The Culture Wiki
The Hydrogen Sonata
Author Iain M. Banks
Publisher Orbit Books
Publication Date 4 October 2012 (UK)
9 October 2012 (USA)
Page Count 528
ISBN 978-0356501505

The Hydrogen Sonata is Iain M. Banks' ninth novel in the Culture series, and, due to his passing, also the last.

I was lying on a sort of bubble-bed wotsit at the side of a large swimming pool, in the sunlight at a spa complex called Archena, in southern Spain, in October 2011, thinking about an edition of QI I’d seen a week or two earlier, in which Stephen Fry had mentioned something called The Great Disappointment. Bang; the plot of The Hydrogen Sonata just unfolded in my head.

–Iain M. Banks , Orbit Books 25th Anniversary Interview[1]


The Hydrogen Sonata is about the Gzilt, a civilisation that almost joined the Culture 10,000 years before the novel, that have decided to Sublime, leaving behind “the Real” to take up residence in higher dimensions. The Zihdren-Remnant, what is left of an older species that Sublimed before the Culture was formed, send an envoy to confess a long-kept secret before the Gzilt depart but a Gzilt warship intercepts and destroys their ship several weeks before the Sublimation is due to take place in order to preserve that secret.

The story follows a group of Culture Minds that are trying to find out the secret and what to do after they find it. The search centers around a truly ancient Culture citizen (Ngaroe QiRia) who is supposed to have taken part in the setup of the Culture some 10.000 years ago.

Artefacts etc.[]

  • Antagonistic Undecagonstring, an eleven stringed musical instrument, designed to be played by a humanoid musician with four arms
  • Aphore, an animal a human can ride, analogous to a horse
  • Apranipryla, a giant raft, on Perytch IV, capable of storing a body, in a usable state, for decades
  • Book of Truth, aka BoT, Gzilt holy book
  • Emergency Helmet Collar, a Gzilt safety device, worn like a thick necklace, creates a helmet shaped protective area when needed
  • Hydrogen Sonata, a piece of music, clashing and atonal, written for the Antagonistic Undecagonstring by T'ikrin Vilabier, as "a joke", according to QiRia
  • Interesting Times Gang, aka ITG, mentioned
  • Raspulescent, adj, Of a simulated scenario: becoming ripe with political intrigue, Presumed to be coined after the Russian historical figure, Grigori Rasputin.

Civilisations & Factions[]

  • Dolstre
  • Gzilt
  • Issialiayns, of Perytch IV, a water world
  • Liseiden
  • Oglari
  • Ronte
  • The Culture
  • Uwanui, of Cethyd
  • Werpesh, builders of the Girdle City on Xown, also the sculptors of Eshri
  • Zihdren-Remnanter, the portion of the Zihdren that are in contact with the Gzilt
  • Zihdren, a sublimed race


  • Berdle, avatar of Mistake Not...
  • Boyuter, Gzilt Marshal
  • Briper Drodj, a Gzilt scribe, a disgraced, ruined trader from a fallen aristocratic family with classical military connections, writer of the Book of Truth
  • Cagad Agansu, Gzilt
  • Chekwri, a Gzilt Marshal
  • Chuje, a child
  • Docent Luzuge
  • Eglyle Parinherm, aka Unit Y988, a Gzilt android
  • Folrison
  • Frix, Gzilt
  • Gaed, Gzilt, Tech Commander
  • Gazan'tyo, Gzilt General
  • Geljemyn, the Gzilt president.
  • Hassipura Plyn-Frie, Culture drone, retired. The size and shape of a large grey suitcase. A rather battered and dusty large grey suitcase.
  • Jevan
  • Jelwilin Keril, the Iwenick Cultural Mission Director
  • Jonsker Ap-Candrechenat, Drone, Culture representative from the Beats Working, to the Ronte
  • Mierbuenes, an Iwenick, a Liseiden Ambassador to the Gzilt
  • Ngaroe QiRia, aka Isseren, aka Tursensa Ngaroe Hgan QiRia dam Yutton, aka Yutten Turse, an ancient Culture citizen, supposed to have taken part in the setup of the Culture
  • Ny-Xandabo-Tyun
  • Nyomulde
  • Oceanic-Dissonance, oZihdren-Remnanter Adjunct Entity
  • Orpe, aka Virisse
  • Ossebri 17 Haldesib, Ronte, Swarm Prince, Sub Swarm Divisional Head, Fleet Officer in Charge,
  • Pyan, Cossont's familiar
  • Quvarond
  • Reikl, Gzilt General, Marshal elect
  • Scoaliera Tefwe, a friend and a lover of Ngaroe QiRia, when he was already a very old man and she had been of conventional middle age – a little under two hundred
  • Septame Banstegeyne
  • Sklom, avatar of Warm, Considering
  • Solbli
  • T.C. Vilabier, aka Vilabier The Younger
  • Uhtryn, combat arbite, companion to Cagad Agansu
  • Vyr Cossont, a musician, the protagonist
  • Warib, Cossont's mother
  • Ximenyr, The Master of the Revels, Girdlecity
  • Yegres, Quavarond and Int'yom - Gzilt trimes
  • Yenilve, Gzilt
  • Yoawin, an aphore, hired by Tefwe.
  • Yueweag Etalde, commissar colonel
  • Ziborlun, an avatar of Passing By And Thought I'd Drop In


