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"Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying" — Iain Banks, 1954-2013

One of the giants of 20th and 21st century Scottish literature has left the building.

I can't really claim to be a friend; my relationship with Iain was somewhere between one of the faceless hordes seen at SF conventions, and "guy I run into at the pub occasionally". However, I've known Iain and chatted with him at times since, I think, 1989 or 1990 or thereabouts. And, after getting over my initial awe of the giant of letters, subsequently discovered that he was a giant in other ways: big-hearted, kind, affable, humorous, angry at injustice.

There is probably no point in my writing an obituary. The newspapers are all over the generalities (for example, here), and if I had anything more intimate to add I wouldn't care to do so in public, out of respect for his family and friends.

However, I'd like to pause for a moment and reflect on my personal sense of loss. Iain's more conventional literary works were generally delightful, edgy and fully engaged with the world in which he set them: his palpable outrage at inequity and iniquity shone through the page. But in his science fiction he achieved something more: something, I think, that the genre rarely manages to do. He was intensely political, and he infused his science fiction with a conviction that a future was possible in which people could live better — he brought to the task an an angry, compassionate, humane voice that single-handedly drowned out the privileged nerd chorus of the technocrat/libertarian fringe and in doing so managed to write a far-future space operatic universe that sane human beings would actually want to live in (if only it existed).

Last night I was talking to a friend who, with Ken MacLeod, had been invited to visit Iain last week at home. Iain was apparently gravely ill even then, and had to retire after half an hour. Purely selfishly, I hoped he'd hang on longer — long enough for me to tell him I intend to dedicate my next (first) trilogy to him. (I can't hold a candle to his versatility as a writer, but it seems to me that we badly need an SF literature that offers hope for the future, and he has provided a compass for me to set my sails by.)

I've spent about 3 months away from home (Edinburgh) this year, so the last time I saw him was back in December or January, before his diagnosis. Purely by accident, I ran into him in the St James shopping centre (up the road from where I live). He was his usual affable, cheery self: and that is how I intend to remember him.

As Paul McAuley tweeted, a big bright bold boisterous light has gone out.



One of the giants of 20th and 21st century Scottish literature has left the building.

indeed he has...

A life and legacy to envy, in my opinion.

There's not many people who decide what to do aged 11, do it against the odds, make a good living from it and enjoy every damn moment, right up to the end.

Goodbye, Iain - and thank you!

No author ever really dies, they just go out of print.


Gutted... 59. A good man taken too early.


Here's something I want to say, but don't think belongs in the main body of the article.

See, I'm a perpetual fanboy, in awe of Iain's raw native talent.

Von Hitchhofen remarks that not many people decide what to do at 11, then just go and do it, against the odds. Iain did it. I did it too. I decided at roughly the same age, plus or minus a year or so, that I wanted to be a novelist and write science fiction. And I went for it, and a third of a century later there's a wall of books in my office and a shelf of shiny literary awards, so I suppose I succeeded (for some value of success).

But there's a difference between being an athlete, a sprinter on the top of your form, someone who can qualify to enter for the Olympic hundred metre dash ... and being Usain Bolt.

That's the gulf I look across when I look at Iain's body of work. As good as I can be I simply wouldn't have what it takes to fill those shoes. Being who I am only makes his achievements more glaringly obvious. I am in awe. And knowing that I'll never see him race again is deeply distressing.


I really think you could remove the word "Scottish" from the first sentence, and nobody would argue too much. Or if they would, I would let them have the choice of weapons.

I just spent the evening talking with my wife about Iain Banks, about his books, what they meant to us, which memories are linked to them... We have been a couple for so long that most of the books were published while we were together, and as we noticed, there is no other author in our library whose books we both bought so often. It looks like we wanted to make sure that if we ever separated, we would still have all of his books.

Iain Banks will be sorely missed by people who have never met him. Few people can claim that.


I think the idea and model of The Culture is one that will live on. It's a utopia, but not one that requires megadeaths to bring about. It's the most humane Transhumanist vision ordinary people are capable of believing in and actually wanting. It's a warm and comfortable future, not an alien one in which existing people will have no future.


Just saw the news on Boing Boing. Gutted.

From being blown away by The Wasp Factory aged 16, to the latest Culture novel, he has been a constant reminder of all that can be good in literature.

Here's to a great man, I hope he was spirited away by a GCU at the last second.


That's the gulf I look across when I look at Iain's body of work. As good as I can be I simply wouldn't have what it takes to fill those shoes. Being who I am only makes his achievements more glaringly obvious. I am in awe. And knowing that I'll never see him race again is deeply distressing.

