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Songs in the key of H
October 7, 2012 8:43 PM   Subscribe

Iain M. Banks, Alastair Reynolds, and Peter F. Hamilton discuss their books with fans (video). The Hydrogen Sonata, the 10th of Bank's Culture books, will be released October 12th, read the first chapter here. Meanwhile it's 20 years since Reynolds first started work on Revelation Space.
posted by Artw (94 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
For UK types, you can already get Hydrogen Sonata.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 PM on October 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


fearfulsymmetry on 25 Years of Iain M. Banks’ The Culture
posted by Artw at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I picked it up a few weeks ago via sneaky advance reader copy contacts - it's great. Much more Excession, less Matter.
posted by xiw at 9:02 PM on October 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Three of my favorites. I'd about given up on on SF (Is it still OK to call it SF?) when I was introduced to this trio. Banks is just amazing and i can hardly wait for the new book.
posted by cccorlew at 9:05 PM on October 7, 2012


I only recently (like, this calendar year) discovered the Culture novels and my progress through them has been slowed only by a diversion into the Song of Ice and Fire novels (which I was afraid to stop reading because I knew I'd want to come back to them, and if I stopped barrelling through them I knew I'd come back and go "...what?" like the time I watched five seasons of Weeds on Netflix and a year later tried to watch season six). I love Banks' incredible imagination and gleefully humanistic vision- the Culture is utopian, but not blindly so, and Banks is as quick to depict its failings and flaws as its glories.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:07 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're stuck in some benighted land where The Hydrogen Sonata has not yet been released due to idiotic publisher provincialism, it is available online through the usual channels. I will definitely be buying a copy just as soon as the priesthood class deigns to permit us poor plebes here in the USA to do so as Banks is one of my favorite authors and I am happy to support him, but if you just can't wait and you're willing to read off a screen, it's definitely out there and you can have it inside of five minutes.
posted by Scientist at 9:54 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hff. For some reason I was thinking they were simultaneous. He doesn't seem to have a lot of luck with that - Stonemouth was delayed for some ridiculous amount of time.
posted by Artw at 9:59 PM on October 7, 2012


xiw: "Much more Excession, less Matter."

Is it just me? I really liked Matter, and felt a little let down by Excession, with the too-ugly-to-be-true baddies and the whole space race/battle seemed faintly derivative of other network-influenced diffusionist space operas, such as Fire Upon the Deep or the Revelation Space thingies. But Matter's shell concept, that was a nice Big Idea. I guess with Banks I am used to him leading, not following, a trend
posted by meehawl at 10:00 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though it was long in the working Revelation Space didn't actually come out until 2000, quite a bit after Excession.
posted by Artw at 10:04 PM on October 7, 2012


What I love about Excession are the protagonist Minds, and the way that most of the non-Mind actors turn turn out to have a lot less agency than they assume. That’s the big idea of Excession to me. I’m re-reading The Algebraist at the moment; not Culture but there are some similar ideas from reading it on release about (basically) the Dwellers’ power derived from detachment.
posted by migurski at 10:06 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


New Culture novel!
posted by flippant at 10:06 PM on October 7, 2012


Amazon.com shipped my copy of Hydrogen Sonata a week ago, so there's at least one retail outlet in the U.S. that's selling it now. I enjoyed it more for all the copious background info about the Culture and the universe it resides in that was included in the book, than for the actual plot, which felt a bit [VERY NONSPECIFIC SPOILERS IN ROT13] VEERYRINAG (JUVPU VF NPXABJYRQTRQ OL FRIRENY BS GUR ZVAQF VAIBYIRQ, JUVPU JNF N AVPR GBHPU). Favorite fact learned: just how OVT N TRARENY FLFGRZF IRUVPYR actually is. For everyone who is wondering why the Minds QBA'G NPG YVXR NFFUBYRF 99.9999% BS GUR GVZR, that's in the book too (quite elegantly stated, actually).

In any case, it's still a Culture book written by Banks, and thus it's extremely amusing, and well worth your time and money to pick up.
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:11 PM on October 7, 2012


Amazon is carrying it in the US, you say? Well, then I'm off to go get a copy!
posted by Scientist at 10:16 PM on October 7, 2012


TBH though I liked Matter "it's like Matter" wouldn't really evoke anything with me, whereas "it's like Excession" has me highly interested.

