Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Iain Banks, 1954-2013

I was sad to hear about the recent death of Iain Banks, published under the name Iain M. Banks when writing science fiction, author of science fiction books such Use of Weapons, Against a Dark Background, Consider Phlebas, and Look to Windward. He passed away on June 9th at the age of only 59. You can find more about him at his official website.

My first experience reading Iain M. Banks was Excession, which is generally agreed to be a a suboptimal entry point for readers unfamiliar with the universe where most of Banks' science fiction is set. Neverthless, I still enjoyed it quite a bit and was struck by the vividness and sheer scale of his imagination. I set about finding more of his books, which was not an easy task- at that time few of his books were in print in the United States, and the scarce used or imported copies were often quite expensive, so it was always exciting to finally hunt down one in my price range.

Banks' imagination produced some of the most striking and memorable images in science fiction, at least for me, such as the Planets of the Dead where the ruins of extinct civilizations are frozen in amber by the godlike but indifferent Dra'Azon in Consider Phlebas and the bewildering patchwork of societies and chilling sense of the vastness of both space and time in Against a Dark Background. The universe of the Culture, the setting of most of his science fiction, is a huge and imaginative place filled with interesting species, cultures, and technologies, where individual human dramas exist side by side with godlike AIs, galaxy-spanning civilizations, and weapons that can destroy the stars themselves, without one aspect weakening or overshadowing the other.

He could also be a writer of great emotional power. I can count the number of novels that have made me cry on one hand; one of them is Look to Windward.

Banks was an unusual figure in that he was both a well-regarded author of mainstream novels (such as his debut The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road) and a science fiction author, and unlike some authors with a connection to both worlds he never seemed at all embarrassed or apologetic about being an SF author. His science fiction is unabashedly science fiction, written by and for someone who respects and understands the genre.

Thank you for everything you gave your readers, Mr. Banks. It meant a lot to me, as it surely did to many people. Rest in peace.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

His books on the Culture can even be used for political thinking: