Yesterday it was publicly announced for the first time that, as Iain says, he is “Very Poorly”. In a personal statement published on a number of websites, he announced that he has terminal cancer, and that his next novel, The Quarry, will be his last. There is an official ‘guestbook’ to sign to leave messages, thoughts and wishes too.
It may seem a selfish reaction but I was devastated when I read the statement, because I felt that this was a writer I had grown to know and who had shaped my reading and writing through his own. Of course, it is an appalling tragedy for his family and friends – that goes without saying – but as the day went on, it seemed I wasn’t the only one to feel this personal, if premature, sensation of loss. Iain and his works have meant a huge amount to a vast number of people and it seemed right to make the most of the time we still have with him in the world to revisit and celebrate his work.
I first came to Iain Banks through the (fantastic) BBC adaptation of The Crow Road, in the mid-90’s, which was funny, shocking, moving and gripping – safe to say I was hooked. So, I went out and devoured the book, then read The Wasp Factory, and then… Then I discovered Consider Phlebas. A science fiction ‘space opera’ with a title from T S Eliot, and the most wonderful alien worlds since The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula Le Guin). I was utterly entranced by the way Banks could weave together philosophical arguments with thrilling adventure, life-threatening peril and deep, knowable characters. Other than Le Guin, I’ve never read a science fiction author who was able to do so so effectively.
I’ll be posting more about some of my favourite Banks books over the next few weeks and months, and that’s at least partly down to some very clever people on Twitter, Alan (@wordsofmercury) and Annabel (@gaskella) who both came up with the idea of a mass reread, linked across blogs online with a central discussion forum. You can find that forum here: http://banksread.freeforums.net/index.cgi
I hope you’ll join me in revisiting Banks, or reading your first ever Banks book – now is the time, while we can still let him know what a fantastic gift he’s given us in his books.