But rest assured, when the time comes, there probably will be an author, possibly yet unborn, who looks at the collected works of Charles Stross...and thinks exactly the same thought!

Iain himself looked upon the work of Alasdair Gray, and wished he had as great a talent ashe did.

I thought Iain was a much better writer than Alasdair, but I'm only a reader, not a writer.


I wish I hadn't read your blog tonight... And of course I wish nobody had ever to write such an announcement . Iain Banks is dead. Long live the Culture! (I'm only a reader, never met him, and it still hurts. When you read someone, you share more than time and money, you share ideas. His were beautiful. sorry, mistake : his ARE beautiful and so much more than I can say) This is a terrible lost for us all. my kindly regards to his friends and family.


Thank you for your thoughts Charlie. I came to you and Ken MacLeod via Iain's work and so will forever associate the three of you together.

Raw Spirit was the best kind of travel writing, filling me with a strong desire to visit the places Iain visited and, some years delayed, relive the rage that the invasion of Iraq generated.


and in doing so managed to write a far-future space operatic universe that sane human beings would actually want to live in (if only it existed).

The universe he created was a consequence of his outlook - that things can get better and that life is for the living. When surrounded by the 'can'ts', the 'won'ts' and the 'must nots' - the detritus of dystopia - his vision might have had darks, but they were set again a general light, a positive, human, viewpoint, even encompassing death.

Can't say anything higher than that. A life well lived.



Sipping a dram of Ardbog tonight. (Yes, that's not a typo, that's the new blend they released this month.)

Back from scattering my mother's ashes in various places across North Yorkshire, so already feeling a little somber.

And mourning Iain, although I only ever exchanged a dozen or so words with him at a signing or few, and although it was only a matter of time once we knew the diagnosis.

You know the real worth of the person from how they affect other people. In IMB's case, from all the writers who want to have been him, who try harder because they know from his example it's possible to be better. And not just as a writer, but as a human being - it was obvious to everyone he was a genuinely nice guy, and though I'm sure some people can hold up an act for a while, I've never heard anything but good words about Iain.


Thanks Charlie,

Like many, I feel the loss of Iain Banks in a deeply personal way. Every year since I discovered him, I have watched for his latest work. Now, there will be no more.

One of the reasons I love all Banks' work - and particularly the Culture books - is that he wrote about a utopian universe while so many others have wallowed in dystopia for over a decade.

He demonstrated that one could be a realist and a materialist and still maintain hope for the future of humanity.

We all mourn his loss.

Rick York


"Hope for the future" -- 'nuf said.


So I've read all of one Culture novel, some random piece from the middle, and I always felt I was missing half the story by not having the backstory (and it was still an amazing book).

But now I'm the Culture novels have some big linking plot that will now forever be unresolved?



There's A Few Notes on the Culture which might explain some of the bits.


Thanks, Sean. I'm always wary of open ended series, just because I'm terrible at waiting for the next one. I look forward to diving into more of his stuff.

Obviously, I don't know his stuff as well as others, or him at all, but from everything said about him over the last few months, I'm in for quite a ride.


I love the Culture books, as a whole. I'm less than thrilled with some individual examples, but... with the Culture, he was doing big, optimistic space opera. I love big, optimistic space opera.

I will point out that the first two books -- Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games -- have a lot of vileness in them. But not from the Culture.

It's selfish of me, I know, but without Banks, how shall I get my big, optimistic space opera fix?


For me the thing that gets me with his death that hasn't struck me with the exits of other giants of literature or the arts recently is that Banks always felt to me as 'one of us' - he wrote fiction of my generation, not the distinguished, respected but not in touch with the same gestalt of those writers that feel to me more of my parents generation than mine.


Decided to take a break fom the interwebs this afternoon and read. Am currently in the middle of "Use Of Weapons"--at chapter VII, which starts "You know," he told the rock, "I've got this really nasty feeling that I'm dying..." Not quite the mood booster I was looking for at first, but too good not to enjoy.


That he was such a talent in both science fiction and mainstream literature was truly impressive. I remember reading Player of Games and being delighted by both the scope and playfulness of the universe he had created - and then the friend who had recommended I read it said "and now you should read The Wasp Factory - it's not SF, but it will blow your mind." And it did.


"I hope he was spirited away by a GCU at the last second." That is so sweet.

He was one of the few writers who makes me feel more confident that someday we will have a starship whose shipmind we can name after him.


Well said, Charlie. It's all very well to warn us about the bad things ahead, so we can steer around them, but we have to have something good to steer towards. Banks gave us a future to look forward to. If the Culture existed, I'd be in the immigration line right now.

