Iain Banks – farewell

It was only recently that I wrote about hearing the news that Iain Banks was (very) ill, then yesterday heard the news that he’d passed away.

Damnit.

He was an enormous influence on my reading from the late 80’s and early 90’s. A new book by Banks (M. or not) was always an event, and something to be anticipated, savoured and enjoyed. His books have long been a staple foundation of my bookshelves, often in multiple copies as they fall victim to much re-reading and passing around.

There was an outpouring of grief and condolences on my twitter feed yesterday (though, interestingly, virtually nothing on FB – Twitter, you have exceptional taste).

Lots of people wrote lovely things about Iain – Nick Harkaway’s “So long, IMB, I never knew ye” and Neil Gaiman’s “Iain Banks. With or without the M.” being the first of many which come to mind.

There’s also a truly fantastic collection of quotes on GoodReads from Iain and from his books. If you’ve never read any of his stuff, start there. Find a quote you like, then go buy the  book. Or, if you’re already a fan, buy a book for someone who’s never read any of his work. As Neil himself puts it:

Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.

Me? I can only echo what everyone else has already said, in many other places, and far better than I am able.

Farewell, Iain. Here’s to you and your stories.

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