Daily Illuminator

June 10, 2013: Iain M. Banks

A hugely talented and original science fiction author, Iain M. Banks, has died at the age of 59 of cancer of the gall bladder.

Can space opera be darkly humorous? Definitely; that describes Banks' "Culture" series. And he liked games; one of his novels describes a culture built entirely around a complex game, while another recounts an multi-species ethical issue which, in theory, is to be resolved by a virtual-reality wargame. It is probably not much of a spoiler to say that cheating occurs.

I cannot make the customary lament of "now I will never read another new novel by (author)," because in fact I discovered Banks only a few years ago, and have not yet caught up with everything he did . . . let alone the non-SF works that were published as "Iain Banks" with no M. And, when I finally run out of "new" Banks, I won't really have run out; these are the kind of books that can be read over and over. And, truth be told, most of them can also be used as doorstops. It wasn't that the man could not write short fiction – he did – but he seemed to prefer long, complex stories of huge scope. And oh, my, he was good at it. You just kept turning pages, and turning pages, and it was perfectly all right that there were a lot of pages.

Banks also created a sort of geek haiku with the names he gave to the Culture's ships. No "Enterprise" here. They chose their own names. But what, exactly, is a huge and heavily-armed super-intelligence saying when it chooses a name like Prosthetic Conscience? Or I Thought He Was With You? Or God Told Me To Do It, or Zero Gravitas, or Lightly Seared On The Reality Grill . . . Read the list.

I don't know if I would like to live in the Culture, but I'm grateful to Banks for letting me visit.

-- Steve Jackson


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