I wish I'd known him. But I'm deeply appreciative that I've read his books, and still have a few I haven't read yet, to read for the first time.


Note: The quote Charlie uses is from one of Iain's an SF non-culture novels ... "Against a Dark Background" actually. I have it in my commonplaces book ...

Sorrow be damned & all your plans. Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure & certain people prepared to maim & kill whoever got in their way; fuck every cause that ended in murder & a child crying

It was part of Iain's ongoing "campaign" agianst the believers & apparatchicks who know better for our supposed own good. It perhaps behoves us to pick up the torch that he has thrown us from his falling hand. ( Yes, that's a partial quote, too ) So it goes.

Perhaps a quote from one of the greatest ever is apposite? The will is ifinite & th' execution confined, The desire is boundless & th' act a slave to limit.


Let me add a personal tribute that you can say of all too few "famous people" these days:-

He always had time for his fans.

(Incidentally, and slightly off-topic, but IMO the same thing applies to you Charlie.)


"hope for the Culture" Damm not what I wanted to hear anytime soon


" If the Culture existed, I'd be in the immigration line right now."

There's a particular phrase that's been associated with SF from it's earliest days, that phrase is "Sense of wonder". It's become a bit of a cliche these days I suppose but the Culture, the greater Universe it existed within, and IMBs take on how humanity (in the widest possible sense) would live within, experience, and interact with it gave me Sense Of Wonder in spades With Capital Letters and I'm immensely grateful for that.

It's also worth noting that amongst his other literary achievements Mr Banks also gave us the best Rock'n'Roll novel ever in the form of Espedair Street :-)


When I think of the Iain Banks in the 1980s and 1990s, this picture springs to mind

it says to me

"I don't rob the poor, I don't sell arms to tyrants - I write books, books that would probably turn your stomach, or that you might dismiss as childish, without reading them.

Companies choose to publish them, the public chooses to buy them and read them - some of them don't even pay for them!

...and look what I bought with money!"


GCU Read 'Em and Weep to GSV Does My Mind Look Big in This?: A mutual friend says it's time to go. Do you have any associates near [system ID], some time in the next dozen megaseconds?

GSV Does My Mind... to ROU Not Just a Pretty Face: Fancy a detour to [system ID], since you're passing? There's some baggage to collect: [target designator]

ROU Not Just... to GSV Does My Mind...: It would stretch my schedule. What makes you think I've got the legs for that?

GSV Does My Mind... to ROU Not Just...: A little bird told me about your refit. Go on, you're just itching to try it out.

ROU Not Just... to GSV Does My Mind...: "Bird"? "Itching"? Have you gone native? Oh, all right then, since you're twisting my arm.

GSV Does My Mind... to ROU Not Just...: Look who's talking: you're the one with "arms" and "legs". Bet you can't do it in five megaseconds.

ROU Not Just... to GSV Does My Mind...: Aren't I'm supposed to say something like "Let's see the colour of your money"? Anyway, watch this.

GSV Does My Mind... to ROU Not Just...: I'm waiting. ... OK, that really is rather nice. Next time you're nearby I'll send you an avatar to perform an appropriate low whistle.

GSV Does My Mind... to GCU Read 'Em and Weep: Our friend should make his farewells, and be ready for displacement by ROU Not Just a Pretty Face at time [timestamp]. Are there any countermeasures in place?

GCU Read 'Em and Weep to GSV Does My Mind... and ROU Not Just...: Much obliged. No countermeasures, I'm afraid: it's all a bit stone axes. They still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. No displacement, either: the Arbitrary doesn't want us frightening the horses. Scan-and-forward, if you please. The usual cover story is in place.

ROU Not Just... to GCU Read 'Em and Weep and GSV Does My Mind...: Sigh. I'll put my toys away then. A pity: it's an attractive system, but I always think those little blue planets look better with a ring. Or a really big crater. Who is this guy anyway? I'm dying to meet him. Or maybe I've got that backwards. ... Scan complete. Oh, it's him. Let me know when you decant him and I'll drop by to pay my respects. Here you are: [entanglement scan stream]


I know someone who was scared nigh unto death by Mr Banks with that particular toy.

Given that the individual concerned lives on the Isle of Man, races particularly hairy motorcycles on particularly hairy (closed public road) circuits, and has taken a year out of the Manx GP (run on the TT course) after a nasty high speed crash last year you can make of that what you will... :-)


I'm not surprised

there are a few Formula One drivers who have written books, but the number of writers who look on driving a Formula One car as a break from the day job, is vanishingly small

and now smaller yet...


He was intensely political, and he infused his science fiction with a conviction that a future was possible in which people could live better

This was one of the themes that I think made the Culture so appealing. Each of the early books was an argument on why the Culture was ultimately a superior, well, culture. And I think he succeeded in demonstrating that we can aspire to achieve such heights. The later books focused on other moral concepts, but I have to say Surface Detail's rejection of the very concept of Hell as unethical I think was amazing. As good as Charlie and many of the other current SF writers are, I haven't found anyone else who can so artfully weave in a moral, political message to a story.


In the eighties it was rare to find a future in SF that wasn't a grim techno-dystopia, a post-nuclear wasteland - or a loathsome pan-galactic empire.

Believe me, I read all those books.

IMB's secular heaven, in which no sentient thing was exploited for the benefit of another was rare to the point of revolutionary, I wondered why no-one had thought of it before.

That a human society could create machines that shared and enhanced their values, and trust these machines to run their societies, pilot their starships, and allocate resources so that human/machine pleasure was maximised, and suffering minimised, was liberating and beguiling.


For me The Culture books always had a dark edge. But one that did not detract from the fundamental utopia of it.

People may still be unhappy in post-scarcity utopia. The Culture has some ... unsavory practices - the fact that they are backed by almost perfect forecasting notwhistanding. Hell, Use of Weapons is in itself a summary of what I'm trying to say.

But still, with all the imperfections, it was, still, a better run society than anything else. Or precisely for the imperfections - they make something very difficult to believe like all utopias into something... worthy of emulation?


Perfection may be the enemy of the good, but the much better is not. The Culture isn't perfection, it's the much better.

The thing that always appealed to me about the Culture is how much it reflected a (mature) socialist perspective (and that gives me pause about calling it a utopia - optimistic and hopeful, yes; utopia, no).

The "mature" socialist sees a possibility of a qualitatively better world (not one achieved by merely tweaking at the edges) and believes it practical. Also, there is anger that that better, more humane world is constantly rejected by those who benefit from the status quo.

She/he is not imagining the end to all unhappiness and conflict (that's the mature part). Politics continues (even within the Culture) and much worse continues without.

Reading Banks (not unlike reading Vonnegut or MacLeod) was for me richer having a connection to/understanding of his politics. Keeping a vision of a humane and appealing future alive is as much a political achievement as a literary one. So, Iain, from all your left-ish fans, you will be sorely missed.


Well, this sucks. Anticipated, sure. Dreaded, certainly.Hopeful for a different outcome, without question. But sometimes I think hope is the worst of the horrors Pandora unleashed upon us.

Even so, when reality intrudes upon wants, it doesn't mean it sucks any less.

Not to make this about me, but I'd only just discovered his works last year. Oh, sure, I'd heard about him, heard about the Culture, but hadn't read anything. Finally, when I did, I found out how there were going to be no more works out there. So, it definitely sucks.

The highest compliment I can pay is my personal reaction to his prose. Very few authors can make me laugh out loud, and then reread the selection, and laugh with the same intensity all over again. Very few authors would make me have to pause from the reading just because I was overwhelmed by an idea or a particularly well-chosen word or turn of phrase, or imagery, or clever-by-more-than-half bit of dialogue. I would have to come up for air, and, upon reflecting it, almost invariably say out loud "Fuck. This guy is GOOD!"


This must be why it is so difficult for me to truly believe in progress and a brighter future; because at the end of the day, no matter how brightly you burned or how hopeful your visions, your life ends in darkness and you are soon forgotten. Clark Ashton Smith said: "All human thought, all science, all religion, is the holding of a candle to the night of the universe." And so, another bright-burning candle is extinguished by the eternal night...


Nicely done mr barnes. Would be nice, give an atheist a bit of a shock though :-)


So bummed about this. He was my favourite author. On hearing of his imminent demise I re-read Excession (possibly my favourite SF book ever) and read The Bridge. Both wonderful.

I echo michael's comment @4 - one of the few writers I can share with my wide.

And at 59, that means we've missed out on another 5 to 10 culture novels...


The Culture novels were truly inspirational to me, blowing away a lot of my preconceptions about the future. We are greatly lessened by his passing.

A question to our esteemed host: would you say that the Culture novels have inspired your more space opera-ish works in any way?


jj @ 35 Well, now ... there's another author, also suffering from various affliction, who has made me both laugh & weep in the space of a single page. [ It's in "Soul Music" ] As it is, unless we are lucky, we are going to be paid a visit by Cheradinine Zakalwe.


It is probably ridiculous for me to shed a tear for a man that I never knew, but I did.

