The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture Series #9)

The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture Series #9)

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by Iain M. Banks
     
 

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The New York Times bestselling Culture novel...
The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, 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 ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies,See more details below

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Overview

The New York Times bestselling Culture novel...
The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, 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 ten thousand 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. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand 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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks’s 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’s self-aware spaceships catch hints that the Gzilt’s 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’s 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’s easy to see why Banks’s fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites. (Oct.)
The Guardian
"The Culture, the post-scarcity, hedonistic, Machiavellian, libertarian, arse-kicking science-fiction society created by the late Iain M. Banks...one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future."
From the Publisher
"This rich, sweeping panorama of heroism and folly celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Culture, Banks's far-future semi-utopian society.... The action tumbles along at a dizzying pace, bouncing among a fascinating array of characters and locales. It's easy to see why Banks's fertile, cheerfully nihilistic imagination and vivid prose have made the Culture space operas bestsellers and award favorites."—Publishers Weekly"

One of Banks' best Culture novels to date."—Booklist on The Hydrogen Sonata"

It's fantastically good fun that throws in some big ideas about life, the universe and everything, and like the unabashed leftie that he is, Banks manages to get in there a few sizable shots at unthinking, dogmatic religiosity for good measure."—SciFi Now"

Banks's charming prose and the scale of his imagination continue to delight Culture vultures."—SFX"

The Culture, the post-scarcity, hedonistic, Machiavellian, libertarian, arse-kicking science-fiction society created by the late Iain M. Banks...one of the most enduring and endearing visions of the future."—The Guardian"

Incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action...sheer delight."—Kirkus Reviews

Booklist
"One of Banks' best Culture novels to date."
SFX
"Banks's charming prose and the scale of his imagination continue to delight Culture vultures."
SciFi Now
"It's fantastically good fun that throws in some big ideas about life, the universe and everything, and like the unabashed leftie that he is, Banks manages to get in there a few sizable shots at unthinking, dogmatic religiosity for good measure."
Booklist on The Hydrogen Sonata
"One of Banks' best Culture novels to date."
Library Journal
Banks's latest Culture novel (after Surface Detail and Matter) is about the search for a 9800-year-old man. The hunter is a young musician who lives in Girdlecity, a sculpted city that wraps around an entire planet. She's added a second pair of arms to her body to play that famously difficult instrument, the elevenstring. Her people are preparing to Sublime—to leave this universe and translate en masse to another, body-free plane of existence. Their holy book urges them to do this. The book always proved true in the past, but what if it is a hoax, foisted on them eons ago by alien tricksters? The 9800-year-old man may know the answer, but first she has to find him. VERDICT Banks's novels set in the alt-universe of the Culture are richly peopled with sentient beings, from energy people to ship Minds to all kinds of humanoids, insectoids, and what have you. No matter how exotic a detail, as Banks describes it, it's credible. And his stories grab your attention. Of interest not only to sf fans but also to lovers of good prose and plotting. [See Prepub Alert, 6/13/12; the author also writes noir fiction as Iain Banks.—Ed.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Addition to Banks' wonderful space-opera series (without the middle initial, he also writes impressive mainstream novels) about the far-future galactic Culture (Surface Detail, 2010, etc.), a liberal-anarchic, multispecies civilization guided and sustained, more or less invisibly, by Minds, artificial intelligences that take such physical forms as spaceships and habitats. Vastly more intelligent than humans, millions of times faster and mostly benevolent, Minds are truly godlike entities. (Asked "Is this what gods would actually be like?" Banks replied: "If we're lucky.") Now, the Gzilt civilization, an almost perversely peaceful military society whose precepts arise from the Book of Truth, an ancient tome containing technological and intellectual predictions nearly all of which have proved correct, are preparing to Sublime, or vanish, into a set of higher dimensions where existence is thought to be almost infinitely rich and complex. As the Gzilt make their preparations, several rather primitive scavenger species gather nearby (one ship comes into orbit, as Banks puts it, with the "warp-engine equivalent of loud clanks and clouds of black smoke"), ready to grab whatever goodies the Gzilt leave behind. But then, a sudden, devastating attack destroys the Gzilt Regimental High Command. The reason seems to involve a shattering secret about the Book of Truth and the establishment of the Culture 10,000 years ago. One of the few survivors, reserve Lt. Cmdr. Vyr Cossont, a bewildered four-armed musician with, self-confessedly, no military skills, receives orders to locate and question Ngaroe QiRia, possibly the Culture's oldest living person and the only one who might have some idea why the Book of Truth is so important and what really happened 10 millennia ago. Problem is, even assisted by Berdle, a powerful Mind avatar, and an erratic battle android who's convinced everything's merely a simulation, can she survive long enough to complete her mission? Scotland-resident Banks' Culture yarns, the science-fiction equivalent of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, brim with wit and wisdom, providing incomparable entertainment, with fascinating and highly original characters, challenging ideas and extrapolations, and dazzling action seamlessly embedded in a satirical-comedy matrix. Sheer delight.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316212380
Publisher:
Orbit
Publication date:
10/09/2012
Series:
Culture Series , #9
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
528
Sales rank:
60,372
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Hydrogen Sonata