. I love Banks' incredible imagination and gleefully humanistic vision- the Culture is utopian, but not blindly so, and Banks is as quick to depict its failings and flaws as its glories.

There's a bit in Jo Walton's Amongst Others where the protagonist is comparing The Dispossessed and Triton as Anarchist Utopias and I guess The Culture is a third example with all the sliders set to 10.
posted by Artw at 10:23 PM on October 7, 2012


I’m re-reading The Algebraist at the moment; not Culture but there are some similar ideas from reading it on release about (basically) the Dwellers’ power derived from detachment.

The Algebraist changed how I look at clouds.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:39 PM on October 7, 2012


The Algebraist changed my perception of human beings' ability to imagine horrible fates for each other. There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.
posted by Scientist at 10:42 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.

For me it was Surface Detail that gave me nightmares, as it imagines what you could get if you mix particularly nasty religions with virtual reality technology powerful enough that you can actually create the hells your beliefs say those nasty sinners should find themselves in after death. Imagine a hell you know it's real because it has been created by the local equivalent of Fred Phelps...
posted by MartinWisse at 10:53 PM on October 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Incidently, since Alastair Reynolds' first novel came out when he still was working at ESTEC space centre in Noordwijk, under the maple syrup rule he's therefore the Netherlands most successful science fiction writer.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:56 PM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's certainly not a straight Excession retread, but it did feel like a sequel to Excession in the same way that Look to Windward was a sequel to Consider Phlebas.

I am just a sucker for Minds being sarcastic I guess.
posted by xiw at 11:02 PM on October 7, 2012


I was about to page ROU_Xenophobe, then I looked up and noticed he was first in the thread...
posted by Jimbob at 11:05 PM on October 7, 2012


I am just a sucker for Minds being sarcastic I guess.

You'll love this book then.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:12 PM on October 7, 2012


FWIW I got my Amazon-shipped copy on Oct. 6.
posted by mwhybark at 11:16 PM on October 7, 2012


FWIW I got my Amazon-shipped copy on Oct. 6.

Hmm, is this how the pirate sites had it up three days ago? And new Culture novel, wooohooooo!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 11:20 PM on October 7, 2012


The Algebraist Wasp Factory changed my perception of human beings' ability to imagine execute horrible fates for each other. There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.

Seriously - if Iain M. Banks' books give you the willies, don't go anywhere near one without a middle initial.

--

I have read every word these three authors have published, and all three are excellent, but in totally different ways.

Not much love for Peter F. Hamilton so far in this thread, but the guy taught me that a book can be a lot more about the journey than the ending (mainly because his endings are typically ridiculously Deus ex machina).

Banks is the opposite, there's always a major story-bending twist at the ending, but good luck trying to figure it out!

Alastair Reynolds taught me that one can write a book with absolutely no sympathetic characters, and you can still love the book.
posted by grajohnt at 11:35 PM on October 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought Matter was wonderful. Banks doing Shakespeare. And the multiply layered meanings of the title made it a kind of shell world of its own.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:41 PM on October 7, 2012


I don't get what the key of B-natural has to do with hydrogen.
posted by straight at 12:13 AM on October 8, 2012


I'm not a huge fan of lumping Banks and Reynolds in with Hamilton. It's like comparing Robert Charles Wilson with David Weber or something because sometimes they both write books in space. I don't think Hamilton is on the same level as the others. Sorry grajohnt.

I'd love to swap Jon Courtenay Grimwood in for Hamilton. Yeah, sure, not the same level of commercial success which is, I guess, part of the point.
posted by Justinian at 12:18 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not much love for Peter F. Hamilton so far in this thread

Yeah, well, he's not quite in the same league as the other two. Justinian's comparison to David Weber is about right and if I want high octane but ultimately meaningless sf adventure and it has to be a British writer, I'll read Neal Asher, as long as I can keep ignoring his politics.

However, you have to give Hamilton his due for helping kickstart the renaissance of British Space Opera, together with Banks and Baxter in the late eigthies and nineties, without which we might not have had writers like Ken MacLeod, Neal Asher, Richard Morgan, Justina Robson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Liz Williams or even Gwyneth Jones.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:08 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Algebraist Wasp Factory Use of Weapons changed my perception of human beings' ability to imagine execute horrible fates for each other. There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:40 AM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yasss, new Culture! I eat this stuff up with a spoon.