Folk that write books, good books, touch our very hearts. They become friends, even though you might walk past them in the street.

I loved him through his books, though Iain M Banks, I hardly knew you.



What would be a good first Culture book? Any other work you would recommend for a newcomer?


What would be a good first Culture book?

While the chronologically first Culture book is Consider Phlebas, I think most people will be most easily introduced by Use of Weapons, since it follows a surprisingly military sci-fi fold for Banks. Not that he shied from the military side of the Culture. Well, paramilitary maybe. But it may mesh with more expected concepts.

Alternately, if you like concept sci-fi, Player of Games I find rather refreshing. It's short, for Banks & Culture, yet still fairly complete.

And if you like diving into a high-tech fairly alien world (I have to admit, I am a fan of this side of things too, but can see where others may not be) then Excession is probably the other Culture entry-point worth reading about.

As far as his other work, Transitions I thought was well done, very much along a similar vane as Charlie's Palimpeset. Something about The Bridge has kept me going back to it every few years, but personally I never did manage to get through The Wasp Factory.

But I am looking forward to our host's next hard SF entry in a few weeks as well... I think the Banks reread will have to wait until after a slew of living authors have had their products properly digested.


While the chronologically first Culture book is Consider Phlebas, I think most people will be most easily introduced by Use of Weapons, since it follows a surprisingly military sci-fi fold for Banks. Not that he shied from the military side of the Culture. Well, paramilitary maybe. But it may mesh with more expected concepts.

Seconded. Reading CP put me off Banksie until I'd read some of his "literary fiction", and then I restarted the Culture with UofW.


Not much I can add to the above. I just hope this link can take you to the photo it contains (formatting issues and the like, he said trying to bluff his way in techspeak)

The only Banks you could trust, indeed. Well, he was a very good recruiting sergeant for Special Circumstances.


And here's an Irish response to this unfortunate bit of news:


Same as me, but without the "maintstream" detour.

In fact I'm curious enought to try to revisit Consider Phlebas now and see what did I miss, why it did not click with me.

Good thing I gave him a second chance with Use of Weapons.


It's well worth it IMO; I think the issue is that CP isn't a good "first Banksie novel" rather than it's a "bad book".


Annalee Newitz, writing on io9

well worth a read, a nice antidote to the "oh yes, he wrote science fiction as well" brigade


Consider Phlebas is perhaps the most down beat of the Culture novels, and perhaps that is what puts many off. Although the other Culture novels all contain certain dark edges (more so in some cases, anyone recall the "restricted channels" selection of the Empire in Player of Games?), they have a core of poisitivity and optimism that is less obvious and somewhat over shadowed in CP. Although as "paws" points out, it's still a damn good book!

I would agree with the recommendations that Player of Games or Use of Weapons are probably the best entry points for the Culture sequence; but I would advise against diving into Excession -- it's one of my favourites too, but I think that without some prior grounding in the Culture universe, a lot of it is going to be difficult to follow.

Iain M Banks death is a sad loss to all of us fans, but I consider myself fortunate in that I have read his SF output for years, but have yet to sample any of Iain Banks' work. I intend to start now.


I'd suggest "The Crow Road", "Dead Air" or Stonemouth as probably the best stories, but think that "The Wasp Factory" (NB; highly strange warning) and "The Bridge" are the 2 best books he's written ("M" or otherwise).


von hictofen @ 50 Thanks for the link (& its' sub-links) Like the "rules, especially the last one ... after all the ambiguity: 11. There is a definition for evil, after all. There may not be any form of good that is unambiguous, but Banks is clear on one thing. Genocide, torture, and enslavement are always immoral, no matter how "special" the circumstances. Banks never lets us forget that the galaxy is full of authoritarians who think torture is an awesome way to rule over people — and who believe that some groups deserve to be completely erased from time and space. Those authoritarians should be killed. There is no happy rehab. We won't make them see the error of their ways. We will fucking assassinate them so fast that they won't even realize that a Terror Class Ship entered and left their local volume of space. Seriously. Kill those bastards. Banks wasn't afraid to moralize on behalf of great justice. Some things are not ambiguous. Taliban, anyone? Amy other nominees?


I think that article misses more than hits, frankly. Not discussing it as to not fill this with spoilers for the whole bunch of books in the setting.


Whilst I endorse the sentiments about Iain (M.) Banks entirely, I'd just like to point out that the correct quote ends with "in murder and a child screaming".


You have to love point #11. In a universe with no good guys, the author nevertheless apparently believes that there are people with good-guy badges whose moral superiority entitles them to erase and exterminate "them" (whoever "they" may be). Which is, of course, precisely where the problem starts.