By Iain M. Banks

Orbit

Copyright © 2013 Iain M. Banks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-21236-6



CHAPTER 1

(S -24)


In the dying days of the Gzilt civilisation, before its long-prepared-for elevation to something better and the celebrations to mark this momentous but joyful occasion, one of its last surviving ships encountered an alien vessel whose sole task was to deliver a very special party-goer to the festivities.

The two craft met within the blast-shadow of the planetary fragment called Ablate, a narrow twisted scrue of rock three thousand kilometres long and shaped like the hole in a tornado. Ablate was all that was left of a planet destroyed deliberately two millennia earlier, shortly before it would have been destroyed naturally, by the supernova within whose out-rushing sphere of debris, gasses and radiation it remained, like an arrowhead plunging ever downwards into the rising, roiling heat and sparks of a great fire.

Ablate itself was anything but natural. Roughly hewn as though sliced from some spherical cake, its tip and the first few hundred kilometres of its narrow end had, originally, been made up of the metallic material which had formed the very centre of the now-defunct small planet while its wider end – a rough circle a couple of hundred kilometres across – looked like a gently curved dome and had been part of the barren globe's rocky surface. Kept pointed – aimed – into the supernova's blast front by engines keeled within hyperspace, all of that original tip and most of those next few hundred kilometres of layered metallic ores had abraded away over the last nineteen hundred years, boiled and scoured into oblivion by the still-expanding fires of the exploded star's nebula.

The multi-coloured skies around Ablate, filled with the vast glowing clouds of stellar debris and the gasses and dusts resulting from its own slow wearing- away, were some of the most calculatedly spectacular in the civilised galaxy, and that was why Ablate was a place of special significance to the people who called themselves the Gzilt. The Gzilt had rescued this portion of world from the annihilation of the supernova and they had anchored within it the star drives and field projectors which kept it respectively stable and – just, in the centre of that rough circle of what had been the planet's dusty surface – habitable.

The alien ship was an irregular, fuzzy-looking bubble of dark spheres, measuring barely a hundred metres along its principal axis. It was lit from around and above by the spectrum of colours radiating from the clouds of the supernova, and from below by the gentle blue glow of the world-fragment's only obvious non- natural feature: a scooped, domed bowl a handful of kilometres across that lay on that fractured, unshadowed surface like a slightly too perfect crater. The bowl was an oasis of warmth, moisture and atmosphere on that cold, dry, airless surface; within its gauzy layers of containment it held the sort of parks, lakes, carefully proportioned buildings and lush but managed tracts of vegetation favoured by many types of humanoids.

The Gzilt ship dwarfed the alien one; it looked like a thousand dark broadswords gathered into a god's fist and brandished at the skies. It crossed the boundary of glowing, outflowing dusts and swirling gasses at the periphery of Ablate's circular outer surface – allowing its own fields to create a series of brief, tearing, billowing folds within the curtains of light there – then moved slowly towards and over the glowing bowl and the collection of dark bubbles that was the alien ship, until its spiny bulk hung directly above both, occluding a large part of the supernova clouds and draping its bristled shadow over the ship and the dome below.

The smaller ship waited for some sort of hail from the larger one, as was only polite, but nothing appeared to be forthcoming. It decided to make the initial approach itself:

~Greetings. I am the Zihdren-Remnanter Ceremonial Representative Carrying Ship Exaltation-Parsimony III. You, I understand, are the Gzilt IR-FWS 8*Churkun. I am honoured to be invited here and to make your acquaintance.

~That is interesting, came the reply. ~A Zihdren-Remnanter Ceremonial Representative Carrying Ship, you say?

~Well, indeed I am. Somewhat obviously.

~Somewhat obviously?

~Indeed. And, if I may so claim, both in outward form and unshielded emissive signature.

~Again, interesting.

~Indeed ... May I make an observation?

~You may. We await it.

