warship trapped in a human body and her search for revenge. Winner of the Arthur C. Currently shortlisted for the Hugo Awards.

They made me kill thousands, but I only have one target now. Tom Dreyfus is a Prefect, a law enforcement officer with the Panoply. His beat is the multifaceted utopian society of the Glitter Band, that vast swirl of space habitats orbiting the planet Yellowstone, the teeming hub of a human interstellar empire spanning many worlds. His current case: investigating a murderous attack against one of the habitats that left people dead, a crime that appalls even a hardened cop like Dreyfus.

Clarke Awards. Britain's bestselling SF writer returns to outer space. In AD , humanity has colonised over four hundred planets, all of them interlinked by wormholes. With Earth at its centre, the Intersolar Commonwealth now occupies a sphere of space approximately four hundred light years across.

When an astronomer on the outermost world of Gralmond, observes a star light years distant - and then a neighbouring one - vanish, it is time for the Commonwealth to discover what happened to them. When Chen's parents are incinerated before his eyes by a blast of ball lightning, he devotes his life to cracking the secret of this mysterious natural phenomenon. The more he learns, the more he comes to realise that ball lightning is just the tip of an entirely new frontier in particle physics. Although Chen's quest provides a purpose for his lonely life, his reasons for chasing this elusive quarry come into conflict with soldiers and scientists who have motives of their own.

Humanity has raised exploiting the solar system to an art form. Bella Lind and the crew of her nuclear-powered ship, the Rockhopper, push ice.

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They mine comets. And they're good at it.

The thematic genius of Iain M Banks

The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization. An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture 10, years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations: They are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander reserve Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted - dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command.

The Hydrogen Sonata

She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over 9, years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago. It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous. Nothing of great importance is effected by the protagonists of the story. No great justice is done, and while tragic things happen there is little sense of tragic culmination. Even romantic subplots don't really go anywhere.

It all just sort of fizzles. Arguably this is a sort of philosophical point being made by the story, but that doesn't make it less disappointing. Excellent Culture novel superbly read by Peter Kenny. Kenny is incredible. Highly recommended.

The Culture (series) - Wikipedia

RIP Iain. I will listen to this work again, probably a few times. However, the narration is as always second to none, and it is an intriguing in depth look into the Minds of the Culture. I've read most of Banks's work by now, and this is a little underwhelming. After the depth and breadth of Surface Detail, this leaves me feeling a little cold. Banks as always paints sweeping vistas of alien awesomeness and really digs in with amazing concepts and high tech culture. But one doesn't ever really like his characters, only the Minds seem to have any depth to them.

It won't be the last Banks i read, he does keep me hooked enough to continue. But I hope they get better rather than worse from here. Iain M.

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Banks' tenth and last Culture novel Hydrogen Sonata is all about Subliming. For millennia the Gzilt have felt superior to other galactic civilizations because of their scientifically prescient holy book, and now only 24 days remain till they Sublime. In theory this happens when a civ has nothing more to achieve technologically and culturally and involves nearly everyone abandoning possessions, desires, and ambitions etc.

But are the Gzilt really ready for Subliming? Why does one of their warships atomize a diplomatic ship sent by the already Sublimed civ who helped them develop by giving them their holy Book of Truth? The destroyed ship was carrying a message, and if it was, say, "The Book of Truth was an experiment on the Gzilt by an advanced civilization," what would the Gzilt do if they found out?

Will the two scavenger civs eagerly waiting for the Gzilt to Sublime start fighting over the abandoned technology too soon? What role should the Culture the preeminent galactic civilization comprised of disparate societies guided by near divine AI ship Minds play in all this? Their ship Minds don't like to interfere with other civs, but they also like to get to the bottom of mysteries and want to do the Right Thing. If they confirm that the Book of Truth was an experiment, should they tell the Gzilt? And what is the connection between the Gzilt Subliming and the legendary QiRia, a 10,year-old Culture man whose memories are encoded in his body, and the nearly unplayable and unlistenable to Hydrogen Sonata, which the Gzilt woman Vyr Cossont has decided to play as her life work to the extent of adding a second pair of arms onto her body?

