Mailvox: The Hydrogen Sonata

TT notices what I’ve been reading recently and has a question or two:

A couple of years ago I tripped across Iain Banks’ Culture series and fell in love with it.  I used Player of Games as the gateway to get my friends hooked. I was greatly saddened by Banks’ far too premature death.

Have you read the others in the series?  Are you enjoying the Hydrogen Sonata?

But for the consciousness uploading, I think we’re getting close to the technology that could create the Culture.  Or, at least, put an end to want.  That idea really excites me. What are your thoughts on the subject?

I have read most of the others in the series. While I quite like the concept of the sonata and I found it initially intriguing, the book itself has thus far proved to be remarkably tedious. Part of the problem is that the central plot device, which is the Subliming of the non-Culture race, is almost totally uninteresting to the reader; with precisely one exception that I will not mention for spoiler reasons, there is literally no reason why he should care about it one way or another. That being said, I’m only halfway-through it, so I cannot honestly say that I have an opinion on it until I finish the book.

The problem with the Culture series is the same problem that Star Trek has faced for decades. First, imagine that all the Earth’s problems are solved! Okay… so now what?

The answer, apparently, is to go outside the area in which the problems are solved and then recreate those old problems using new and different cultures to take the place of the divisions inside the amalgamated culture. What this represents is a failure of the imagination; neither Banks nor Roddenberry were ever able to actually present a credible future of the sort they were nominally envisioning.

It’s remarkable how much war and violence there is in these officially peaceful cultures, is there not? Why, it’s almost as if the alternative it literally too boring to imagine!

Because he was considerably more talented and imaginative than Roddenberry and his heirs at the helm of the Star Trek franchise, Banks’s Culture feels much more rationally credible than Roddenberry’s UN Stormtroopers in Space nonsense, but it is still, at the end of the day, an artistic and imaginative failure. In fact, it is a testament to the man’s skill as a science fiction writer that he managed to make such a comprehensive failure so interesting.

As for the potential end of want, I have been thinking about that a lot lately and will reserve my thoughts on the matter for a future post. Post-scarcity economics is a fascinating topic, but I would not consider the Culture to be a serious take on it for reasons that should be discernible in light of what I have written above.