The world lost one of its greats over the weekend. Iain Banks, one of our finest novelists, whisky expert, raconteur and one of the nicest men you could ever hope to meet, lost his battle with cancer on Sunday, 9th June. Tributes have already been paid and, no doubt, more will be forthcoming; these are some of ours:
The ship didn’t even have a name.
This, believe it or not, is the first line in the first science fiction novel that Iain M. Banks published, Consider Phlebas. It’s too soon for retrospectives – the wound is too fresh – but I suspect Iain would have appreciated the irony of beginning an SF career that brought new wit and invention to the naming of starships with such a line.
No doubt many words of appreciation will be written over the coming days and weeks, many books re-read and many glasses of whisky raised to his memory. For my part, I think I’ll look not to the past but to the future. Rather than thinking of Iain as ‘gone’, I prefer to think of him as ‘away’ – away on a journey without end, travelling the length and breadth of the Culture, collecting new tales and charming all he meets; standing, no doubt, on the bridge of the GCU Dramatic Exit, Or, Thank you And Goodnight.
No, thank you, Iain.
I originally wrote this when the news that Iain Banks had terminal cancer was made public. The news yesterday of his death prompts me to put it here now. I thought I had longer for the re-read . . .
I read The Wasp Factory a long time ago. It’s only in the last year or so (after thirty years of being an English student, a bookseller and a publisher) that I have, belatedly, decided that the race ‘to have read’ is a pitiless and destructive thing and that re-reading is good and valuable. And as is the sad way of these things, the recent awful news from Iain means that The Wasp Factory has pushed its way right up the re-read pile. I’ll be a different reader, the book will be a different book, Iain Banks will reach out across the years and knock me sideways again. He might do it differently, he might knock me a different direction but he’ll do it. Because what I do remember from reading The Wasp Factory all those years ago (more than twenty), is its extraordinary power. Its willingness to take literature and shake it until it whimpered. Its ability to evoke a lonely landscape and the people changed by it. Its willingness to shock but also its readiness to care, care about people on the margins, care about how words work. I’d never read anything like it when I read it then. I’m prepared to bet I’ll still have read nothing like when I read it again later this year. And that’s the mark of a great book and a great writer. The Wasp Factory, like any great book is one that will last you along all the road. One for the road, Mr. Banks. Thank you.
R.I.P. Iain Banks, taken from us too soon with too much still to say. All at Gollancz are deeply saddened by the news and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.