cover image The Hydrogen Sonata

The Hydrogen Sonata

Iain M. Banks. Orbit, $25.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-21237-3

This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks%E2%80%99s far-future semi-utopian society. The Gzilt, a civilization affiliated with the Culture, is only days away from leaving this reality for the Sublime, a condition of intense, hyper-real wonderfulness, when some of the Culture%E2%80%99s self-aware spaceships catch hints that the Gzilt%E2%80%99s decision to enter the Sublime may be based on a hoax. Vyr Cossont, a young, four-armed Gzilt musician, falls into the conflict as ships and their avatars try to figure out what%E2%80%99s going on and then decide what to do about it, while powerful opponents attempt to stall the inquiry until time runs out. The action tumbles along at a dizzying pace, bouncing among a fascinating array of characters and locales. It%E2%80%99s easy to see why Banks%E2%80%99s fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites. (Oct.)