Iain M Banks has died

11 06 2013

Iain Banks, 1954–2013. Died from gall bladder cancer.

He’d warned his fans that this was coming, but it’s still unrelievedly sad news. The saving grace, if there is one, is that it appears the end came comparatively suddenly, with less time afforded to him than the medicos had indicated might be available. It’s still a shock.

I feel as though I’ve lost a literary touchstone. Iain Banks was one of the few authors still alive that I can properly regard as formative to my reading tastes. I’ve been reading his books for more than two decades: I loved them for their frequent black humour; for their worldbuilding (Banks was one of the most pictorial novelists I know, and I never begrudged him the words he took to place you in a setting); for their worldview; for their audacity; for their compassion. A world without Iain Banks is a world diminished–though the saving grace is, of course, that we still have his books.

Among his books, The Bridge, The Crow Road, and Matter are probably my personal favourites for various reasons. One reason Matter is particularly prized* is that mine is a signed hardback, gifted via his publisher after my phone interview with Banks. It’s a wonderful keepsake, though I could, in a sense, have had a better one: the interview was scheduled for thirty minutes, but we ended up using only the first twenty-one of those, and Iain offered to chat off the cuff, on whatever topics occurred to either of us, for the remaining time. In essence, I panicked; as I mentioned in a previous post, I was nervous and somewhat overawed, and didn’t know what to make of this windfall of additional time; I apologised, and said I must be going, so we terminated the call. The kicking myself, of course, started almost immediately, and has never really stopped. Today, I have been retrospectively kicking myself with a vengeance.

I could rattle on at length, because Banks’s death is something which has hit hard; but I think that, no matter how many words I employed, I could not hope to do anything as good as the impromptu eulogy which Neil Gaiman has provided in the Guardian. It seems appropriate to finish up with Gaiman’s recommendation:

If you’ve never read any of his books, read one of his books. Then read another. Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.

.

* It’s not the only reason, by any stretch. Reading Matter was something like a homecoming: it had been his first Culture novel for about eight years, and thankfully it’s a useful addition to the canon. Is it his best Culture novel? That’s a very difficult call, made more so since (in a way that I don’t know is true of any other series, ever) the Culture sequence is far larger than the sum of its parts, and this, I think, is a large part of the magic. Banks was careful to leave vast tracts of empty space between the novels’ storylines, implying that there was much that remained untold. Readers can do a lot with that kind of freedom.

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