Reading: Iain M. Banks — The Hydrogen Sonata

Oh Iain, I’ve already finished you! Yes, I did collect you from my favourite bookstore on Wednesday, so I’ve had a little time, and carefully kept myself away from devouring it in two days; actually, four nights for an Iain is pretty good for me.

If there was only one author I could read, a hypothetical desert island scenario slightly enlarged from “only one book” to “all the works of”, it would be Iain with-or-without-an-M. Banks. Yes, I’m insanely fond of China Miéville, who seems to sneak in with ‘Book of the Year’ for me with disturbing regularity, and Charles Stross also — especially the earlier few, though as a whole I’ve read all his books at least twice, but for me Iain Banks — well of course there’s simply more of him, so in the hypothetical desert island scenario I’d be entertained for a commensurately elongated duration before necessity forcing rereading upon me — Iain Banks, well he wrote Feersum Endjinn for a start, and The Wasp Factory, and the Culture novels, and quite a few others I return to freely and without the desert island imposition because I adore what he writes and, possible most importantly, find his works improve with subsequent readings.

It’s perhaps indicative of proofreading these days, and maybe my level of consumption, that I tend to read with one eye looking for the displeasure of spelling or grammar clusterfucks, or — I don’t know really which is worse — continuity screwups. The latter is pretty rare in any of Banks’ works; the former also, though there were two chapters named “(S -2)”, instead of incrementally counting down the days, which might be that there was indeed no “(S -1)”, but missing 24 hours that close to an entire civilisation sodding off to extradimensionality seems a little suspicious.

Nonetheless, The Large Hadron Collider possibly threw more of a high energy particle physics spanner into the plot with the discovery of the Higgs Boson, given what it might mean for such excitement as String Theory M-Theory, Branes and other mind-wincing multi-dimensional Theories of Everything. Not as in disproving these theories, more rather it felt this and other works of Banks show his interest in these fields, and the discovery of the Higgs Boson perhaps would have caused him to frame the conception of the Sublime slightly differently. Or not.

Anyway, hilariously best name for a ship yet: Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing General Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Mere Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath, abbreviated to Mistake Not … until someone really needed impressing upon them exactly the nature of the mistake they were making.

And as with quite a few Banks novels, this tells the same story from a different aspect. It’s possibly a good counterpoint to The Algebraist, being in that work the object of desire upon which the narrative turned was a crucial, civilisations-changing thing, wherein the actions of the involved players, either towards or against this object, if not forgivable because of this, at least perhaps understandable. In The Hydrogen Sonata, it’s pretty clear early on the nature of this object at most would merely confirm what most suspect, yet all participants even so continue with the same extreme behaviour. All this for nothing.

Nothing, yes, yet as always with Banks, it’s the story, the characters, and their moral and ethical entanglements.

And it’s a joy to see certain elements return, especially those I recognise most from Feersum Endjinn, and The Bridge: the planet-girding, 200 kilometre high pyramidal city and its airship, the similarly fractal castle of one Mind’s representation of itself.

Yes, worth reading if you like Banks, or even if you’ve never read him before. I suspect I’ll be undertaking a second, more leisurely pass quite soon given absence of euros and only Plato on the shelf — though I do have some heavy Chinese history and anthropology to shove through, and thinking of a return to Hannah Arendt. And Hannu Rajaniemi’s sequel to The Quantum Thief is waiting for me. Anyway, The Hydrogen Sonata, yes, smiling still, and Iain Banks still firmly and conclusively embedded in the category of “New book? Will buy!” And a beautiful cover also.