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back to article Author Iain (M) Banks falls to cancer at 59

The internationally renowned Scottish author of both literary and science fiction Iain Banks has passed away unexpectedly early at 59 after suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. Iain Banks/Iain M Banks Science fiction loses a giant (credit: Murdo MacLeod) "Too soon. Iain died in the early hours this morning. His death …

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Unhappy

A great loss to Sci Fi..

.. those Culture novels are almost (bar 2 others) the only fiction I've read over six years, or rather the only reason I read fiction after Frank Herbert's works. The Sci Fi excursions from the Culture universe, Against a Dark Background and The Algebraist were excellent too.

He will be missed.

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Re: A great loss to Sci Fi..

I completely agree, but would extend it to say "A great loss to literature". The fact that such a prominent author could move back and forth (and sometimes merge) between Sci-Fi and contemporary fiction helped to demonstrate how broad a medium science fiction is as well as producing some wonderful non Sci-Fi novels.

If you haven't already read the Wasp Factory. You wont regret it.

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IT Angle

"If you haven't already read the Wasp Factory. You wont regret it."

Most people who have read The Wasp Factory advance the opinion that they do regret reading it, for a great many reasons that do not involve the book being crap.

Personally I never saw what the fuss was about with The Wasp Factory and for the most part I can't relate to the Culture books with all their GUAs [1] either. But still, in an ideal world Iain Banks would still be here, writing books I don't want to read. Ave atque vale.

[1] GUA: Generally Unexplained Acronym

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Re: A great loss to Sci Fi..

If you haven't already read the Wasp Factory. You wont regret it.

Well I'm not sure about that... It's one of my least favourite of his books.

Espedair Street is my favourite I think - I highly recommend it, especially if you're into music. It's certainly lots of fun, and one of his 'nice' books - as he said he described it to his wife. The Wasp Factory obviously being one of the 'nasty' ones - along with Complicity, which I liked. My second favourite of his normal fiction would be The Crow Road. Then, maybe, Whit. So I guess I was more of a fan of the 'nice' ones.

I think my favourite of the Sci-Fi would be Excession. Although if you're not a fan of the ludicrous ship names, there's more in that than any other. In my opinion it was his sense of humour that made his books, and the ludicrous ship names made me smile.

It's a shame, I'll miss his work. I think I'll dig out one of his books and a bottle of whisky tonight, in his honour. He also wrote a nice book on whisky, called Raw Spirit.

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Re: "If you haven't already read the Wasp Factory. You wont regret it."

I think it's probably more accurate to say:

"If you haven't already, read the Wasp Factory. You won't forget it."

I loved it as a teenager and thought it was brilliant; but haven't read it for a while. I may not be able to tolerate the lunatic, over-the-top melodrama any more. I should have another go.

For his SF, _Use of Weapons_, _Consider Phlebas_ and _Look to Windward_ are among his best, I think. (_Look to Windward_ is one of the most upbeat books about nihilism I know.) (Incidentally, while his SF can mostly be read in any order, _Consider Phlebas_ and _Look to Windward_ need to be read in that order for maximum effect --- they're both standalone but are thematically linked.) _Feersum Enjinn_ is also great, and _Against a Dark Background_ is majestically bleak.

For his non-SF, _The Crow Road_ is a masterpiece. _Whit_ is huge fun and less lightweight than it first appears. Plus of course _Espedair Street_; and _The Steep Approach to Garbadale_.

Then there's his crossover books, which are largely unclassifiable. _The Business_, which I love. _Walking on Glass_ which is utterly bizarre. _The Bridge_ which does everything _Lanark_ tried to but so much better. And I haven't read _Transitions_ yet...

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He will keep his place on the bookshelves...

and maybe, someday, a higher intelligence will have a nice microsecond with his works.

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Big Brother

The Player of Games

...and this just after the official announcement that western society has devolved to the point where the paid butlers spy on their paymasters and their sole excuse is to huff, puff and rant at the guy who mentioned it. (I won't go into any of the other kind of abuse that's routinely happening.)

I think there is a message here.

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He managed to drag SF into the mainstream

against the inertial conformity of so many literature snobs, that's an amazing achievement. He changed the world a little, made it that bit more open minded.

RIP.

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Unhappy

Oh god.

First Pratchett now M. Banks. not going to be reading much in future.

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Re: Oh god.

"First Pratchett now M. Banks. not going to be reading much in future"

And all my Neal Stephenson's read (again) as well.

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Re: Oh god.

Erm. You do know that Pratchett's not dead ... yet?

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Re: Oh god.

Thank Om for that. I'm expecting at least one more excursion into Discworld before I have to hear that news.

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Re: Oh god.

He's not dead, but he's pretty gone now, which is very very sad. Diseases which affect the mind are the most horrific of all.

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Unhappy

A sad loss...

... but maybe there's a GSV out there which used its Effector to copy his mind state... :-/

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Pint

Re: A sad loss...