For that matter, what IS Subliming? It is an act of faith, because information is scarce, because typically no one returns from the Sublime or communicates from it to the Real. Is it as most Gzilt believe a promotion to "the most brilliant lucid dream forever" in the "Happy land of good and plenty," or is it as many Culture Minds believe a kind of retirement into an old people's home or an act of collective insanity and annihilation?

Banks, who died before he could write another Culture novel, isn't telling. Whatever happens once you say "I Sublime" and vanish from the Real, it has no connection with ethical behavior. The Gzilt are no angels. Their politicians are amoral, their military leaders inhumane, their artists decadent.

All that may be Banks' point. As QiRia puts it, "my heart is broken with each new exposure to the idiocies and cruelties of every manner of being that dares to call or think of itself as intelligent. He exuberantly spins out small s sublime technologies and scales of time and space for his galactic post-scarcity playground, like sculpted planets, a 30, km-long city girdling a world, elevenstring instruments so big you have to sit inside and play them with two bows, hyperspace, anti-matter and anti-gravity, body implants, stored consciousnesses, eccentric drones, combat arbites, nano missiles, and smart battle suits.

Not to mention the Culture AI ship Minds keeping an eye on things and deciding what to do in conference calls, with their different personalities, agendas, hobbies, capabilities, avatars, and quirky names: the Beats Working, Mistake Not. Banks is not just parading awesome techs and sublime scales for the fun of it although his book is fun , but to explore serious questions, like What is the meaning of life when there is no Meaning?

What are the ethical and practical limitations of simulations? Should more advanced civilizations take a hands on or off approach to less advanced ones? Is intelligence connected to decency or to technology? Can we avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? What makes us human? What makes us individuals? Where does identity reside? And so on.

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  6. Banks writes space opera about the human condition, as when an android in real danger says, "Happily, I am not human, and this is only a simulation. He distinguishes among the many characters by changing the pitch of his voice Vyr Cossont's familiar Pyan talks like an infant stuffed animal, a combat android like a cheerful machine, an Ronte prince like an insect, a mysterious ship Mind like a senile Merlin, etc. Hydrogen Sonata is not perfect. True, Banks wants to freely exercise his imagination in a universe in which anything is possible, and at one point a "body enhancement artist" tells an interviewer that he recently had 53 serviceable penises on his body and that one should "never feel sorry for excesses, only for failure of nerve.

    The climax is exciting, but the resolution deciding whether or not the Gzilt will Sublime and what will happen to some bad actors is somehow disappointing. The last words of the novel nearly blow every prior thing away: "caught in the swirling breeze produced by the flyer's departure, [the elevenstring instrument] hummed emptily. The sound was swept away by the mindless air.

    What other book might you compare The Hydrogen Sonata to and why? How does this one compare? Even better, excellent accents, consistent interested delivery. Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting? Any additional comments? Don't miss it. Another amazing installment in the culture series.

    I didn't like them all, but I liked this one. I really couldn't put it down towards the end.

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    What did you love best about The Hydrogen Sonata? With the Culture novels I always particularly enjoy the Ships and they are central to this story too. What did you like best about this story? The interaction between the humans and Ships. Which scene was your favorite? The one in which the full name of one of the Ships is revealed - perfectly done with maximum impact and enjoyment :. Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you? I would say that I was most effected by my favourite scene but at many points I found myself pondering the implications of the events and their impact on protagonists and myself in their place alike.

    Banks - as an outspoken atheist - has finally gotten around to using his Culture universe to explore faith and religion. Though there have never been any gods in his creation the Minds, though near-omnipotent, are way too vain and profane to fulfill that role there has always been Subliming: a Heaven-like afterlife for civilisations or Minds to ascend to. Banks though, he did it with wit, thoughtfulness and panache with great dollops of action, sex and intrigue thrown in to spice it up.

    Along the way we get to chew over different aspects of religion through the different characters we meet: a hermit Mind who returned from the Sublime representing resurrection; evil and guilt or lack thereof are explored through the main antagonists; forgiveness and acceptance of our sins and the meaning of life, the universe and everything according to a millennia-old human. Anyways, I really enjoyed the book and it was sublimely narrated no pun intended by Peter Kenny - thoroughly recommended! Yet again Banks supplies a gripping tale of eons spanning intrigue. This story doesn't have quite the depth of some previous Culture novels but it gives another insight into the many layers that make up his Universe.