Consider Phlebas remains for me the gold standard of Culture novels. So stand by for comparisons to it and complaints that Banks didn't just reproduce the exact same plot. But anyway, The Hydrogen Sonata is another book set in the Culture Universe. That means space opera and fast talking AIs.
The Hydrogen Sonata is about one Vyr Cossont, a member of the Gzilt civilisation in their final days. The civilisation as a whole is preparing to Sublime, that is transcend the physical universe. However with just a few days to go before the big event a dirty secret threatens to emerge that could wreck the whole affair. So it's up to Vyr and whoever she happens by to figure out the secret, decide whether to let everyone know and not get killed by the entire army that's after her.
The Hydrogen Sonata can be viewed as a topic book. It takes a particular topic, the process of Subliming, and demystifies it. In previous Culture books Subliming was mentioned and those who had done so were cosmic forces interacting with the mundane world only through visions or occasionally supernovae. Here we get to see it happen and realise the people who undergo it aren't ascetics or mighty beings, they are really just people. All the other topics around subliming are mentioned. Those who choose to remain behind, what happens to all the technology, how people live out their remaining days when there's a definite end to civilisation. It's a monumental book that succeeds in digesting this vast setting concept and boiling it down for us. There's very little to beat the opening of Hydrogen Sonata, as Vyr walks through a near abandoned city, her home city. Later on she visits a party boat representing the other extreme, a massive celebration of life before it ends as we know it. There's pay-off for it later on too.
Unfortunately it's like the plot gets in the way for the rest. Vyr is whisked away and at the same time thrown out of her own story. Various other characters take over, especially the Culture who are only tangentially involved. They're not bad characters, even the antagonists get Banks careful development to the point where you can understand their motives. The problem is they just end up spoiling the mood of Vyr's story. Her ending is the real ending but it's crammed in amidst endings for every character we met, so the effect is lost. The ending is in many ways similar to Consider Phlebas. A lot of people die for dubious achievements and we're forced to ask if anything the main characters did really mattered.
The Hydrogen Sonata is almost two books. One a very interesting look at the end of civilisation through one of its members, the other a lot of people trying to out-maneuver the apocalypse. Perhaps it would have been a better book if it had just been one or the other. Looks like this sonata should have been a solo.
Consider Phlebas remains for me the gold standard of Culture novels. I loved the protagonist. I loved the story set against the backdrop of a major interstellar war. I loved the depressing ending. I even love the cannibalism. So a true sequel has a lot to live up to. Look to Windward both achieves and fails this for highly personal reasons. So let's jump right in shall we?
Look to Windward is set for the most part on the Masaq' Orbital. It's just another Culture ring that orbits space and is home to billions of people. The events of the novel are set around an anniversary of sorts, light from the detonation of two stars blown up at the climax of the war from Consider Phlebas is finally reaching the orbital eight hundred years later. It's a cause for celebration and reflection. To complicate this an emissary is arriving from a species just recently recovered from a civil war. A war the Culture caused. So Culture citizens have cause for reflection on sins long past and sins recent. As the emissary arrives Culture delegates, the Homomdan ambassador and others plan and worry their way through daily life and the anniversary. But the emissary has a secret. He's on a mission of vengeance. The Culture started a war that killed five billion of his people and he's going to repay them, life for life.
Look to Windward is a very standard novel in the Culture setting. That's not a putdown. It's a portrayal of the setting in a time of peace, when people's greatest concerns are whether they'll go skydiving or lavarafting tomorrow. Banks goes so far as to have sections entirely of dialogue, drowning us in irreverent concerns of background characters. The main characters engage with all of this to varying degrees. Ziller, the outcast composer revels and detests it but appreciates the culture. The Homomdan ambassador, representative of a people who fought against the Culture all those years ago participates with some bemusement. And then there's Hub, the massive computer who runs the entire Orbital. The novel meanders with these characters and others, even as it slowly builds the tension with Quilan.
Quilan, the emissary sent to kill. He is in a sense the main character of the piece, even though he's the antagonist. His story is the very beginning of the book and his history is a sharp contrast to the ease the others exist in. It's a testement to Banks' skill that he uses such a bold idea and makes it work. You engage with Quilan, you learn his assignment as he does, in the end you even sympathise with him, even as he readies to commit mass murder.
There's a lot of twists to the story as it goes on, some you see coming, others you may miss. The resolution was too neat for me, though looking back there was a blink and you'll miss it Chekov's Gun. The book is a true sequel because it is about the grief and loss that comes after war, whether that war be recent or long ago If there's one narrative compromise that sticks out, it's that these people need therapists.
In short, A worthy follow-up to be sure.
For the young devil in a hurry I provide these useful notes which may serve one to the purposes of success, should one find themselves on a prime plane in dialogue with forces of the planes above.
Always remember that while we may hold dear these tenets and execute them to the fullest, our counterparts can be less wholesome in their dedication. Plan accordingly.
