Sunday, 16 June 2013

In memory of Iain M Banks

This past week, the 9th June, science fiction lost one of its leading lights to cancer, Iain Banks. His writing had a big impact on me and I only just finished one of his Culture series (Consider Phlebas) a few days before his untimely demise.

I first came across his work many years ago when a Scottish friend, also called Iain, lent me his fiction book Complicity. It was some years later I realised he also wrote science fiction, and I read Excession. Reading this book was a paradigm shift for me, the space battles nothing like what is seen on TV or in the movies or in most scifi, everything happening ultra-fast being directed by machine 'minds' who ran the ships, humanity long ago having ceded such authority to a higher intelligence.

I next read Against a dark background, a dark novel, not of the Culture series, but it inspired me many years later for one of my female characters (Kat), as Banks was ahead of the game in portraying 'kick-ass' female leads. It also had the coolest motorbike in the galaxy.

Then I read Inversions, and for a while was unsure what I was reading, as the chapters oscillated between two different story lines. The writing, as ever, was so good I continued, and right at the end the two plots come together, masterfully. I was seriously impressed, and since then, all my own novels adopted a similar approach of having inter-weaving story-lines.

Use of weapons also used the dual story approach, but for me was a great study in character, as was Consider Phlebas, and his usual dark wit lay just underneath the surface, often best expressed by the intelligent drones accompanying lead characters.

To me there was an underlying question in his Culture novels, as to how we might evolve alongside machines, and just what our role and purpose might be. There is an insidious and intentional ambiguity in certain Culture concepts such as 'Special Circumstances', brought into most clarity in Consider Phlebas, with its bleak ending, and Player of Games, my favorite, whose closing line brought tears to my eyes.

But Banks had an underlying humor, black though it often was, and if humanity possessed anything in the future with which he envisioned us, it was humor, and compassion. You only need to look at the names of the Culture ships, such as 'Size isn't everything', and 'No more Mr. Nice Guy'.

I wish I had been able to meet him, or hear him talk or read aloud his work. But he will be long remembered. While he is best known for his fiction, for us science fiction fans his light will blaze on. For us he wasn't just a player of games, but a true master.

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