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No. Words.

Iain Banks diagnosed with cancer. (Stage IV, inoperable, months to live.)

I first met Iain about 25 years ago. I am not only an unabashed fan; I consider him an object of emulation, one of the celestial lights I steer my own course by. He's also a very nice guy when you get to know him, if a little bit difficult to buy a pint for. This news has me about as personally upset as you might expect. Cancer: just fuck off, OK?



If there are any aliens with advanced medical technology thinking about making first contact, might I suggest that now would be a good time? Circumstances in the UK being what they are - our culture has a couple of very special authors in a spot of bother - I... well, I don't want to drone on, though I am in two minds about it... I think you should pop down and say hello.


As already mentioned in this post, according to

liver transplantation, while originally marred by a high recurrence rate, seems to have become somewhat better, especially with concurrent radiation therapy etc. It seems to be still experimental, though. And then, there is the pancreas, though one could transplant that one too, I guess.

Now I'm not that deluded to think I know more than Banks's doctors (OK, actually, I guess I am somewhat guilty of that delusion, or I wouldn't write this, but it's an informed delusion), and I guess he is somewhat bombarded with more or less useful proposals, but then, medicine is maybe even worse than IT in educational bit rot, and, well, might not hurt to be put on the waiting list. Sorry for repeating that one, yeah, it's megalomania on my part.


Charlie: Agreed. Fuck cancer.

In general, I wish him all the joy he can take in the time he has left and as gentle a passing as he can. The world will be diminished when he dies, but he left it a better place.


The only thing I can say is Evert Day Counts.

I was in the same situation with my wife (back pains during pregnancy), and "a couple of months" turned into almost two years. My brother's in-laws are going through the same deal, and they are almost three years in and still kicking. Fuck cancer.

But Every Day Counts. Make it count.


I don't know about getting him to accept a beer, when I met him he seemed perfectly at home at the bar. I raised a glass of single malt to him last night, when I heard the news.

If he has to leave this world, may he leave it on his own terms.


I've only become familiar relatively recently. But starting about 6 months ago, upon reading the first hundred pages or so of Consider Phlebas, I was compelled to read all the Culture stuff in order.

While not the greatest novel in the series, I continue to be enamored of Look to Winward -- there's never been a better literary illustration of how enlightened interests do not necessarily preclude one from completely fucking it all up. Of course much of the cycle is about that, but it really came to a head in that book.


Can we get some wide-spectrum, brute-force measures against cancer-type pathologies, soon --- please??? Fucking cancer; that old story needs to die.

It looks like it's going to be way too short an acquaintance.


As (I think) the person who broke said sad news to this group, what can I say? Agree entirely with both Charlie (been there my self) & the first poster - "calling the Culture RIGHT NOW!"

What's with this .... Pterry's Alzheimers, & the still-felt loss of Charles Sheffield (Brain tumour - great writer, damned good scientist) ..... "life" thing, anyway? IIRC last Worldcon here, didn't John Brunner drop dead? Euwwwww ......

Drink more whisky.


I hope he has a good single malt with him on the way out.


There is this idea if there (is|are) any god(s|ess|esses)?, (he|she|it|they) like(s)? good company.

Maybe we should start to pay back and bury our deads the dwarven way, with good weapons.


"IIRC last Worldcon here, didn't John Brunner drop dead?"

Yup. Massive stroke first day of the con. I saw him the day before and said hello but didn't have time to chat as I was running around doing set up for tech and, like so many others there who promised to talk later when things were up and running, that was the last time we spoke.


I raised a glass of The Peat Monster to him too.

I remember what was almost my first convention, and what was certainly my first small one, CONGREGATE in June 1988 in Peterborough, with Iain being GoH alongside a relatively unknown Terry Pratchett.

Programming was perhaps a little threadbare in places, and at one stage Iain and Terry were on stage together when there was one of those lulls. And then, somehow, I don't remember quite what caused it, they started telling jokes. Dead baby jokes.

Dark, dark, dark, and Terry and Iain were riffing off each other, both giving as good as they got while the audience dissolved in hysterics.

Damn it. Two good guys we're losing.


One thing that did please me - the amount of prominence the BBC has been giving to this news. It was even in the 7 pm news bulletin on Radio 4 - that couple of minutes before I dive to the radio to cut off the Archers signature tune. They were (rightly) treating him as one of the best living writers in the UK.


Time is a telescope; John died at the last UK worldcon but one, in 1995.

I miss him, too. Without his pointer I wouldn't have discovered the SF writers workshop scene where I learned my craft.


Yeah, he was another nice guy, and badly under-appreciated in my opinion (possibly due to his having produced quite a bit of pulp as well as great SF). I was amazed at Follycon to be able to sit and chat with him. I think he was quite chuffed that I liked what he'd done with Crucible of Time.

Sod it, I'll raise a glass to him and Bob Shaw too, tonight. Those who have gone before.