MartinWisse: "However, you have to give Hamilton his due for helping kickstart the renaissance of British Space Opera, together with Banks and Baxter in the late eigthies and nineties, without which we might not have had writers like Ken MacLeod, Neal Asher, Richard Morgan, Justina Robson, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Liz Williams or even Gwyneth Jones."

I read Night's Dawn and sort of enjoyed it, but by the end the whole 'zombie vampire Al Capone in SPAAAACE' parts were starting to grate and I was mainly reading it for the Big Things Exploding type imagery. What are his other books like?
posted by Happy Dave at 2:11 AM on October 8, 2012


Annoyingly on Amazon the Kindle version of Hydrogen Sonata is more expensive than the hardback and the paperback isn't out for a year aarrrgggg

(I don't like hardbacks)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:30 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think Hamilton is on the same level as the others. Sorry grajohnt.

Oh thank God someone else said that? I was about to ask if it was just me. Don't really get the love for Hamilton; the indulgence re: page count was just too much for me. Nothing wrong with space opera, but I don't want to read A Remembrance of Lost Time, thanks very much.

I'd love to swap Jon Courtenay Grimwood in for Hamilton.

Omg are you kidding? Have you read the Arabesk trilogy? That was my only Grimwood and it was well and truly bad enough to put me off. Milque-toast cyberpunk pastiche married to badly-researched alternate history, propelling a terrible, adolescent, wish-fulfillment narrative.

I mean, I thought it was genuinely very poor - by its own standards, let alone the genre (and, yes, worse than Hamilton for what it's worth. He is merely average in my opinion, Arabesk was actively bad).

It did confirm my golden rule, though: If a character puts on Reeboks, instead of shoes (or any other brand in place of actual things), it is a bad book.
posted by smoke at 2:31 AM on October 8, 2012


Or perhaps more accurately, Use of Weapons: what in the holy fuck, Ian?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:54 AM on October 8, 2012


Happy Dave:
The first commonwealth saga is good and has A LOT of big explodey space concepty stuff (also wormhole trains). The second one (void trilogy), more of the same but less spacewars and more spacewierd.

Also, as you'd expect, an ending where one of the characters goes and asks a great big all powerful space monster to make everything be fine, and then everything is fine.

In terms of universe I think the nights dawn universe was more compelling and better realised than the commonwealth universe.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:58 AM on October 8, 2012


Of course the US edition is late - somebody's got to search&replace all "ou" with "o" (think "colour"->"color") and design the most redicolous cover ever. Things like that take time, you know.
posted by Harald74 at 4:12 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course the US edition is late - somebody's got to search&replace all "ou" with "o" (think "colour"->"color") and design the most redicolous cover ever. Things like that take time, you know.

Could be worse. Could be US Pratchett covers. /hate
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:19 AM on October 8, 2012


In terms of universe I think the nights dawn universe was more compelling and better realised than the commonwealth universe.

...but both of them are holy-fuck awesome universes, like up there with Trek or Star Wars. Not in the same league as the Culture, I'll easily grant you. But man, how awesome would it be to have a tv series set sometime in the Confederation (and no, Firefly doesn't count), or the Commonwealth while it's still trains-and-wormholes? Just some band of cops or spies or whatever who meet the Situation Of The Week and solve, destroy, have sex with, or blow it up.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:29 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am EXCITED about Hydrogen Sonata. As to who I'd have like to have seen on the panel:
Geoff Ryman (The Child Garden, among others) and Jeff Noon (Vurt, among others).
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:32 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Recently read Hamilton, and the Waterwalker bits of the void trilogy struck me as being really well written and imaginative. And some of the action sequences were amazing. But yeah, doesn't seem to have the depth of Banks or Reynolds. Also; really weird sex scenes that make me wonder what other windows the dude has open while he's writing his novels.

Really liked Reynolds Revelation Space but both the sequels seemed patchy to me. Some of his other stuff has been good.

Always been a Banks fan, currently halfway through Hydrogen Sonata. Though after reading people like Hannu Rajaniemi, Banks' narration seems to spend too much time explaining things. About half of each chapter of Hydrogen Sonata (so far) seems to be explaining some aspect of the Culture or Subliming or the Gzilt to me in a slightly chummy casual way. Like having the universe explained to you by a scottish space grandpa who's cradling a nice malt.
posted by memebake at 4:55 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


memebake: "About half of each chapter of Hydrogen Sonata (so far) seems to be explaining some aspect of the Culture or Subliming or the Gzilt to me in a slightly chummy casual way. Like having the universe explained to you by a scottish space grandpa who's cradling a nice malt."

Sign me up! In every Culture book I read I always absolutely devour the Culture backstory and he's often skirted around things in the past, like 'oh, yeah, by the way, this ship is like, thirty miles long, ok on to some more witty repartee'.

I'd totally buy a Culture encyclopaedia/history book, if he ever cared to write or collaborate on one.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:01 AM on October 8, 2012


Hah, yeah. A weekly buddy cop tv show set 20 years before the events of nights dawn.
A hard bitten Kulu detective from the mean streets of Nova Kong is thrown together with a Jupiter Edenist whilst investigating a dangerous ring of corporate terrorists in the Dorados.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:06 AM on October 8, 2012


Happy Dave, if you havent already read it, you might like A Few Notes On The Culture (previously)
posted by memebake at 5:20 AM on October 8, 2012


memebake: "Happy Dave, if you havent already read it, you might like A Few Notes On The Culture (previously)"

Read many many times, as I think it's the only extant Word of God writing on the Culture.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:42 AM on October 8, 2012


I used to like Hamilton's books but then I started buying ones I had already read because I couldn't remember which series was what and which books were new and realized that they all looked and blurbed just like the last one.
posted by srboisvert at 6:04 AM on October 8, 2012


There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.

Or at least you thought so at the time.
posted by howfar at 6:09 AM on October 8, 2012


I can't really relate to those of you who've commented that X is better than Y book. I was exposed to them through a friend who gave me all of the scifi books as a torrent. No, not all of Ian's books. All of the scifi books. Ever. For those of you who don't come from IRC or Newsgroups, you should know this is more a nightmare than a blessing. So I find the Banks folder, and it's a mash of random formats, weird naming conventions for the titles, no sense of order or date. So I just open one. I read it. Then I read the next one. Then the next one.

It was a feverish two weeks or so of just raw consumption, it was amazing. I had no sense of order, or place, or time. I remember one entire book had line
endings
that were like
this throughout the entire
file and
you know what
?
That was just fine
with me
because the ideas were just delicious. Just beautiful, clear oceans of ideas. It was splendid.

After I got through them in bizarro order, I researched more about the "appropriate" order to read them in. As you can imagine, opinions vary. This experience leads me to view them all as one gigantic work of continually unfinished art, like a big mural that hugs a serpentine corridor. Hearing there's a new book out, like Surface Detail and now this, is like taking a few extra steps, excitedly wondering what the artist has painted just around the next corner.
posted by odinsdream at 6:16 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The dark days for US covers seem to be over, thank god...
posted by Artw at 6:20 AM on October 8, 2012


I'm almost 50 pages into Hydrogen and it's more of the same... ie excellent stuff. Interesting dash of Douglas Adams in there I've not seen before (including a direct reference / in-joke unless it's a coincidence.)

Read Reynolds first book ages ago but never been enthused enough to read any more. Just tried re-reading it and I could not get into it at all now.

Gave up on Hamilton halfway through the space-zombie thing... even with two attempts I could not get through it. Though I kinda liked his really early Greg Mandel books... possibly because they are set not a million miles away from where I live.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:49 AM on October 8, 2012


For those that want Hamilton without the whole deus ex machina try Fallen Dragon, which has one single volume and is essentially Dickens in space with guns. Lots and lots of guns.
posted by Ber at 7:40 AM on October 8, 2012


For me it was Surface Detail that gave me nightmares...

This was me too. Surface Detail was one of my favorite reads of the last five years but by the end of the book I had a hard time at each entry into a hell section. On my second reading I actually skipped over a lot of the hell story because it left me feeling just so helpless and awful. Outside they're having press conferences and shared mud baths to discuss the politics while inside she's allowed to have a full life of redemption and spiritual uplift just so it will hurt more when it's ripped away again.
posted by Babblesort at 8:00 AM on October 8, 2012


I read two-thirds of a Hamilton book once, and no matter what you say, I won't be reading anything of his ever again. Unless a trifecta of Neal Stephenson, Terry Pratchett, and Chad Harbach appear at my door and place one of his novels into my hands with the words "it's good, no, honest", I'm just going to assume that they are all lazily plotted books which wear the trappings of hard SF like a hipster with a pair of lumberjack boots.
posted by The River Ivel at 8:01 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is a scene in that book which I still try not to think too hard about, because it gives me the willies.

Incidentally, I followed the last thread's recommendation and read The Player of Games. There's a scene near the end where a drone exposes the seedy underbelly of the Empire to said player and is slightly 'you can't handle the truth', which I found weird as the player seems more empathetic about things than the Minds and drones even with the limited information at his disposal.
posted by ersatz at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2012


Loved the discussion of translation and the role it plays in the distribution/popularity. Great link, thank you!
posted by vkxmai at 8:27 AM on October 8, 2012


What I love about Excession are the protagonist Minds, and the way that most of the non-Mind actors turn turn out to have a lot less agency than they assume.

The Idirans were right.

Incidentally, I followed the last thread's recommendation and read The Player of Games. There's a scene near the end where a drone exposes the seedy underbelly of the Empire to said player and is slightly 'you can't handle the truth', which I found weird as the player seems more empathetic about things than the Minds and drones even with the limited information at his disposal.

I actually found it a little ham-handed. Yes, we Get It. We're Azad.
posted by atrazine at 8:44 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Iain M.'s books have always had an undercurrent of the horrifying, from the Chairmaker in Use of Weapons (IIRC) to the horror of boxing practice in the Algebraist. But I find myself coming back to the non-Culture books in my memory - certainly the Algebraist, maybe Against a Dark Background, especially Feersum Endjinn (a horribly difficult read, but well worth it in my opinion). I forget where it was that Banks said something to the effect of "I only write a non-Culture novel when I have a *really* good idea".

Culture novels - I almost tend to agree with the Idiran critique. (On preview: atrazine beat me to it? Sigh.) I did really like Excession but omniscience gets tiresome after a while, and the rest of it seems to be playing on very small canvases.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2012


It's not just an M thing. Regular Iain Banks has his share of horrors, and it's not usually an undercurrent. Such as: the entire texts of Complicity or The Wasp Factory. Even what passes for his most happy-fluffy-bunnies book, The Crow Road, still starts with a grandmother exploding, is a coming of age story where the driving events are, well, unpleasant, and so on. Similarly for Espedair Street.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:33 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


The final sentence reveal of Feersum Endjinn remains my favorite reading moment ever.
posted by migurski at 9:39 AM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not that big on Banks, but I appreciated the elegance of Consider Phlebas. I agree that the "Idiran critique" rings true; I think it is meant to, in a desperate futile way. I try to put some of the pieces together in my review. Excerpt:
Consider Phlebas presents among other things a backdrop for a contest of ideas. The ideas don’t really compete directly, though. It’s hard to say whether this is a failing of the novel — the contest is a literal war, and wars are settled by force. In fact, force — violence — is the only thing that really animates in the novel; with the exception of a brief cringing portrait of a Culture citizen’s plaints about his life, all of the compelling scenes concern torture or killing. The book begins with a character chained up to be drowned in falling excrement, and goes on to feature a stranded man forced to snap a giant’s neck in single combat; a live human sacrifice who is force-fed shit and then chomped piecemeal from the toes, by the steel dentures of a morbidly obese cannibal; a poker game where, with every hand, each player antes up the life of a listless human victim; and numerous men and beasts clawed, cut, poisoned, burned and beaten to death. These scenes are frequently set off by depictions of shipwreck and privation.

This horror, one supposes, is the negative case for the Culture: the unordered universe, vibrant though it may be, is filled with cruelties and stupidities which produce unending suffering. A society that prevents this does a great good, even if its only consolations are the freedoms of peace and hedonism, which to some are lesser freedoms. A Culture character is lost mountain climbing and breaks her leg — but one senses that she was watched the whole time, and faced little real danger. (Traces here of Captain Kirk channeling George Mallory.) Still, emphatically, ennui is much preferable to having your teeth yanked out.
posted by grobstein at 10:04 AM on October 8, 2012


Iain M.'s books have always had an undercurrent of the horrifying,

Am I the only one who fears getting compassion/outrage fatigue from reading this kind of thing?

Sure we have kids in Asia working 16-hour days in sweatshops, but at least they're not living in Surface Detail hell.
posted by straight at 11:07 AM on October 8, 2012


It's not just an M thing. Regular Iain Banks has his share of horrors, and it's not usually an undercurrent. Such as: the entire texts of Complicity or The Wasp Factory.

