23rd Oct: It's time for the Second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest! Details here.
Writing mainstream fiction is rather like playing a beautifully tuned grand piano. it's a wonderful experience and you can get a great sound out of it. Writing science fiction is like playing a gigantic church organ, one with four keyboards, two more keyboards for your feet, a hundred different switches and a load of stops to pull out, because pulling out all the stops is very important.Iain Banks (1954 - 2013) was a Scottish writer who alternated between straight fiction (as Iain Banks) and Science Fiction (as Iain M. Banks). He was listed by the Times as one of the 50 greatest British writers.According to his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, "Although differences in register can be detected between the two forms of his name, as a whole Banks's work is more usefully thought of as ranging through a wide spectrum, rather than as bifurcating into two separate categories. As in the case of Graham Greene's "real novels" and what he called "Entertainments", it is a distinction without visible merit, beyond its use in marketing terms. "Ian Banks had a Quentin-Tarantino-like reputation: he was famous for his first published novel The Wasp Factory which featured murder, animal mutilation and had a darkly comic tone. Explicit depictions of horrible events is a constant. Any article about him is sure to mention exploding grannies or heads on life-support used as punching bags.However, he was not primarily a writer of horror stories. His novels were densely packed with politics, story and character. He was often pigeonholed as a member of the far-left, but his works don't read as rhetoric.To scratch the surface of his politics, we have his most famous (Science Fiction) creation: The Culture. On the surface it is a gleeful utopia with no exploitation, rules or money, heavily supported by high technology and benign, highly capable Artificial Intelligences. A place where everyone can get their kicks, even the AIs in the virtual Infinite Fun Space. However, Banks was also a hardnosed realist: The Culture only exists because of its military and intelligence service, both of which are ruthless and bloody-handed.In effect: there are no rules in the Culture as long as you don't go breaking the rules (and if you have to ask what they are, there is clearly something wrong with you).If his take on utopia is marbled with reservations, his depiction on totalitarian societies is more stark. You would have to work hard to develop a Misaimed Fandom for his fundamentalists, kings and corrupt politicians.However, Banks was a great appreciator of the theatre of fascism and the romance of warriors and weapons. This is coupled with his willingness to treat people who are doing foolish and/or evil things with seriousness and sympathy. He also liked to confront means and ends rather than glibly state that the end doesn't justify the means. Put it all together and there aren't many easy answers left.
...a story which both embraces and rejects the romanticism of space adventure; a story which unsettles as often as it thrills.Banks loved complexity. In Use of Weapons alternating chapters travel in opposite directions along the timeline, with symbology and causality tying each couplet together. It also has many characters, deceptions, lies, civilisations, technologies and religions.Banks was happy to borrow ideas from all over the Science field. Sometimes this complexity gets out of hand. Feersum Endjinn is perhaps an example when the special effects take over and the story gets lost.A saving grace is the style: he was generally noted for having a clear matter-of-fact style. Coupled with an earthy directness, his writing helps ground the flights of fancy.Banks' straight fiction is often harsher. Lacking the relief of science fiction grandeur or Culture-like optimism, his straight fiction is usually laden with horror and unflinchingly negative takes on humanity. As a result, his non-genre fiction can seem nihilistic. Or to put it his way "Full of gratuitous nastiness but a cracking good read." A relatively gentle place to start is Espedair Street — a strange rags-to-riches tale of rock megastardom finally run aground.Banks was unusual in being a cross-over author: he was as least as famous and successful as a conventional fiction author as a Science Fiction author.In his personal life he had a reputation for hard drinking, drug use, powerful cars and an interest in explosives. This rambunctious lifestyle seemed to inform his books, which exude an adolescent brio. Confoundingly, in person his appearance had been likened to a university lecturer, and for all the darkness in his novels he came across as quite upbeat and jovial. He was a regular at Science Fiction conventions — not necessarily to promote himself but because he was "one of us" — a fan in his own right. He also had one of greatest geek credentials of all time: he was an extra in the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.He gained some media attention for publicly cutting up his passport in response to Tony Blair's decision to take the UK into the Iraq war.He reported his childhood as being a secure and happy one. A Scottish sense of strong family ties and clannish loyalties perhaps informs his work which can be downright odd in contrast to other elements:"I'm veering wildly across the road of literature, from the cosy sentimentality of The Crow Road and Whit to the deeply unpleasant, gratuitously nasty stuff like Complicity."In summary Iain Banks is not for the faint-hearted, but a lot of fun and great food for thought.On April 3rd 2013, Iain Banks announced that he had cancer, and only a few months left to live.Only two months later, on 9th of June 2013, news broke that he had passed away, much to the dismay of his fans.
— T. M. Wagner, reviewing Consider Phlebas
Iain Banks' works with their own pages:
Tropes in Iain Banks' works: