Remembering Iain M. Banks
On June 9th, 2013, one of the greatest modern writers of science fiction was lost to us after a long, harrowing struggle with cancer. For those of you not in the know, Iain Banks was, in may ways, the father of the modern cinematic science fiction: he was a weaver of worlds, of powerful imagery, of wide-screen infinite-budget CGI borne from a very rich imagination.
Born February 15th, 1954 to a professional ice-skater mother and an Admiralty Officer father, Banks decided that the one thing he always ever wanted to do was to just…write. From the age of 11, he began the long process of weaving worlds, which produced an entire novel (the Hungarian Lift-Jet) by the age of 16. After finishing his very first honest-to-God novel, the Wasp Factory, in 1984, Iain had apparently worn a considerable number of typewriters down, which led his agent to agree with him in a one-book-per-year deal. Iain (reluctantly) agreed.
His work has been adapted into television series, radio-dramas and a theater play, called The Curse of Iain Banks. A politically active and terrifyingly imaginative man, Iain Banks did his absolute best to be a man of the world and a writer first, instead of simply resting in his polymer-based orbital palace he’d built for himself thanks to his work.
But this post isn’t just about Banks, in and of himself.
This post is a about Iain Banks and what he meant to me. And he meant a whole lot more than I usually give him credit for.
The very first book of his that fell into my hands was Matter, picked at random from a flea-market. Like pretty much every great book I’ve picked so far, it was chosen almost soleybased on the price-to-page ratio (yes I have terrible criteria for picking SF, but it’s rarely steered me wrong). I read the book on my way home and had blown through half of it by the next day.
By the end of the week, I had ordered the Fearsum Endjinn and Algebraist online and was waiting for them to arrive with baited breath. I checked the wikis and took notes on his extensive Universe and the Culture. I dreamt of great ships and ring-worlds and mega-structures, suspended above distant stars, held aloft by gravity. I struggled with the thought of perhaps one day achieving his ingenuity in imagining such stunning varieties of alien races and found myself lacking.
Sometimes, I thought that perhaps there were Shellworlds. That maybe we just existed in a matryoshka doll of cosmic proportions and that we might all perish as our Sun was extinguished by a misfire of an anti-matter device so many light-years from home.
But most of the time, I found myself wondering how long it would be until we braved distant gas-giants and tried to seek answers from titanic Dwellers or ancient AIs. I thought of humanity that’s developed across the stars, coming in contact with their backwards, Earth-bound brethren and to be honest, it scared me.
Iain Banks was the kind of writer whose books would make me feel inadequate, unprepared, belittled. Not just because of their scope and richness of their imagination, but because he was truly a literary, world-weaving genius, of the kind that emerges perhaps once in a generation.
And while I may not have known him until 2004 and have come in contact with his myriad worlds until too late in life to know him, I have decided to take the time and offer him my salute.
Iain M. Banks, you mad, star-quenching, world-bearing, Culture-gestating, story-weaving bastard; Science Fiction is so much poorer for your loss.