Book Review: The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

This is the latest instalment in Iain Banks’s Culture series, and let me say, right off the bat, it doesn’t disappoint. The story is huge – epic, in fact – spanning stars, civilisations, and a cast of extraordinary proportions, each of whom is given enough attention to make them as large as life. As you might expect, the plot matches the setting perfectly; it is sprawling, complex and, like much of Banks’s work, is not so much about space battles fought between advanced cultures (though there is some of that), but a study of perhaps one basic question. In this case, the question is this: Just because your race can evolve, en masse, to a higher state of being – should it?


Yes, there’s a lot of techy stuff that sci-fi buffs (like me) will love, but if that’s not your bag then the story can carry itself without having to understand how AIs view virtual realities, and why a ship large enough to carry billions of people has to start slowing down days before it reaches orbit. In my mind, focussing on the story rather than the tech is the essence of good sic-fi.

Some of the body-modifications are a bit gruesome , but given the light humour that pervades the whole book, I don’t think it’s anything that’ll leave the reader scarred for life.

So for me, this is the best of the Culture novels I’ve read so far; perhaps it’s because there was less focus on the benevolent (interfering?) super civilisation after which the series is named. Or perhaps it was because it was a genuinely funny book that raised questions the human race may have to ask itself – a hundred thousand years from now.

Review: Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman

I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to get to this book; I read The Forever War a few years back and decided it was one of the best piece of Science Fiction writing I’d ever come across. Anyway, here’s the review:

It must be Joe Haldeman’s background as both scientist and combat veteran that allows him to deliver such a stark perspective of both the futility and strange necessity of war. Like his first book, The Forever War, Forever Peace is the story of a long running conflict told from the perspective of a foot soldier. The writing is vivid and pared to the bone, leaving no excess detail to shroud the numbness that overcomes those forced to kill in a manner alien to their nature.
The book is often described as sequel to The Forever War, which I don’t think is strictly true. I would say that it’s more of a ‘late prequel’, telling of a period time in Earth’s history that may have occurred while the Forever War was being fought. Anyway, it’s an exciting, well-paced read that effectively describes a world in surprisingly few pages.

The Science Fiction element is almost incidental; it’s Haldeman’s getting inside the characters’ heads that really brings the whole piece to life. The story could have been about any war in any time, and I think the lessons demonstrated would have been the same. Again, I feel it’s the writer’s experiences in Viet Nam that enable him to drive this point home so vividly.

If you’re a Science Fiction buff, then Forever Peace is a must.