Or A Song of Stone. Oh God, or A Song of Stone. The best of Banks's non-SF are appreciably better than the best of his SF. I wish he would direct more of his energies that way again.

Excession was essentially a rip-off of 2001, by the way.
posted by Decani at 11:11 AM on October 8, 2012


Hamilton's novels could use a really good editor; at 50-60% of their length they could still convey the terrific scope of his ideas and move much faster through the plot. Even so I love getting lost in these stories and have read Night's Dawn four or five times and the Void five set multiple times as well. One of the great experiences of our trip to Oz/NZ a few years back was getting the second Void novel as UK imprint, months before it would be available here in the States.

Read every Banks novel too. Reynolds lost me after the first few R:S novels, too much religion and not enough closure.
posted by billsaysthis at 11:12 AM on October 8, 2012


The most horrifying thing Banks has written appears in The Wasp Factory. It is the single written scene which has ever truly squicked me at a fundamental level, being the desensitized and unfeeling member of the MTV generation that I am.

The best of Banks's non-SF are appreciably better than the best of his SF.

Eh. I think Use of Weapons is as good as The Crow Road or whatever.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on October 8, 2012


The most horrifying thing Banks has written appears in The Wasp Factory.

I'm guessing you mean What Happened To Eric, but to that I reply What Happened To The Snuff Pornographer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:20 PM on October 8, 2012


Excession was essentially a rip-off of 2001, by the way.

Wait, what? Well, sortof, but thats how sci-fi works, really. There are lots of common themes (Finding Alien Artifacts, New Technology Changes Society etc) constantly re-explored with different emphasis. You could say that Excession very knowingly treads the paths its treading; the book defines and discusses Outside Context Problems and the characters know they are encountering one, which is Banks signalling that he knows this has been done before but he's doing it his way goddammitt.

re: most horrifying banks scenes: The Hell chapters of Surface Detail may be the most horrible things he's ever written, I'm pretty sure. Its so detailed and infinite and unrelenting.

my vote for best Iain M Banks: Feersum Endjinn - such scope and imagination.
my vote for best Iain Banks: Transition - although it could well have been an M book.
posted by memebake at 3:31 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Started reading THS. Sublimation! Finally he's going to explain that stuff! And I trust Banks not to invoke a deus ex machina to do so.
posted by Jimbob at 8:13 PM on October 8, 2012


including a direct reference / in-joke

I believe I spy one too, further in. Hm.
posted by mwhybark at 11:55 PM on October 8, 2012


my vote for best Iain Banks: Transition - although it could well have been an M book.

It was in the US (in the US it was by "Iain M Banks", in the UK it was by "Iain Banks").
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:48 AM on October 9, 2012


Hmm. Finished reading whatever I was reading to find that i'd actually preordered it and it's just appeared in my list of books. Joy!
posted by Artw at 6:15 AM on October 9, 2012


Transition is part of my argument that the M. Banks distinction is not Science Fiction, which The Business and Song of Stone pretty much are and Transition certainly is, but the presence of spaceships.

The US version kind of mucks that up though. It also has the nicer cover, against all nature.

The Bridge pulls Off the neat truck of not really being SF but having spaceships and quite possibly The Culture, which also screws with my theory.
posted by Artw at 6:21 AM on October 9, 2012


Inversions doesn't have spaceships... (do knife missiles count as spaceships?)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:42 AM on October 9, 2012


It has implied spaceships.
posted by Artw at 6:50 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always thought of Inversions as a novel about the Culture observed through the other end of the telescope, a perfect inversion (ahem) of Excession...
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:48 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


So has anyone got the WH Smiths edition of Hydrogen Sonata? I had thought it was just a different tweaked cover but I've heard a rumour that it (or another addition) has additional content (like an interview and appendix).
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:41 AM on October 10, 2012


Loving this so far. It is very ship-to-shop heavy, but I like that just fine.
posted by Artw at 8:53 AM on October 10, 2012


Just had a 'very clever, Mr Banks... very clever' moment
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2012


"The reward for facing danger is more danger", or words to that effect? Yeah, I liked that.
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on October 10, 2012


Indeed (though I think you're on the wrong thread)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:43 AM on October 10, 2012