  • 5*Gelish-Oplule, Gzilt regimental cruiser
  • 7*Uagren, Gzilt
  • A Fine Disregard For Awkward Facts, GSV
  • Anything Legal Considered, GCU
  • Beats Working, Culture, Limited Contact Unit, Scree Class, 5 crew
  • Caconym
  • Contents May Differ, GSV
  • Displacement Activity, Contact Unit (GCU)
  • Empiricist, GSV
  • Eshri, a Gzilt sculpt planet
  • Equatorial 353, vacuum dirigible, the last airship travelling through the Girdlecity
  • Exultation-Parsimony III
  • Fzan-Juym, sub-summit-orbit satellite of Eshri
  • Gellemtyan-Asool-Anafawaya, Liseiden flagship, Collective Purposes vessel, named for a Liseiden hero
  • Headcrash, GOU, Delinquent-class Offensive Unit
  • Iberre, Jelwilin Keril's private yacht.
  • IR-FWS 8*Churkun
  • Kakistocrat, Home GSV to Caconym
  • Melancholia Enshrines All Triumph, Ronte Flagship
  • Mistake Not..., Culture, Erratic Eccentric
  • Outloaded, Culture
  • Outstanding Contribution To The Historical Process, VFP
  • Passing By And Thought I'd Drop In, GSV
  • Pressure Drop
  • Refreshingly Unconcerned With The Vulgar Exigencies Of Veracity, Very Fast Picket
  • Smile Tolerantly, Once a GCU, now a Culture-Zihdren-Remnanter hybrid
  • Teething Problems, GSV
  • The Washing Instructions Chip In Life's Rich Tapestry, GSV
  • Uagren, Gzilt Battle Cruiser
  • Unreliable Witness, GSV, The Smile Tolerantly's old home GSV
  • Value Judgement, Very Fast Picket
  • Warm, Considering, GCU, Delta class
  • Xenocrat, GOU, Delinquent-class Offensive Unit
  • You Call This Clean?, LSV
  • Zoologist, Superlifter, Boulder class


  • Ablate
  • Barlbanim, Gzilt world
  • Cethyd, a planet in the Heluduz system
  • Chyan’tya, a location on the Honn plate of the Dibaldipen Orbital
  • Dibaldipen, Culture Orbital
  • Eshri a Gzilt world in the Izenion system, a Werpesh Sculpt planet, home of Fourteenth Regiment HQ
  • Girdlecity, a large city on Xown
  • Heluduz, a star system
  • Honn, a plate on the Dibaldipen Orbital
  • Hzu Sea, a sea on Zyse
  • Izenion, Gzilt world, home of Fourteenth Regiment
  • Kwaalon
  • Land, the landmass in the Pinicoln Sea, on Zyse
  • Launch Falls, in Girdlecity
  • Loliscombana, ??
  • M'yon
  • Neressi fictitious location, claimed by Yutten Turse, another alias but spelt backwards
  • Ocean, an ocean on Zyse
  • Ospin, a Bokri, microrobital, in a red giant system
  • Perytch IV, a water world, home of the Issialiayns
  • Sapanatcheon, a star
  • The Mountains of the Sound, on Cethyd, in the Heluduz system
  • Taushe, Gzilt world
  • Xown, a Gzilt world in the Mureite system.
  • Zyse, a Gzilt world


To be Added