Not something I usually do, but felt this one was important for some reason.
Today it’s been announced that my favourite author, Iain Banks, has died of cancer.
If you’ve never read any of his work, you might be surprised to learn that Iain Banks was two of Britain’s most successful authors. He wrote fiction under Iain Banks and sci-fi under Iain M Banks. In both genres he’s produced the best books I’ve ever read.
The first time I was introduced to his work was in the form of The Crow Road on a recommendation from my stepdad. I hated it. I can’t have got through more than 30 pages before ditching it and never returning. As a slightly unrefined Essex boy I couldn’t get my head round the distinctly Scottish style.
A few months later I was given The Wasp Factory and decided to push through and ive it a chance. It remains my favourite book. Banks has this wonderful ability to paint pictures. Few authors can actually make you lose yourself in the text to the extent where you can feel the wind on your face and taste the salt in the air as you read – a completely immersive experience. If that sounds horrifically pretentious then sorry but I can’t phrase it any better.
As well as a great writer of location, he’s a great writer of stories – particularly gruesome stories. I find it difficult to get sucked into books but The Wasp Factory has you gasping, cringing, laughing and shivering along the way. It’s a difficult read – certainly not beach material. In some places downright unpleasant. But Banks’ ability to write so vividly that brings the story so much to life – superlatives fail me. The ability to write an ending that will stay with you for years after is just another plus.
Under Iain M Banks is a whole tranche of novels – prolific would probably be an understatement – called the Culture Series. These things probably weigh in at about 1000 pages each but I’ve chomped through 7 of then in the space of 4 months. They’re all based around a futuristic human civilisation called the Culture, although the stories stand alone in themselves. They’re quite often referred to as ‘space opera’, and that’s not a bad way of describing them. Most sci-fi I’ve come across is either good at the space bit or good at the story bit but seldom both. The Culture Series combines both and in some style.
It’s a special joy to be able to read these books. Banks’ imagination is completely off the scale – he can construct mind-bogglingly rich worlds, excellent characters, twisting, thrilling stories, bizarre species, fantastic but believable technologies, all at the stroke of a pen. Sometimes you just have to take a step back and appreciate an individual who can build such amazing stories – on a completely different level to anything else out there. If I ever write anything half as good as him I’d consider it a wild success.
If you haven’t read any of Iain Banks’ books I’d urge you to do so; I feel very privileged to have been able to step into his worlds.
A truly massive loss.