Charlie, it was through reading Iain Banks and then various reviews, interviews, and so on that I first found your own books. It is amazing to me how many interesting things have been pointed out to me through Banks' works. I had more or less given up on not only on science fiction but literary fiction a long time past; but then I happened upon The Wasp Engine and The Player of Games... And now I'm reading through all of your own works. Iain did that for me and I'm grateful.


Life's a bitch and then you die but with Terry as well this is beginning to look like taking the piss.

Raised a glass of red wine here, to those who fall in the front rank, to general dismay.

I'd like to mention the small fantasy I had of further adventures of Bascule and Ergates, A Boy and his Ant. Silly, I know, but there it is.


You're right. Problem with them both being in the same venue, memories get mixed.


"a little bit difficult to buy a pint for"

At least I managed to do that, once, a long time ago. I can't pretend I know the man, except though his books, but I'm glad that I've at least met him and chatted to him and even managed to buy him a drink.

Cancer really is shit.


This is heart wrenching news, not only because of the waste of life of a talented human being and the grief and pain his loss will bring to his family and friends, but also for the more selfish reason that he's been a mainstay of SF for 20 years or so, and I've been reading him my entire adult life from adolescence on.

And he's just been getting better and better.

Damn it.


Normally, I have no time for Woody Allen, but this seems apposite: Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon. Guk.


Iain M Banks was my introduction to proper SF in secondary school and has been the greatest literary influence on my life.

Without Consider Phlebas, Feersum Endjinn, Excession, The Algebraist and Look to Windward, I would not be I.

This is profoundly shitty news.


This is sad. This is why we need immortality. When we have star ships, one must be named "Fuck You Cancer, You're Gone and Iain M Banks Is Still Here".


@ Bellingham - not only the BBC, he's also main picture on most of the broadsheet front pages today.

I first read Iain Banks not long after The Wasp Factory came out. Oddly, as I mentioned elsewhere, I felt at the time it reminded me of my own youth and that I could have written something like it, something that seems utterly bizarre when I went to Wikipedia to remind myself of actual plot elements, which is nothing like my teenage years.

I have several ancient Interzones in my filing cabinet going back to no.1 and including no.20, which has Iain M. Banks's first sf short story (he didn't do many) and including a review of his first sf novel. He's been a major part of furnishing my mental universe-scape ever since.

I also remember being impressed by his quiz-run in late 2005/early 2006, where he not only won Celebrity Mastermind (special subject, whisky distilleries) but went on a few days later to lead a team of writers to win a celebrity University Challenge competition against some experienced BBC journos (Kate Adie, Michael Buerk, Nick Robinson and Bridget Kendall). He took his victories with affable graciousness, as I recall.


Disclosure: I am a doctor who has seen many people die of cancer being unable to do anything but soften their pain.

Cancer does suck. It blatantly disregards humanity's medical capabilities. Once it has metastasized it's endgame, save for a couple of (rare) cases where chemotherapy can reverse its course.

Not many ways around it. One is nanotech, either silicon -nanobots, still an SF idea- or carbon -gengineered lymphocytes, already in trials-, the second is gene therapy, still too crude to be safe, and the third, only recently picking up steam, regenerative medicine. If we can manufacture cost-effective host-compatible organs I guess we could keep replacing the ones eaten away by cancer. Blood cancers are already being treated that way of shorts, but it can be long, tedious and dangerous.

My thoughts go out to Mr Banks, in hope that the next breakthrough is just around the corner and will get here in time.


Really, what can you say? Well, as I said on the Banksophilia page*: Ignore the effing doctor's timeline and fight as hard as you can. Doesn't necessarily mean spending your time in hospital, but living as fully as you can for as long as you can.

I started reading him a few years ago, after having read references to him for years. Then finally got around to "Consider Phlebas", and was hooked. "Player of Games" had me thinking: Yeah, I want to write like this. I have plenty of his books to read yet, so that pleasure shall remain for years to come.

*I suppose it's to be expected that quack medical advice showed up, and at least one "come to jebus" message.


Well, that news just sucks.

There's a difference between prolonging one's life as long as possible, and living one's remaining days to the fullest. A lot of doctors don't go in for heroic life extension. When they get the bad news, they try to finish up their bucket lists and spending as much time with their loved ones as they can, rather than lying tubed up in a hospital bed running up a debt for their heirs, just to live another day.

That said, I'm honored that Mr. Banks thinks the best use of his remaining time is to finish his last book for us. That's a grand gesture, and I'll tip a glass to him too for his generous spirit.


logged into the SFX forum this time yesterday...and read the one of worst things I've ever read as a thread title

"Iain Banks announces he has terminal cancer"

its just confirmation of what a cruel and pitiless universe we live in, that Douglas Adams, JG Ballard, Robert Holdstock have all gone, and Iain Banks will soon be leaving, too...

"It was, also, like the dependency of the human-basic brain on the human-basic body; no matter how intelligent, perceptive and gifted you were, no matter how entirely you lived for the ascetic rewards of the intellect and eschewed the material world and the ignobility of the flesh, if you heart just gave out..." Excession

Cancer: just fuck off, OK?

Indeed. Lost too many friends, family and folk I admire to it.

