Welcome back to the Dragons&Jetpacks blog! And sorry for the quietness as of late. You may notice we have had a facelift, and you’ll probably notice some more changes over the next few months. Any problems please let us know. Lets get 2017 kicked off with this Author Spotlight on Iain M. Banks, brought to you by moderator Nic, who has written this in conjunction with Jan/Feb’s Mod Pick – Consider Phlebas.
Iain (M.) Banks, (simply Iain Banks for his non-genre works, but adding the M for his Sci-fi novels)
Who is he?
Born in Fife, Scotland on 16th February 1954, Iain M. Banks was the creator of the Culture series of novels. Set in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, the Culture is home to a number of humanoid species all living in a utopian, semi-anarchic society.
Sci-Fi – [Culture]
Consider Phlebas -1987
A Player Of Games -1988
Use Of Weapons -1990
State of the Art* -1991
Look to Windward -2000
Surface Detail -2010
The Hydrogen Sonata -2012
State of the Art* -1991
Against a Dark Background -1993
Feersum Endjinn -1994
The Algebraist -2004
(State of the Art is a short story collection of Culture and Non-Culture SF)
Non-genre fiction (As Iain Banks)
The Wasp Factory -1984
Walking on Glass -1985
The Bridge -1986
Espedair Street -1987
Canal Dreams -1989
The Crow Road -1992
A Song of Stone -1997
The Business -1999
Dead Air -2002
The Steep Approach to Garbadale -2007
The Quarry -2013
Raw Spirit -2003
How did you come across them?
I was introduced by to Banks’ works by an old manager I used to work with back in the early 2000s. He lent me a couple of his non-genre fictions and I fell head-over-heels for his writing, with his complex but fallible characters, and more than a smattering of the macabre. A few years later I spotted Consider Phlebas on a second-hand book stall and decided to buy it, not even sure if it was the same Iain Banks I’d read before (because of his use of the middle initial, M, in his name). Up until this point I hadn’t ever read a sci-fi book and it just blew my mind, exactly what I’d been missing in my reading! I’d read plenty of fantasy before, but for some reason it had never occurred to me to branch out into science fiction, despite the fact I’ve always been a huge fan of SF films and TV. So the Culture is where SF all started for me, and it is still my favourite fictional setting of all the realms and dimensions I’ve read since.
What is your favourite work by him and why ?
There are not many of his books that I’m not totally in love with, but I think the pinnacle of his culture books was Surface Detail. His longest book, Surface Details follows some six different protagonists through an increasingly entangling storyline. A facet of the Culture world is that consciousness’ can be digitally stored upon death, and a major theme of this book involves the morality of “virtual hells”, whereby a consciousness can be artificially tormented in the afterlife.
I loved living inside this book during the short period for which I read it, Banks paints such a wonderful and vivid setting, just so engrossing and I’m very much looking forward to reading it again!
Another facet of the culture is that humanoids have an equal standing with AIs (called ‘minds’ in the culture) and robots (called ‘drones’), and these are some of the richest characters. The drone Mawhrin-Skel from A Player of Games is definitely one of my favourites; working for the cultures Special Circumstances section, the drone is a wonderful example of Banks’ offbeat, black comedic tendencies.
The names of the spaceships within the Culture are something that can take a little bit of getting used to. Names ranging from simple examples like ‘Just Testing’, ‘Limiting Factor’, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, to the more complex, like ‘Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints’, ‘Transient Atmospheric Phenomenon’ and the quite frankly ridiculous, like ‘Just The Washing Instruction Chip In Life’s Rich Tapestry’ and ‘It’s My Party And I’ll Sing If I Want To’. In honour of Banks, SpaceX have named a couple of their spaceport drone ships – ocean-going landing-platform ships – after vessels in the culture, so they have ships called ‘Just Read The Instructions’ and ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ both of which are from The Player of Games.
Have you read any Ian (M) Banks? Are you joining in the reading it over these two months, or read it before? You can join in the discussion with the rest of the group over on GoodReads – BEWARE SPOILERS.