For 25 years, Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Banks has written novels set in the futuristic universe of the Culture, a lawless, post-Singularity civilization in which enlightened humans pursue hedonism while super-powerful artificial intelligences manage the store. The series’ big question: What does a liberal civilization with unlimited options do with itself? Especially when it’s confronted with a rival operating on different rules?
That question rears its head again in The Hydrogen Sonata (Orbit), Banks’ newest Culture novel, when one of the Culture’s historical allies prepares to ascend to another plane of reality. Banks gives readers a sense of the complicated inter-civilization politics involved and takes on thorny questions about the reality of a society’s founding myths. The characters struggle with the morality of A.I., the ethics of backing up one’s soul, and the economics of post-Singularity technological progress. But mostly they struggle to keep things interesting—a problem Banks never has.