Currently reading (and enjoying) Iain M. Banks’ latest novel, Surface Detail. It’s a monster of a book, and if initial impressions hold true, Mr Banks is back on form. He has that enviable skill of turning out phrases so delicious that you have to pause and savour them, rolling them round in your mind to appreciate them fully.
A case in point is the opening line of The Crow Road, which is this:
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
Seriously, that’s got to be one of the best opening lines in a novel, ever. Who could not want to read on after that?
China Mieville and Jon Courtenay Grimwood are others who can do that to me. Though latterly Mr Grimwood has felt a little off his earlier form – his Arabesk Sequence is utterly superb and has a whole host of bits which I find myself re-reading and re-reading trying to work out exactly how he’s managed to distill a particular point down in such a way. There’s a bit in Pashazade (iirc) where the protagonist gets mugged (well, someone *tries* to mug him, at least), and it’s just beautifully written.
Then of course, there’s Michael Marshall Smith. One of my favourite authors – his Only Forward ranks way up on my Top Ten Books You Really Ought To Read list, followed closely by (or preceded by) the equally impressive Spares. Not quite so keen on his Michael Marshall books – they’re more ‘mainstream’ thrillers (for a given value of mainstream – still dark, gritty and well written, but not as groundbreaking or brilliant as his earlier, more sci-fi(ish) output).
His short stories are quite another thing, and utterly fabulous. ‘More Tomorrow…’ (of the short story collection of the same name) is utterly terrifying and has one of the most unpleasantly perfect last lines of a story, ever. Makes me shudder just thinking about it. The Man Who Drew Cats is superb, as is When God Lived in Kentish Town. Actually, they’re all great. If you can lay your hands on a copy of the rarer (only a thousand copies, signed and numbered), more complete collection of his short stories, ‘More Tomorrow and Other Stories’, I’d highly recommend it.