And now I’ll never know…

Iain Banks’s untimely death has, quite rightly, got plenty of attention this week. My own feelings can’t be fully summed up without some rude and angry words, but in dilute form, they’ve be something like, How could you do that, you bastard universe/god!*

Like a lot of British SF fans of my generation, I knew him personally. Not as a close friend, but thanks to his frequent and enthusiastic attendance at SF cons in the 80s and 90s, I met him a number of times, in situations generally involving alcohol and often involving new and unexpected experiences – ask me about the 6am poker-and-single-malt-Dave-con at the Adelphi some time.

He was a great bloke. More importantly for the world at large, he was a great writer – and in not one, but two, genres. Mainstream commentators have predictably played down, or been slightly perplexed by, his continued love of SF: *plummy voice* why did he dabble with such tomfoolery when he was a literary great? Those of us living in the SF ghetto have been known to take the opposite view: that he was One of Us, and only wrote the other stuff because it paid well, kind of like his day-job. Me, I think he genuinely loved both the genres he wrote in. He certainly delivered the goods in both.

Because plenty has been said elsewhere, I wasn’t going to mention his passing, quietly depressed though it left me. But then I remembered something I’d been meaning to do, and now never will. The early Culture novels are, in my opinion, some of the best SF written in the 20th century (some of the later ones less so, which is what you get for creating a working Utopia, but that’s a discussion for another day). The third book, Use of Weapons, ends with an awesome sting in the tail, delivered via a powerful and – in typical Banksie fashion – deeply twisted, image. When, some time after reading the book, I discovered the author’s love of the music of Warren Zevon (another genius taken too soon…) I instantly made a connection between this image and the song Excitable Boy.

Now it may just be me, but having written enough to have an inkling of how these things work, I think it’s entirely possible that the seed for Use of Weapons was planted in Banks’ fervent brain by one line in this song. I always planned to ask him, should we meet again. He hasn’t been to cons for a while, but maybe I could take a moment of his time at Worldcon next year. But that won’t happen. It’s odd how the small things bring home the big, nasty truths.

Here’s to you Banksie mate. Have a dram on me at the great pub in the sky.

*I’m an agnostic: does it show?

5 Responses to And now I’ll never know…

  1. Niall 14 June 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    What she said and pass the malt. A great bloke who wrote great books who be well missed.

  2. John Dallman 14 June 2013 at 7:32 pm #

    I had a question I wanted to ask, too. It’s about an atmosphere, a particular feeling that crops up quite often. The elements are a seashore, usually with a stone building, and a great sense of loss, but with hope that the loss might not be permanent. *The Wasp Factory* is full of it, and *Stonemouth* has a lot as does *Espedair Street*. It’s less prominent in the SF, but the opening scene of *Excession* and the monastery with the railway tracks in *Against A Dark Background* have it, as do the final scenes of *The Algebraist*. I just want to know what gave rise to it, but now I never will.

    Somewhere, in a beachfront bar on a pleasant orbital…

  3. Ashley R Pollard 14 June 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    Well said, and I like you I have memories of conversations with Iain and happy memories of drunken times. It has quite frankly lowered my spirits to hear of his death this week, even though i knew it was only a matter of time from his announcement.

  4. Rosie Oliver 24 June 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Nobody can write like Iain M Banks, but there is one thing that can be done in science fiction – write about an alternate universe where Iain continues living for a lot Lot LOT longer. He may be gone, but not forgotten, and may be resurrected in another reader/fan friendly form, while, of course, respecting his family’s wishes.

    • JaineFenn 24 June 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      I like that: whether it happens or not, it’s my kind of thought experiment.

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