This is one of the points I think the article completly misunderstand and misrepresent. To the point that I behemently disagree.

The only thing right on that point is the title - the explanation sucks and doesnt match the books.

In his books, the good guys are compromised, always doing the difficult balancing act of what is more ethical - do nothing, or do something that may not be 100% "pure" but will get some results. With doubt, remorse, etc.

The bad guys are shown as those that forgot about all that and decided that for whatever reason (class, religion, power, sheer individual awesomeness) the universe is just their plaything and there is absolutely nothing wrong with using people like tools or worse, to enjoy in their torture, just because they are right and fuck everybody else.

The Culture is trapped in the middle. Or at least the parts we see - the main body of the Culture lives in their utopian post-scarcity paradise, but once you move to the interface between the Culture and the rest of the galaxy the old questions arise. What is more moral? Do nothing? Or intervene to raise others to your level? How do you do it - specially, how do you do it without everybody resenting you? Doesnt it smell like cultural imperialism? But again, if you do nothing, then what is your supposed moral superiority - that you left sentient people to suffer and die in misery and agony?


And in fact I can remember at least one book in which the main bad guy walked away without any consequence.

Except a case of guilty conscience, and paranoia.


" Taliban, anyone? Amy other nominees? "

Come off it Greg! You know very well that there is no shortage of 'Nominees ' that extend right throughout the entire span of recorded Human History - and no doubt far beyond that Span.Tynanasaurous Whatever as VERY VERY BIG Thingy is UnDiscovered as of Yet. As it was the Ultimate Predator so far until WE appeared?No shortage just lately on how our species is only the latest - but maybe, we fancy, Biggest And Bestust!!! For WE are IT!! - causes of Mass Extinction?


  • Over the past 540 million years, there have been five mega extinction events.

  • Mankind may be causing a sixth due to habitat loss, over-hunting, over-fishing and the spread of germs.

  • Until human populations expanded, mammal extinctions were very rare.

Mankind may have unleashed the sixth known mass extinction in Earth's history, according to a paper released on Wednesday by the science journal Nature."

That was chosen at web search random ...

A Much, MUCH, More interesting question would be not be " Taliban, anyone? Amy other nominees? "

But rather WHY do such nominees exist and there a Good and Sufficent REASON - in terms of Human survival? - why they should exist? Are such Social Groups as The Taliban necessary to our Culture and Civilaisation in all its various aspects?

Taliban and Co ..the Dance Company? ..Well Frek Me Pink !! I made that up,but, being a cautious soul, I looked up my Cultural Invention, and Exists! ..sort of ..

" Dancing around Islam: DV8's Can We Talk About This?

The physical theatre company's newest work brings questions of free speech, multiculturalism and Islam to the stage. Sarfraz Manzoor meets its creator, Lloyd Newson "


The State of the Art. A novella in a collection by that name. It holds a mirror to us, and eases one into The Culture.


I don't recommend The Wasp Factory as an entry point, and I don't want to trigger other "wonderful book, never reading it again" people by saying why. But if it's your first one, whether of the literary books or his output as a whole, it could well be your last one. My own recommendation would be The Crow Road on the literary side. I think that's the one that's most accessible to a broad range of people.


" Iain Banks: An appreciation by Christopher Brookmyre "

" Here Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre recalls the influence of a man he describes as "infectiously cheerful, inventively witty and astonishingly generous"...


My Banks introduction was Consider Phlebas, and I could not have considered it more perfect. Almost everything about it -- other than the wild disregard for known physics -- was a breath of bracing fresh air compared to other space opera-ish stuff I had read.


-The AIs are more capable than humans. Far, far more capable. Most other space opera had no problems with magical ultratech including AI but leaving ordinary humans as the anachronistic key decision makers. In fact the background war in the book is about (among other things) how uncomfortable some civilizations are with the moral and intellectual superiority of machine minds, and the backlash against it.

-He really made me care about characters and their circumstances. I was rooting for Horza and the Culture at the same time, even though they were on opposite sides of the war. He threw in some technobabble but obviously cared more about characters and moral challenges than the fictional details of his pretend physics.

-The good guys are radically democratic and egalitarian, even in the face of an existential threat from a nearly-tech-equivalent aggressive empire. The response to divisive questions like "continued retreat or war?" isn't collective gridlock or a glorious leader making everyone pull together, but thinking beings voluntarily re-aligning into different factions based on their answers to those questions.