A couple of folk on a hacker news thread expressed it better than I could in this instance:

"Let's raise a toast to the launching of the GCU Fuck Cancer." —richardjordan
"And its sister ship the ROU Fuck Cancer Quickly" —arethuza

To the ROU Fuck Cancer Quickly. God speed.


After this last week, I may finally go and order that "Fuck cancer" cross-stitch pattern. And then do versions for "Fuck bipolar" and "Fuck Alzheimer's".


We live in a strange time where we know that high tech medical breakthroughs are just within arm's reach, but not quite there yet.

Very frustrating, especially in times like this.




As always, one man has got there first:

Fear no more the heat o' the sun, Nor the furious winter's rages; Thou thy worldly task hast done, Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:

Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' the great; Thou art past the tyrant's stroke; Care no more to clothe and eat; To thee the reed is as the oak:

The sceptre, learning, physic, must All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash, Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone; Fear not slander, censure rash; Thou hast finish'd joy and moan:

All lovers young, all lovers must Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee! Nor no witchcraft charm thee! Ghost unlaid forbear thee! Nothing ill come near thee!

Quiet consummation have; And renowned be thy grave!

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ Or, perhaps this version ??


When I saw the news, colour drained out of my day.

Fuck cancer.


That said, I'm honored that Mr. Banks thinks the best use of his remaining time is to finish his last book for us.

As I understand it the book is already at the publisher. Dunno if Mr. Banks will take the time to cross-check all editor's corrections. I wouldn't, probably.

Too sad that there won't be any more Culture novels. I was looking forward to that after reading Hydrogen Sonata.


Never knew you were a fan. The news of his passing hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I met him briefly at book reading when A Song of Stone was released and thought he was a lovely bloke.


Clearly not thinking straight. I'll miss him dearly. He's had a huge influence on my life ever since I read The Player Of Games.. Other people have paid far better homage to him above. Especially the ship names. If we ever make it space properly that has to be on of the names.


If you can find one antigen that occurs on the cancer cells and not on any other cell in the patient's body, then it is theoretically possible to kill out a cancer. What you do is manufacture an immunoglobulin which is specific for just that antigen, and attach to it one chain of the two conjugated chains which make up the toxin in ricin.

Then you feed this into the patient very, very carefully and at a very low dose, and see what happens. In theory, the immunoglobulin ought to be specific for just the cancer; once it attaches to the cancer cells, it gets pulled inside and therein proceeds to kill the cells.

The problem is, identifying the specific antigens is very difficult, requires the building of huge libraries of antigens and immunoglobulins, and isn't guaranteed to work. It is however the best shortcut to nanotech robotics that has thus far been achieved.


I'm rather upset by the news, and to me he's just "some bloke, seems like a really nice one, who writes superb books". Well, to be precise he's three blokes - the SF writer, the novelist and the occasional writer of feature articles.

Raised a double single malt to him when I heard the news.

Fuck cancer. Possibly because I'm in my mid 40s and statistically normal, but it's a shadow on too many lives. Including the person I love the most romantically (an ex) and the one I love the most in the family (my brilliant, funny, and humane uncle).

I'm reminded of a classic SF short story whose writer and title elude me, with the final line "Come, littel boy. Ve fix." (Maybe Harry Harrison?)

We could do with some time-travellers right now, whether funded by stamp collections or by the public purse.

I know a lot of technically able people read this blog and though it's a long shot, if any of you get to choose careers that help attack the big problems such as treatments for cancers then I implore- please choose that option, even if it's less lucrative.

The only way I know to reach the future is to build it - or at least keep out of the way of people who do build it, and give them biscuits and tea when they come over.

The song 'Dead of Winter' by the Eels is harsh, beautiful, and ontopic. The singer & writer is the son of 'Many Worlds' Everett and is a serious person.

tl;dr Fuck cancer.



gene therapy, still too crude to be safe

When you're looking at a 100% probability of death, even 1-in-1000 or one-in-1000000 looks good...


While definitely not typically characterized in this way, when I first heard this news I was literally speechless. I still can't appropriately express what I feel.

Back in the early 90's, amid the chaos that goes with University studies, I had essentially given up on reading fiction for pleasure. I had been an avid reader since my early teens, but had voraciously read all the works of my favourite authors and had gotten to the point where it was difficult to find suitable new material. All this changed for me in 1994.

Late that summer I began a European backpacking tour. A lovely Kiwi lady that I spent some time traveling with gave me a book she had bought to read on her trip, and as we were finally parting after 3 months together, she wanted me to keep it. It was The Wasp Factory.

Suffice it to say that it was that book that drew me to read Iain's books. Once I discovered he also wrote science fiction I was enthralled. In short, Mr. Banks is single-handedly responsible for the rejuvenation of my love of fiction.


If there was ever a place that provided an ultimate goal for human society - it is The Culture. Only through their words, can we make it so. Nothing marks our own passage through time like the passing of people we value and esteem. But really.....bugger.....


At least he will outlive Margaret Thatcher!



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 4, 2013 2:15 AM.

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