Iain Banks

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[1] 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[2] 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)
Excession

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.

[1] Iain has two writing personas – Iain M. Banks for his science fiction, and Iain Banks for his more mainstream work
[2]The Culture

the Culture, a post-scarcity semi-anarchist utopia consisting of various humanoid races and managed by very advanced artificial intelligences