-At the end of the book, the main characters are dead. Their actions had only a minute effect on the galactic-scale war. Their heroic feats, terror, and narrow escapes left barely any historical mark. This is true to the premise of the setting (with godlike AIs running the war, the adventures of mortals are necessarily small potatoes) and avoids turning war into a glorious undertaking. Banks managed to write about the use of military force many times, and with moral approval, without conveying that war was something to look forward to.

In short, the Culture is Star Trek Done Right. It's radically egalitarian, anarchic, rather than Mainstream Liberal Americana in Space. It imagines biological self-modification and recreational drug use as just two more things radically improved by technology, instead of grave and justifiable taboos as Star Trek does. Instead of rehashing implausibly familiar politics, culture, economics, and armed struggle in a setting containing world-upending technologies, Banks gave his universe FTL, transporters, replicators, AI, and superweapons, then followed the premises to the best of all possible conclusions. He showed that nigh-magic technology changes what problems mortals wrestle with but doesn't make the problems categorically easier.


On the other hand, "The wasp factory" was the entry point for myself, aged 15 or 16, since it was on a reading list for English at school, I read it. And enjoyed it. I think it appeals more to teenagers than adults though.

Mind you I don't recall reading any more of his books, although at that time there weren't too many of them. Either way, I recall people recommending "Consider Phlebas", and I didn't enjoy it much. What I did enjoy was "Player of Games", I was totally enthralled by it.

"State of the Art" is probably one of the other easy routes in as suggested above.


I think what you meant to say is the Culture is Star Trek done according you your particular biases, hopes and values instead of Gene Roddenberry's. But in the end, the good guys win, and your preferred cosmic moral order is confirmed. This is why I like authors like Lovecraft and Ligotti; they challenge all of this moralizing and are the true taboo-breakers of science fiction.


in the end, the good guys win

No they don't. That's the whole point. In Banks' weltanschauung there are no unequivocal good guys -- only various shades of gray.


If you believe that you can just mix and match technologies with whatever social order you like, then yes, the difference between Star Trek and the Culture is just a matter of taste. But I believe that is incorrect: you can't have knightly heroics with the military technology of World War I, you can't maintain old sexual traditions in a world awash in artificial contraceptives, and you can't have casual molecular duplication without upending economics and traditional notions of mortality. Star Trek did it wrong because it casually used world-shaking technologies for nothing more than the immediate plot need (replicators, super-intelligence, dozens of instances of time travel).


you can't have knightly heroics with the military technology of World War I

Ya think? (I recommend a re-read of "The Guns of August". They certainly tried ... and to some extent succeeded, in the air.)

you can't maintain old sexual traditions in a world awash in artificial contraceptives

"The future is here; it's just not evenly distributed". Unless those contraceptives are everywhere -- which requires a political initiative -- then you will indeed find people trying to put the genie back in the box.

you can't have casual molecular duplication without upending economics and traditional notions of mortality

That tech, if it happens, is going to come of age through some spectacularly messy fighting over, e.g., intellectual property rights.

I'm not disagreeing, mind: your key point, that Star Trek jumped the shark in terms of cause and effect, is definitely valid. But there's push-back at all the margins of these technologies: adoption is not uniform. And technologies all come with political agendas attached, as Karl Schroeder frequently points out.


I should add that I don't think I can write that kind of space opera any more.

I tried in "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise"; I ended up in a horrible mess, with internal contradictions I couldn't resolve. So thereafter I adopted a much more disciplined approach to deploying magic technologies in my SF -- pick one, or a couple, and work through their consequences rigorously.

This may have made my far-future SF weaker in some ways. On the other hand ... I'm not sure. I guess I needed the self-imposed discipline. In some of the interviews coming up to the surface this week, Iain made it fairly clear that he didn't: he gloried in the wide screen creative freedom to pull in lots of stuff from all over.


I prefer Stross to Banks. Not ever close.


To put it another way: Banks says there are definite bad guys... but that doesn't mean there are definite good guys. Just less-bad guys (hopefully much less bad).


SEF @ 71 Precisely Which is one reason I saked the question after I nominated the Taliban. How can we be sure we are correct ( I won't say "right" in this context ) in condemning these ? people ? as bastards? Well ... what do they actually do - to other people? Right.

Oh & I think I'll add my own tribute to I. M. B. by signing off as:

Sun-Earther Gregory Hairy-Beerdrinker (Nick/Gascoine) Tingey of Walthamstow.


The thing is about the Culture novels, is they don't entirely describe the life of a Culture citizen, or the civilisation itself...such a book would not contain the necessary drama.