~You seem – how might one put this? – a little less welcoming and polite – especially formally welcoming and polite, as it were – than, I confess, I was expecting and, indeed, had been led to expect. Am I mistaken, or, if I am not, is there a specific reason for this? ... Also, I cannot help but note that the crater facility here at Ablate, which I was led to believe would be at least staffed if not in full ceremonial welcoming mode, does not in fact appear to be so. Indeed, it appears to be effectively empty, both of biological and non-biological sentient presences. There are a few sub-AI substrates running, but no more ... Obviously one is aware that these are strange times, even unprecedented times for the Gzilt; times of disruption and, one would both surmise and expect, quiet but purposeful preparation as well as anticipation. Some degree of formality might, therefore, be expected to be dispensed with in the circumstances. However, even so, one—

~As you say, strange times. Times that bring uninvited guests and unwelcome attentions in the shape of those who would exploit our reduced numbers and distracted state.

~... We may have experienced a degree of signal outage there, or at least signal protocol disruption, unlikely though that may seem ... However, with regard to what you say regarding the unwelcome attentions from others, that is, sadly, to be expected. The preparations for Sublimation tend to bring such – happily, relatively minor – consequences, as those whose memory I am honoured to represent would be the first to agree. The Zihdren—

~There was no signal outage or protocol disruption then, nor is there now. I interrupted you. I am doing so again.

~Ah. Then I was not mistaken. Might I just check; am I addressing the captain of the 8*Churkun's virtual crew?

~You are.

~Ah. Well, then – Captain – we appear to have started out from positions involving inharmonious premises. That is unfortunate. I would hope that, nevertheless, you might appreciate my disquiet – one might even characterise it as disappointment – at the fact that we appear to have initiated our association here on such an unfortunate tack. Please; tell me what I might do to help bring us back onto a more agreeable course.

~The preparations for our Sublimation have encouraged those of a parasitical nature. Alien presences wishing to profit from our abandonment of the Real, appropriating what treasure we might leave behind. They circle.

~I understand. I am, of course, aware of those you talk of. It was so with those whose memory I am honoured to represent: your flattered mentors and barely required civilisational guides, the Zihdren.

~Whom you claim to represent.

~I do indeed. And indeed I do. Represent them, I mean. This is scarcely a matter for dispute. My provenance and—

~This is a warship.

~Another interruption. I see.

~A warship.

~Patently. I must say that I was in no doubt regarding your ship class and martial status. The eight-star, Indefinite Range, Full Weapon Spectrum Gzilt contemporary ship-type you represent is entirely familiar to us.

~Things have changed, formalities slipped, protocols been relaxed. This vessel is four point six centuries old and yet has never fired a shot in anger. Now, with most of our kind already gone, preparing the way ahead in the Sublime, we find ourselves defending the disparate items of our about-to-be legacy from those who would use the fruits of our genius and labour to cheat their way further along the path to this point, a point that we achieved entirely honourably and without such opportunistic larceny.

~Well, I'm sure that does you credit, too. Wait! Good grief! Do you mistake me for such a vessel? Do you suspect I represent such primitive, aggressive forces? Surely not! I am a Zihdren-Remnanter craft, the Ceremonial Representative Carrying Ship Exaltation-Parsimony III. This must be obvious; I have nothing to hide and am transparent, all but completely unshielded; inspect me as you will. My dear colleague; if you wish for help confronting those who would steal any part of your legacy, you need only ask! I, rather, represent a link with those who only ever wished you well, and who, to the contrary—

~Part of the deception such entities employ is impersonating the vessels and beings of others. I am deeming you to be doing so at this moment. We have scanned you and determined that you are carrying something which is entirely shielded from honest view.

~What? My dear Captain, you cannot just "deem" me to be employing any deception! That is absurd! And as for the only fully shielded substrate within myself, that is my cargo, my complement of precisely one Ceremonial Guest, our single humanoid expression of respect, expected and invited by the Gzilt people specifically to celebrate their upcoming Sublimation! Of course this entity bears a message from the Zihdren-Remnanter to the Gzilt which I am not privy to! There can be nothing strange, unprecedented or worrying about such a thing, can there? The Gzilt have been party to the relevant diplomatic and ambassadorial protocols for millennia, without a flutter of complaint. A tiny scrap of the Real bids farewell to you while at the same time representing those who would most happily welcome you to the Sublime!

~There is deceit here, something hidden. We can see it even if you cannot.

~What are you talking about? I am sorry. I have had enough of this. Your behaviour and demeanour goes beyond even the most cautious and watchful warship- normal and frankly risks slipping into outright paranoia. I am withdrawing; you will have to excuse me. Farewell.

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~... Have you put a signal containment around me? Have you any idea of the consequences—?

