The Sad News of Iain Banks

Today I awoke to the news that Iain Banks has terminal cancer. It’s the sort of news that you hear and don’t understand. The literary world in Scotland isn’t exactly huge but it does have quality and standing somewhere near (at?) the top is Iain. He’s a popular figure to the extent everyone around here has an ‘Iain Banks anecdote’. I have two:

The first time I was so starstruck I couldn’t speak. I left embarrassed convinced he would remember me as that weird quiet guy who fidgeted before handing his books over for signing.

The second was at the book festival and I managed to spend a couple of minutes talking to him. I asked him why his novel Transition was published as SF in states but as his regular literary output over here. “Well,” he said, “It was 51% SF over there but only 49% here.”

I now know I’ll never be able to ask him questions I wanted to on the first attempt. And I will never get to ask the questions about if he was likely to do a post -Culture Culture novel.

All of this is starting to sound like am obituary and he’s not dead yet. He still has another novel coming out and we’re told this will be his last.

Instead I would like to sign off with a comment on my favourite Culture novel: Use of Weapons.

Use of Weapons is a startling novel. There are two story strands which wind round each other, each shedding a little more light on the other until they meet. It was the first novel by Iain I’d read that really effected me on a personal level. It’s shocking and powerful and I maintain it’s his best work. It’s also the first novel that really made me think about how you structure a story. And that you don’t necessarily need to plod from A to B to C. It opened my mind to other ways of approaching telling stories that I was not aware of at that time in my life.

So I don’t think it’s time to mourn him yet. He has months to go and instead I salute his genius and recommend that you should seek out his work and have your mind expanded.