After these come the responsibilities. These are defined in less clear language and thus open to interpretation. Be assured that our counterparts will treat them as if they were rock solid. Do not disabuse them of this notion, no matter how much it may amuse.
“We should be under G.” Sable leant over the stand
The doorman remained unmoved “I’m sorry, I don’t see it.”
“It must be a mix-up. Let me just ring the office.”
“If you could step out of the queue?”
Other groups filed past, security checking them off the list. Sable turned a shade of red, her phone ringing out.
Ben’s tone was gentle “It’s alright, I didn’t really want to go anyway.”
Sable turned away “I am so sorry for wasting your time.”
He patted her on the shoulder, eyes drawn to the people filing through. One caught his eye, a lanky business man with long, greasy hair. Recognition kicked in “Xac?”
“Alright, Safeway? You waited for me.” Xac stepped up to the door, flashing a card from his wallet “These pozzers are with me, Jack.”
The doorman frowned, forgetting he had a name tag on “Of course Mr...”
Xac leaned over the clipboard running his finger down the list “Ah! There we are.”
“The Matlock Agency?”
Xac winked “That’s us. Alright if I tip you, Jack? You’re looking bang up.”
“That’s alright Mr Musonius,” said Jack, waving them through.
Continue reading "Golden Apples"
Another day in hell.
Matthew pushed open the glass door, staring bleary eyed at his phone.
“Sync complete,” said a pleasant female voice.
He stopped in the doorway and took a breath. Sweet, pleasant air lolled around him. The old security guard at reception nodded in greeting
“Matt, how you doing today.”
He waved Matthew through.
Matthew walked. The corridor rose gently underneath him, becoming a glass umbilical that parted the crisp, green lawns surrounding the building proper. His phone rumbled in his pocket, handling all the automated requests and scripted tasks he’d set up. He paused at the door, detecting the faint sounds of music, then swiped himself in.
Rows of racks laid before him, circling a central control station. The hum of a thousand servers lulled him as the gentle strings of Vivaldi excited him.
“Spring, uh in E major?”
“You’re getting sharper, Matt!” An older man emerged from the rows, his pockets stuffed with spare parts.
“Oh hey, morning Steve.”
The technician leaned on one of the earthing rods. A faded nametag hanging onto his turtleneck read CEO
“I was just putting a few optimizations in on Block C. You could give me a hand, or did you want to check status from the panopticon first?”
“You’re rewiring the HPC clusters?” Matthew pulled out his phone and scrolled through a list of success messages
“I figured why not? Your test worked so well, we can get the entire Block converted across today.”
Matthew rubbed his hands together “I can’t wait to start.”
Matthew lurched upright, the screen coming into focus in front of him. Where- oh right. Another day in hell.
“What?” he snapped.
Daniel appeared on the edge of vision “Thought you might want lunch.”
“Yes, No. I mean, I’m very busy.”
“I can see that,” Matthew was always impressed by Daniel’s ability to accept lies. It was probably why he did so well here “But I snagged leftovers from a meeting.”
Matthew jumped up “Let’s roll,” he spared a glance over the other desks but Steve and Kobe were gone.
Daniel led the way to the meeting room. He even held the door open for Matthew. There were indeed muffins on the table. However they were not alone. Amelia sat facing the window. A lowly intern, she’d yet to perfect the thousand yard stare. And at the head, Farah, one of the ambitious young project managers.
“After all I’ve done for you. Traitor!” Matthew fled.
Daniel stepped inside with a pained expression “I tried.”
Amelia watched as Matthew flew down the corridor, collided with an analyst and yelled an apology. She turned back to the meeting. Daniel, resigned to the madness, dug into the muffins. Their project manager Farah was preternaturally calm “That went pretty well. You were supposed to give him the requirements deck beforehand though.”
Daniel shrugged “He would have known something was up.”
Farah tapped on a conference phone “M… M… what’s his extension?”
“He’s ex-directory. You know IT. Amelia has his number.”
“That’s for emergencies,” Amelia said protectively.
“Amelia,” Farah leaned forward “Let’s do a little roleplay.”
“The building is on fire. Can I have the number?”
“Remember we’re roleplaying. You, Daniel and I are writhing in agony as fire consumes our flesh.”
“It burns.” said Daniel between muffins.
Reluctantly Amelia produced a dog-eared note.
Farah smiled “The first rule in business is knowing how to deal with people.”
She dialled the number and switched to speaker phone.
Back to the hell that spawned ye!”the voice sounded slightly out of breath.
“Matthew, was it? This is Farah from Projects. I was told you have just the skills we’re looking for.”
“No, I don’t know anything about that and I’m busy with a priority incident!”
“I already cleared the time with your manager. You’ll be released from all ongoing maintenance to work with us.”
“Satan is the father of lies.”
Farah nodded to Daniel. He cleared his mouth of crumbs.
