Horrible news about Iain (M.) Banks yesterday. In his words:
I am officially Very Poorly.
After a couple of surgical procedures, I am gradually recovering from jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct, but that – it turns out – is the least of my problems.
I first encountered Iain’s work in his sci-fi ‘M.’ persona when I picked up a copy of Consider Phlebas in a tiny bookshop opposite Leeds University in 1989. I fell in love with his writing immediately – high concept space opera of the finest kind, with changelings, absurdly intelligent giant spaceships with utterly wonderful names, and brilliant characters doing horrible things to each other. As I was a little late to the party I quickly acquired The Player of Games and Use of Weapons, the latter of which is one of my all-time favourite books.
I discovered that he also wrote more mainstream (if that’s the right word) novels, and was introduced to The Wasp Factory.
If you haven’t read it, go and get hold of a copy immediately. Be warned, it’s dark. And funny. And horrible. And brilliant. I saw a stage production of it many years ago, and there are still bits of it which I can’t get out of my head.
I’ve been a keen follower of his work ever since. Mostly I prefer his science fiction Culture books, but all of his books are beautifully written and linger in the mind for long after the final page.
His Culture books are renowned for the superbly-named ships which form such a large part of the fabric of the society. You’ve got the CGU Just Read The Instructions, the GSV Unfortunate Conflict of Evidence, the dROU Frank Exchange of Views, the GCU Poke It With A Stick… the list goes on. Go have a look at the list of ship names.
My favourites, then. In no particular order
Use of Weapons
Against a Dark Background (not a Culture book, but still utterly brilliant)
and for the non-sci-fi buffs
The Crow Road, Complicity and, of course, The Wasp Factory.
The Crow Road has the best opening line of a book, ever.
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
which is pure Banks – full of dark humour.
I’d also highly recommend Raw Spirit, a travelogue odyssey about whisky and finding the perfect dram, with meanderings and musings on Scotland’s ‘Great Wee Roads’ and his love of driving on them. I’m not really a whisky fan, but Banks’ sheer enthusiasm on the subject made a convert of me.
Go, check out his books, and raise a glass to him.
 Iain has two writing personas – Iain M. Banks for his science fiction, and Iain Banks for his more mainstream work
the Culture, a post-scarcity semi-anarchist utopia consisting of various humanoid races and managed by very advanced artificial intelligences
- Iain Banks, my Fife friend and storyteller extraordinaire – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
- The Crow Road – a few words about Iain Banks (wordlander.wordpress.com)
- Iain Banks, one of the greatest living Scottish writers, has revealed that he has terminal cancer and is unlikely to live more than a year (dailyrecord.co.uk)
3 thoughts on “Iain Banks”
I had a good sob about it last night, crying like a denied drug addict in a shocked spill of abject horror. His Culture novels are some of my most treasured possessions. I can’t put a value on how much they have expanded my imagination or lifted my spirits when I have needed to escape. They still do. Gratitude seems pathetic, dwarfed even against the finality of the diagnosis and the sheer cheek of being mugged by one’s own body. Cancer is what it is, I know this, yet I can’t accept it, as if denying it will somehow send it like a naughty child to its room.
If I could, I would tell him how thankful I am for the Culture, how his books have carried me through serious illness and instilled a sense of hope in frankly barren times, before asking for Demeisen’s phone number.