"We'll never know; if you're reading this he's long dead; had his appointment with the displacement drone and been zapped to the very livid heart of the system, corpse blasted to plasma in the vast erupting core of Chiark's sun, his sundered atoms rising and falling in the raging fluid thermals of the mighty star, each pulverised particle migrating over the millennia to that planet-swallowing surface of blinding, storm-swept fire, to boil off there, and so add their own little parcels of meaningless illumination to the encompassing night...Ah well, getting a bit flowery there."

'The Player Of Games'

Beer, cos I can't gland Crystal Fugue State.

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Unhappy

Public service announcement

...(the M was for the middle name "Menzies" that was left off his birth certificate.)

That's Menzies, pronounced ming-iss.

That aside, this is desperately sad news. And for him to be taken at a time when the post-scarcity utopia of the Culture seems more distant than ever just about has me crying. So long Mr Banks, and thanks for all the ships.

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JDX
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Re: Public service announcement

I always wondered if the 'utopia' of the Culture was really meant as that, or a reflection on what society thinks utopia would be. i.e. was he a staunch liberal or was that a statement on liberalism?

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Re: Public service announcement

CNN: Would you like to live in the Culture?

Iain M. Banks: Good grief yes, heck, yeah, oh it’s my secular heaven....Yes, I would, absolutely. Again it comes down to wish fulfillment. I haven’t done a study and taken lots of replies across a cross-section of humanity to find out what would be their personal utopia. It’s mine, I thought of it, and I’m going home with it — absolutely, it’s great.

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Re: Public service announcement

You can count me in too!

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JDX
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Re: Public service announcement

Thanks Prof.

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[Broadcast Eclear, sent 1370816215.7]

xGSV Slightly Perturbed

oBOFH Reg Readers

He's not dead, he's been reassigned.

Chin up, chaps.

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h3
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I have only read "The Algebraist" and I needed to read it really slowly are all his books like that ?

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Some are easier than others. Try to avoid Use Of Weapons unless you want to have to wrap your head around two plotlines travelling parallel but in reverse to each other so that the book ends and begins at the end and beginning.

State Of The Art is quite fun though. Lots of little bite sized storylets, some in the culture universe and some elsewhere.

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I've read all Banks SF novels, and the 'Algabraist' was hard (but rewarding) work. Try 'excession' for something a bit more straight forward(ish).

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I like "The Algebraist", but it pushes the limits of big and complex.

You can do a lot worse than start in on the Culture novels by trying "Consider Phlebas", followed by "The Player Of Games". IMO these, plus "State of the Art" are the best of the Culture books, but if you 'get' the Culture you'll probably want to read the rest as well.

I also like "Feersum Endjinn" a lot, but then I have a weakness for books written in not-exactly-English such as Antony Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange". "Feersumm Endjinn" is another non-Culture novel.

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FAIL

/Use of Weapons/ is perhaps the best of his SF. To decry it as too hard is to miss the point of reading IMB. It is not easy reading.

The hard-of-thinking should probably stick to J K Rowling or Dan Brown.

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I really don't see what was particularly hard about /The Algebraist./ I'd say the least accessible of his SF was /Inversions/ myself. (Which, to reignite an old argument, *is* a Culture novel due to the inclusion of at least one minor detail. Which this is is left as an exercise for the alert reader.)

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Yes! Inversions was clearly a Culture novel, somewhat inverted.

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I don't know if this is what you want to hear but.... I considered the algebraist to be the 'light relief', almost a work of comedy, as compared to the other Iain M Banks books.

I enjoyed them all though. I plan to read the non-M books at some point.

Great, great author. Damn shame to lose him.

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h3,

Start at the very beginning (the very best place to start), with Consider Phlebas. If you like that, you'll like the Culture. Although you don't need to have read any of them first before picking any other one up, there are possibly some assumptions in there that you could miss. If you like the Culture, you'll like Excession, and The Player of Games has a nice straightforward plot. Sometimes he plays silly buggers, but not in all books. Once you've liked one, it gives you the desire to plod through the slow/harder/odd bits of any others.

Use of Weapons and Against a Dark Background are fun. But he does like his black humour. And watch out for those lazy guns.

Personally I thought his books were quite uneven. He was trying lots of different things, and I thought there were quite a few weak books, where things just didn't come off. I thought that happened a lot more with his literary fiction than the sci-fi. I've had a lot of fun reading his stuff over the years. There's always the sense of humour and it's often fun to try and puzzle the book out, to try and work out what he's playing at before you get to the end. And he plays fair, and usually gives you clues.

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I enjoyed them all though. I plan to read the non-M books at some point.

David Hicks,

If you like music, read Espedair Street. It's clear that Banks did - and his sick sense of humour is on display as always. The Crow Road and Whit are good, and mostly nice. I enjoyed Complicity, which wasn't. And the Business is fun, although I'm not sure it's one of his best. The rest are a mixed bag, and there's quite a few, like The Bridge and Walking on Glass that could just as easily have had an M in his name.

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JDX
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Enough of the "it's supposed to be hard" snobbery please. He wrote books to be enjoyed.

Personally I think Player of Games is his most immediately gripping Sci-Fi novel which doesn't let sci-fi get in the way of the story. I think lots of his works take a little getting into but are always worth the effort.

