It’s been a bad week for Science Fiction. Last week we lost Jack Vance and now we’ve lost one of our all time favourite authors, Iain Banks.
Iain recently announced to the world that he had terminal cancer and at best, several months to live. That was only two months ago and today he passed away.
James is on Iain’s editorial team at Orbit publishing and I am a long time fan who had the honour of not only meeting him twice but also interviewing him for Fantasy-Faction. So while we at J For Jetpack can’t pretend to have known Iain Banks well, he has certainly had a significant impact on chez Jetpack.
I’m not going to turn this in to a journalistic piece and go in to depth about who he was. I’ve just got a fun anecdote about what Iain would call himself if he were a Culture ship. If you don’t know who Iain Banks is though, please, please go and buy a copy of The Wasp Factory. It is the novel that taught me just how powerful fiction can be and to this day is one of my all time favourite novels. My signed copy is one of my most prized possessions.
So, one chilly night last year in Bath, UK, I watched Iain charm the pants off an entire room of fans. Afterwards he then signed a steady stream of books.
Once he was finished, Banks and I were meant to be doing an interview but he said the interview could wait until tomorrow for we should go to the pub! So there I was, in a pub, sat next to Iain Banks and Rose Tremlett his UK publicist. I felt like a rock star.
The following night I turned up to Bristol Waterstones (a UK bookshop) to do the interview and quickly found myself sat in the back room with Iain Banks, a glass of water and a blinking dictaphone. I began asking Iain all my meticulously crafted questions but quickly realised that here I was with one of my all time favourite authors and rather than ask prepared stuff, let’s just have fun. With this, I put down my notes and asked what was in my head.
I asked about The Algebraist and the physics of Shellworlds. I asked about whiskey, his thoughts on Hell and his most disgusting ideas for books. I asked him what else other than fiction and sci-fi he would like to write. Apparently he would like to try writing westerns and he also joked that he would like to write pornography under the name Iain X. Banks.
I asked him about the ostentatious names he gives his Culture ships and what his own Culture ship name would be. He told me he would be one of the Gravitas ships because the origin of those ship names always made him laugh. In his novels, one of the alien species said that they liked the Culture Ship names but felt they lacked a certain gravitas… and so the Gravitas fleet was born. So Banks’s self-given Gravitas name would be… Thoroughly Lacking In Gravitas.
I think not sir.
Today we have lost a truly incredible force of literature. Words like legend are all too often banded around but I think in Banks’s case we can all be in agreement that legend simply isn’t a strong enough word to sum up the legacy he’s left behind.
I’ll bring my thoughts on Iain Banks’s passing to a close with Bank’s own words from The Crow Road:
“We continue in our children, and in our works and in the memories of others; we continue in our dust and ash.”
In case you were never fortunate enough to meet the man himself, here are a couple of videos of Banks talking. The first is of the event in Bath, UK (you can see me in the audience) and the second is when he appeared on the amazing Derren Brown, Trick Of The Mind.
Thanks Iain. With The Wasp Factory you changed my life and with that one M. you changed SFF Culture forever.