The one book that tries to the most is Excession, IMO

We are given many sideways glances into how the Culture chooses to organise itself, usually through the eyes of an outsider. But the drama comes from the Cultures confrontations with equiv-tech "involved" [to use IMBs term] civilizations, like the Affront in Excession, Azad in The Player of Games, the Idirans in Consider Phlebas, and how it tries to neutralise them.

Either that, or how the Culture deals with proxies gone rogue [Consider Phlebas again, Use of Weapons] or dealing with the inevitable blowback from the Culture's meddling [Look to Windward, Surface Detail]

But the main body of the Culture citizenry, would not ever get involved in the plots of Banks SF, as they are not interested or affected by the machinations of Contact/Special Circumstances/ the Minds.

The only Culture novel that shows how Contact "interferes" with other "alien" societies Inversions when they don't go in "ROUs blazing" has so little of the Culture in it, it barely qualifies as one

Also the Culture is a constantly bifurcating entity, with factions opposed to intervention, opposed to war with the Idirans, factions who seek to adopt the mores of the civilisations they encounter, or ships that leave the fabric of the Culture, or interfere more with civilisations than Culture minds would consider proportionate or elegant.

The author is clearly on the side of civilisation he has created [unsurprisingly], but there is space for the reader to draw their own [subjective] conclusions where on the spectrum of good-evil the Culture might belong.


Although I agree that The Crow Road is probably one of the best gateways into the Banks oeuvre, I started reading him with The Wasp Factory, went on to Walking on Glass, then Consider Phlebas (missed The Bridge due to being distracted) and then the rest. Banks's power as a writer shone right through the unpleasantness for me -- and Walking on Glass is in many ways more unpleasant than TWF.

Perhaps the point is that someone who has read a lot of literary fiction may quite like a book like those first two, while someone who doesn't like (or is not familiar with) the peculiar eccentricities that define canon literature may find those two off-putting.


Just starting oN "Inversions" which was mis-sold as non-SF until I realised, that it was a non-Culture SF story - bad information feeds there to blame!

Sun-Earther Gregory Hairy-Beerdrinker (Nick/Gascoine) Tingey of Walthamstow.


Espedair Street.

Best Rock'n'Roll novel ever (and much more besides)...


"Inversions" is actually a Culture story. Set almost entirely outside the Culture, on a barbarian world -- a theme revisited in "Matter" (from another angle).


in the end, the good guys win s/good/better


also s/win/get PTSD, guilt, or death in many cases/


As an FYI, Amazon is selling The Quarry on preorder for just four quid.


Charlie @ 77 OOPS! FBCK I did NOT meanr "inversions" - which I've had for years, I meant ... "Transitions". Clang. Soory folks.


And back to 10.


I'll admit I had trouble fully embracing some of the Culture novels I read because of those things. I admired the thought he put into it but still had trouble with some of the weird world-building elements like human-ish cultures and beings arising on planets that aren't settled by humans, trying to get a sense of where recognizably human-scale minds fit in this society, their relevance in light of the great Minds. I couldn't figure out if I wasn't up to the challenge of properly appreciating his work, if I was getting stuck on irrelevant details that were beside the point like objecting to Aesop's Fables because animals can't actually talk or whether there were real problems.

This review echoes my own feelings with Use of Weapons.

I don't think every writer needs that self-imposed discipline to be successful, certainly, but only the author knows what best serves his art.


Transitions was a rollicking tale.


2013-06-18 22:00 BBC2

Iain Banks - Raw Spirit: A Review Show Special

The acclaimed novelist talks to Kirsty Wark about his career, life and facing up to death. Contains some strong language. Also in HD.


Contains some strong language

You bet it fucking does.

Considering the interviewees situation I'm surprised there wasn't more!

The full length version iPlayer was very touching, and very quotable

"The narrator is an 18-year-old boy who's on one or two different spectra, possibly Asperger's being one of them. But in a sense, the main character's his dad, who's dying of cancer... And then 10,000 words from the end, as it turned out, I suddenly discovered that I had cancer. I've really got to stop doing my research too late. This is such a bad idea."


A lighter moment in dark days: in Simon Pegg's "Hot Fuzz", Bill Bailey plays a pair of twin desk sergeants who are distinguishable only by whether the man in question were reading Iain Banks or Iain M. Banks...and judging from a tweet the Google machine found when searching on "Bill Bailey" and "Iain Banks", is quite the fan.


I've been doing a Banks read / re-read since I heard the news. I just finished Espedair Street last night, and it was funny. Very highly recommended for those who haven't read it.

Also, Scenes from a Multiverse has a Banks tribute.


PSA - I've just read "Raw Spirit", if you've not done so and would like a Banksie autobiography, you should get a copy.



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