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Re: Algebraist

One of the few lines I've laughed out loud at:

"It's not even a proper f*cking planet!"

not entirely sure why.

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/Use of Weapons/ is perhaps the best of his SF. To decry it as too hard is to miss the point of reading IMB. It is not easy reading.

Not saying I didn't enjoy it, but I was replying to someone who might want something a little lighter? You can burn through a State Of The Art short story in an hour if you're taking your time over it, stick a bookmark in there and come back tomorrow.

Taking a lead from the movie adaptations of Dicke's short stories, something like A gift from the Culture(spoilers) is probably ripe for the Hollywood treatment, too.

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Unhappy

A Great Author

RIP Iain M Banks.

Just when I 'd found a modern SF author I thoroughly enjoyed he gets struck down in his prime. He will be greatly missed. Time to read his non-SF stuff methinks.

Phil.

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JDX
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Re: A Great Author

May I recommend Alastair Reynolds' SF to you, especially the "Revelation Space" books. It's the closest SF to I.M.B I've come across.

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MJI
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Re: Alastair Reynolds

And he replies to emails

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Pint

Still here in Spirit

No mention of his seminal work in search of the perfect dram "Raw Spirit"?

A lot of fans wanted to help research that one!

And I've just realised that I got 2 puns in the title. He would have liked that.

Pint of heavy is mandatory.

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Unhappy

Sob, sniff,

Damn, that's sad, what am I gonna read now ?

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Go

I prefer to think that he has...

...sublimed.

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Holmes

Sublimed? That was the theme of the Hydrogen Sonata

Just read that book a few days ago. Magnificent, but it still made me feel he was getting a bit mellow. The survival rate of the principle characters was unusually high...

I'm greatly saddened by his passing, but I'm not yet willing to try to assess his legacy. I am most familiar with his SF, and his optimism about a better future was quite inspiring. That actually reminds me of Gene Roddenberry, though I felt Banks was painting on a much larger canvas. Still, I can also consider the argument that most of his SF was just space opera, though again on the grand canvas... There were even some scenes where I felt he was almost deliberately playing for the camera, as in thinking of how it would appear in a movie.

For now my summary would be that I did not regret any of the time I spent reading his works, though some of his literary works were the source of some nightmares... His imagination was superlative, and he had great skill in transmitting his dreams into the minds of his readers. Amazing power, and it saddens me to know that there will be no more from him.

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Re: Sublimed? That was the theme of the Hydrogen Sonata

The was a certain film-like quality to his descriptions. But, on the other hand, a large part of his skill at description was in describing things that couldn't be filmed and shown to human-basics such as ourselves in a form we'd be able to comprehend: seven dimensional hyperspace, battles lasting nanoseconds, solar system-sized megastructures...

Surface Detail has raised some interesting issues on what it might be like to be made immortal through technology. Hydrogen Sonata did the same on the idea of what you might do when your civilisation runs out of steam on this plane of existence (as well as briefly raising the suggesting why the Minds are so keen on keeping the humans around).

While it's a shame not to see these ideas come to fruition, I'm grateful for them having been brought up in the first place. Thank you, Iain (M) Banks.

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Re: Sublimed? That was the theme of the Hydrogen Sonata

I wonder if George R.R. Martin's read any Culture novels, particularly Surface Detail. The idea of being able to kill a main character again and again would have him drooling I'd have thought!

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Re: Sublimed? That was the theme of the Hydrogen Sonata

George R.R. Martin has already figured this out with ....

No I won't spoil it, just read the books.

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Gav
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Re: I prefer to think that he has...

Except dying is nothing like subliming, and its a mistake to consider the two as in any way comparable.

Banks did not introduce the concept of subliming into his Culture models just to make up for there not being a heaven. I suspect he'd be disappointed if people thought he'd used such a lazy plot device.

What I'd like is that his mindstate had been stored and could be uploaded to a sympathetic ship's Mind to tour the galaxy at his leisure. Unfortunately we can't do that. :(

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Pint

Farewell Mr Banks,

You and your work will be greatly missed.

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a committed atheist – a position he held until his death.

I think he would have liked the joke in that

And Tom Sharpe today as well

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Anonymous Coward

Away the Crow Road

Too early for him to go, with so much left to say. The first book of his I read, 'Complicity', was picked up in Turkey as someone else's discarded and only half finished holiday read; it blew me away, and is still one of my all time favourite books, perhaps more relevant today than it was when it was published. He had a unique gift for depicting the sense of place, experiences and banter that go with growing up in Scotland, bringing back to life for me a time I'd almost forgotten. His humour, always brilliantly dry, was at its best in the Crow Road, which apart from opening with the line "It was the day my grandmother exploded" contains an absolutely immortal description of the Himalayan region of Ladakh:

"She was in Ladakh, a place so out of the way it would take several international airports, a major rail terminus and substantial investment in a network of eight-lane highways to promote it to the status of being in the middle of nowhere."

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Unhappy

Think he's now onboard the GSV "Well, that about bugger's it up".

What a tremendous shame - another great author lost.

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