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~I cannot. Quite apart from anything else, there are diplomatic niceties—

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~I heard you! And I cannot and will not. How dare you! We are your friends. Neutrals would be appalled and insulted at such treatment! That those who have long thought themselves your friends and allies—

~Release in full the information—

~There! You see? Two may interrupt! I refuse to do as you ask. Drop the signal containment around me immediately. And should you make any attempt to block or prevent my moving off under—

~... contained within the shielded substrate. Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~This is outrageous! Do you ...? Are you mad? You must know what and who you are choosing to quarrel with here! I represent the Zihdren-Remnant, you lunatic! Fully accepted and accredited heirs to the Sublimed Zihdren, the species many of your people acknowledge as little less than gods; those the Book of Truth itself proclaims to be your spiritual ancestors! I must warn you that although I am, to all intents and purposes, unarmed, still I am not without resources which—

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~Enough. Goodbye. Out.

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~... Drop the signal containment around me immediately! And desist from jamming my engine fields at once! I am about to initiate a full-power high- acceleration pull-away manoeuvre irrespective of your current interference, and any damage accrued either by myself or you will be your responsibility, not mine! The Zihdren-Remnanter and the Zihdren themselves will hear of this act of barbarism; do not make it worse for yourself!

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~... That my drive components have not just exploded thanks to your unwarranted barbarism is due more to my ability to finesse than your brutal use of overwhelming power. I am, as is now abundantly clear to both of us, effectively helpless. This is a result and a situation that does you no honour whatsoever, believe me. I must – with utter reluctance and under extreme protest, both personal and formal – ask whether, if I do release in full the information contained inside the shielded substrate within myself, you will then drop the signal containment around me and desist from jamming my engine fields, allowing me both to signal and to depart.

~Release in full the information contained within the shielded substrate.

~And I will be allowed to signal and to depart?

~... Yes.

~Very well. Here.

~Scanned. We present the results.

~... Interesting, as you might put it. I see. That is not a message that I would have anticipated. I now appreciate, as I am sure you do, too, why there was a degree of secrecy regarding the contents. While it would not normally be any part of my responsibility to make comment on such matters, I would, speaking personally, argue that said contents themselves constitute a kind of apology. This is a type of admission, even a confession. I understand that such ... accountings are often a part of the business of species and civilisations Subliming; matters are settled, lines are drawn under certain proceedings ... However, be that as it may, it was my mission only to deliver this Ceremonial Guest entity while being kept entirely ignorant of the content, substance and import of its message. Accordingly, I consider that I have, albeit in most unexpected and trying circumstances, discharged my duty, and so would ask to be allowed to communicate this bizarre turn of events to those who tasked me so, and to withdraw from Gzilt jurisdictional space to await further instructions. I have held up my end of our bargain and duly released, in full, the information contained inside the shielded substrate within myself. If you'd be so kind, I now require you to fulfil your promise by dropping the signal containment around me and ceasing to jam my engine fields.

~No.

The Gzilt ship 8*Churkun – a battleship in all but name – kept the tiny alien vessel effectively crushed underneath it as it directed fire from a pair of its close-range, medium-power plasma chambers into the vessel, and – beneath it, beyond it – into the emptily glowing blue bowl of the crater facility, destroying the ship utterly and blowing the crater facility apart.

The weapon-pulse was so strong it continued into the surface of the planetary fragment to a depth of several kilometres, blasting a brief, livid tunnel a hundred metres across vertically into the rock. A torrent of lava splashed out around the ship's outermost protective fields as the tunnel collapsed, the spattering, cooling rain of molten rock following the pulverised, atomised debris of the Zihdren-Remnanter ship and the centre of the blue-glowing bowl as they too flew into the colour-wild skies above Ablate.

At the boundaries of the world's truncated horizon, some larger parts of the obliterated dome, still whirling away from the initial explosion, burned bright as flame as they plunged into the surrounding curtains of light.

Deep beneath its assaulted surface, automatic systems sensed the blast and the resulting wobble in the tiny world's course, and corrected for it.

Where the little blue oasis of light and life had been there was now a larger, deeper crater, glowing white and yellow and red from its boiling centre to its ragged edge. By the time the crater surface had cooled sufficiently to show how it would look once it had solidified completely, the 8*Churkun was long gone.

Of the other ship, apart from a new set of already fading folds of light in the skies above Ablate, there was no trace whatsoever.

CHAPTER 2

(S -23)


At sunset above the plains of Kwaalon, on a dark, high terrace balanced on a glittering black swirl of architecture forming a relatively microscopic part of the equatorial Girdlecity of Xown, Vyr Cossont – Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont, to give her her full title – sat, performing part of T. C. Vilabier's 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, catalogue number MW 1211, on one of the few surviving examples of the instrument developed specifically to play the piece, the notoriously difficult, temperamental and tonally challenged Antagonistic Undecagonstring – or elevenstring, as it was commonly known.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks. Copyright © 2013 Iain M. Banks. Excerpted by permission of Orbit.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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