Gah.
posted by Artw at 10:57 AM on October 10, 2012


"The reward for facing danger is more danger"

ROU?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:27 AM on October 11, 2012


I checked out the Smiths version earlier today... as far as I can tell the text is identical (certainly nothing extra at the beginning and the end), just gold lettering and a garish purple background on the interior flaps of the dust jacket (may be the cover too was more purple than blue)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:19 AM on October 11, 2012


Iain Banks at The Book Café on Radio Scotland

Nice review of Hydrogen Sonata at the Guardian, couple of minor spoilers
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:26 AM on October 11, 2012


Finished it in one day. One glorious day of, well, not doing anything else.

Good as ever. I had some reservations, but they would be far too spoilery.
posted by flippant at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2012


OK so I've read it and I'm kind of nonplussed. I think maybe I'm starting to dig the whole techno-utopia thing less over the years as my personal worldview matures and changes, and while it's still a nice break from the reality I didn't quite get my fix from this book -- the societies portrayed seemed a little bit too mired in decadence, too flat to be compelling.

The supporting cast seemed even more two-dimensional, which was disappointing because an impression of infinite depth and fractal detail is one of the things that I most enjoy about the Culture series in general.

I didn't find the characters particularly compelling -- the main non-Culture race is sort of boring (at once too much like the Culture and too much of a one-trick-pony in its differences) the climax was rather anticlimactic (sure, on purpose, but it was still unsatisfying) and I didn't feel Banks really had any new insights to offer about the-Culture-as-social-thought-experiment compared to what he'd done before.

I enjoyed the book, don't get me wrong. I've yet to read a Culture book that I haven't enjoyed, Banks is one of my absolute all-time favorite authors. I don't think this is one of the better ones in the series though, and I'm left feeling a little cold.
posted by Scientist at 2:28 PM on October 11, 2012


the climax was rather anticlimactic (sure, on purpose, but it was still unsatisfying)

Yup. I'm not entirely fond of books where the central conflict is quietly and thoughtfully resolved by rational people, in sort of a 'send it to die in committee' sort of way.

So much more satisfying when the villain gets his in the end - there's something about moral justice, just world fallacy, etc.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:35 PM on October 11, 2012


And as far as willies (did not expect that comment to get tossed around so much) I have read pretty much all of his books, M or not (including the Wasp Factory) and it's still that scene in the Algebraist with the dangling head in the antagonist's throne room/office/whatever that is the williest for me.

Willies are a very personal thing, I guess.
posted by Scientist at 2:36 PM on October 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also I would say that that Guardian review contains more than minor spoilers. It pretty much contains the entire set-up for the book, and I'm glad that I didn't read something like that before reading the book itself.
posted by Scientist at 2:41 PM on October 11, 2012


It's also less of a review of The Hydrogen Sonata and more of a paen to the Culture novels as a whole and an explication of the reviewer's pet theory that the Culture books are all about the conflict between theism and atheism. That's certainly a theme that runs through the books, but I'd hardly say that that's the only thing they're about.
posted by Scientist at 2:43 PM on October 11, 2012


Guardian Books is going through a bit of a "spoilers don't exist" phase at the moment, I'm afraid.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on October 11, 2012


Guardian book club: Iain M Banks on Use of Weapons
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:01 AM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful as ever there.
posted by Artw at 5:59 PM on October 12, 2012


Ok, finished now. That might be my gave for some time.

/sits down to wait two years.
posted by Artw at 6:04 PM on October 14, 2012


Don't think I'll ever tire of reading about massive super poweful incredibly intelligent ships trolling each other
posted by memebake at 2:45 PM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Mmmmmm. That was delicious. I'm always so sad when it's over, though.

Again again!
posted by odinsdream at 7:45 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surface Detail is a wonderful book, but I made the mistake of buying all the Peter Kenny audiobooks and while Kenny is a truly great narrator, I have to skip the Hell chapters because something about hearing them read out loud makes them 5 billion times more upsetting.

Seriously, Peter Kenny's narration is fantastic though. I strongly recommend his narration of The Player of Games - the last chapter is so much better in his conception of the reveal that I was clapping my hands and hopping in my chair. I thought about finding his email address and telling him so, it was so good.

But his dispassionate voice when describing the Hell chapters in SD gives me the screaming heebie jeebies.
posted by winna at 7:50 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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