Monday, June 10, 2013

RIP: Iain (M) Banks

I was very saddened to learn that Iain Banks died yesterday. I came to his books late, as I often seem to, not wanting to trust received opinion and waiting until other snuck him under my radar: a climbing friend told me the surprise ending of The Wasp Factory in the Partick Tavern one evening; a fellow PhD student talked of a gambler in a book he'd read who had his face removed and replaced with a metal plate so that he kept a good poker face (from Consider Phlebas); another climbing acquaintance keeping to himself in the Smiddy in Dundonnell, with just a copy of Use of Weapons projecting from his sleeping bag.

Sneak in he did, and reading a new Banksie novel became a special treat reserved for holidays. I still associate certain passages with where I first read them. The Bridge was read in Peanmeanach bothy and Against a Dark Background on Crete.

I am very grateful to him for starting me to read Science Fiction again. I had been a keen reader in my teens, but lapsed for years until I found his tales of the Culture. This may be his lasting monument: a wonderful counterblast to all those dystopias that I read in the 70s. In it, you can live (almost) forever, enhance your body, safely alter your mind as you think fit, change sex and generally have a lot of fun. He makes this all sound plausible and consistent, but none of it is taken too seriously. One thing that turned me away from a lot of Sci-fi was the po-faced bland seriousness of it. No fear of that with Banksie. One favourite moment has the protagonist (probably one of his very convincing female ones) entering a Ship when they are having a bit of a knees-up. The Ship's avatar advances in the form of a Teddy bear and announces "I need a hug!".