“And as for you Judas! I will see you-“
“This is just a scoping exercise, you won’t be required to give concrete estimates.”
There was a long pause at the other end of the phone
“I want that in writing.”
Amelia realised she should probably be taking notes.
Wait, let me recheck the title. 2312 is not this year's round-up of what I played but a book title. I've not read lots of books this year, snacking rarely between mealtimes. However this was probably the one that stuck with me. There's an amusing divergence between books and games. If I said I hadn't finished a book and tried to review it, I'd be laughed out of town. Yet some games are downright unfinishable, with bugs out to here or gameplay that loops round like Finnegan's Wake(which I promise to review as soon as I finish it). Anyway, no more digressions. It's time for the review.
Continue reading "The Year in Review: 2312"
The Age of Heroes was ending. Metal screamed across a twisted landscape. Spirits fluttered in their lantern cages as Edward sped along the highway. Overgrown fields passed him by. Scorched battlefields, Collapsed buildings and places fouler still were background to his quest. Born of steel, his steed spat fire as its wheels devoured the ancient road. Edward patted the arcane beast’s flank, looking ahead to the past. Skeletal spires split the mauve sky. Englitch had forged their cities from black steel, though never so black as their hearts. The beams of ancient searchlights roved the skyline. They had for a thousand years, as they would for a thousand more. Their infernal contractors bound in perpetuity. This was more than some demon haunted ruin. This was home. No wonder Edward wasn’t happy about it.
Continue reading "God save us from the Queen"
Not my first but probably my most successful D&D campaign, Planescapin began back in 2013 and ran until July 2016. It finished successfully, albeit slightly rushed due to growing player fatigue. For a Planescape campaign it was surprisingly Prime focused, through my fault rather than intention. The group never really got involved in faction politics or the great conflicts of the setting, with the planes becoming exotic locales for them to visit in between wrestling with plot. What follows is my own retrospective of what happened, what worked and what didn't.
Continue reading "Retrospective: Planescapin"
The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. --André Breton
Space was important. there’d never been space in Vienna. Space provided room for ideas to grow.
Charlie unlocked the door, slipping the key back into his pocket. It was the ornate one Sable had given him the morning they’d met.
”You look like someone who needs space.”
He’d followed her, the little tramp and his darling. He’d sketched her across the street, up the stairs into the empty room above the pottery store. They’d talked about the war, about Manchuria, about her cafe. They’d gotten closer and closer. And then she’d left.
“Don’t worry, just drop the key back when you’re done.”
Continue reading "Manchurian Tramp 2"
A rainy prelude
No one went thirsty in Pascolo. A throat going dry had only to open its mouth. Not that this fact was appreciated. Travellers crowded under the overhangs outside the city wall, edging each other out for the dry spots. Labourers rubbed shoulders with traders, heroes with vagabonds, though few could tell the difference. There was a begrudging acceptance among the crowd, everyone hated the weather. Beggars were the only ones that dared the rain, going from group to group in search of a stray crust or a pitying noble too much coin. A pair of them walked along the edges, rain running through the holes in their caps, bare feet slapping off wet stone.
“Scuse me. Can you spare a bite?”
The old man looked up from a bowl of rice, leaving down his fork. He sniffed loudly.
“Why don’t ye get a job and earn it.”
Continue reading "The Sinking City: Rainy Prelude"
Rin Melior waited. The lights above him blinked and sparked out of the air. There were demons in the castle. He didn't see them, but had expected them now for years. His warnings to Baron Parva were not listenend to and now it was too late. Far too late for now, anyway.
Rin was a honourable samurai for fourteen years. When he was young he watched the bushi and he said to dad "I want to be on the banners daddy."
Dad said "No! You will BE KILL BY DEMONS"
There was a time when he believed him. Then as he got oldered he stopped. But now in the alternate demi-plane of the castle he knew there were demons.
"This is Parva" the sending crackered. "You must fight the demons!"
So Rin gotted his celestial blade of the heavens and blew up the wall.
"HE GOING TO KILL US" said the demons "I will shoot at him" said the demogorgon and he fired the magic missiles. Rin path of warred at him and tried to blew him up. But then the ceiling fell and they were trapped and not able to kill.
"No! I must kill the demons" he shouted The sending said "No, Rin. You are the demons"
And then Rin was a kitsune.
(Copyright ShadowWolfXVI forever)
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. - Romans 1:22-23
Night was still waking. A golden halo merged with the orange lamps of the city. The city itself did not mind. Basking in the late summer heat it lived and loved as it had always done. Couples strolled beneath the lamps. Revellers chased one another across car wide streets. Only the alley behind block C was unlit, a pool of shadow amidst an orange land. It hid a lonely pair of eyes gazing up at the apartments.
Continue reading "Iconoclast"
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What it's all about
This is the Devpit, where all my ideas, projects and thoughts end up. Have a dig and find something that interests you.