So long, IMB, I never knew ye

09 June 2013

Welsh on Banks

It probably isn’t a surprise that Irvine Welsh should provide a perfect expression of sorrow about Iain Banks. I mean, you know: Irvine Welsh. There will be more personal ones aplenty, and more in-depth ones. But Welsh captures the point. Bright light, great words, wonderful mind: now gone out.

I never got to meet Banks. It was one of those things I thought might happen when Angelmaker took off, with TGAW already in the bag. I thought “Well, I bet we’ll bump into each other at some point and I won’t feel like a crazy stalker.” And then SLAM. He’s announcing he has rapid terminal cancer and I’m composing a letter to say “you’re amazing” and wondering whether sending it is in poor taste. The first lines – I never finished it, that was going to happen next week – went like this:

Dear Mr Banks,

I would like to say, very simply, that I could not have contemplated writing the books I have written and the ones I am writing in my head if I did not have you out there in front of me. I just wouldn’t have thought anyone would pay attention.

Because that is true. He made a revolving door between genre and non-genre before ever I left school. In the 80s, for God’s sake, when that ridiculous essay about how all science fiction was essentially for sweaty-palmed teenage boys was doing the rounds.

And from what I hear, pretty much everyone who met him liked him, too.

I’m not thrilled with the way the BBC and the Guardian are saying goodbye. They seem to be working from the same template document, so I suspect it’s an uncertainly-written press release or a wire service piece. I haven’t checked, because it’s an irritation rather than a scandal, but seriously: “The writer also penned sci-fi titles under the name Iain M Banks.” In other news it turns out that, as well as being the Master of the Royal Mint, Isaac Newton was some kind of science geek.

Yeah, well. Shelving conventions, apparently, are like death and taxes.

It’s not important, it’s just a focus for my regret, which is enormous.

No more Culture stories. No more Affront, no more smug, infuriating, misguided, altruistic, brilliant Minds engaged in slyly funny banter. No more hair’s breadth escapes. No more savage, disturbing images. No more ethical conundrums or brain-stretching sociological what-ifs. No more guy behind Crow Road, behind the appalling Wasp Factory. God knows how many other writers owe Banks a tip of the cap, how many TV shows and movies and books would simply not exist, or would never have been published, without his gravity acting on the rubber sheet of narrative space.

There are a couple of his books I never got to. They’re upstairs. But now I somehow feel I should pace myself.

Well. Sod it. Farewell, Mr Banks. And I wish it wasn’t.

[***UPDATED: A nod is due to the Guardian for a speedy reworking of their piece to include a more serious recognition of Banks’ SF work. It’s worth remembering, before everyone gets too irate about the original error, that his novels published as general fiction outnumber his SF by 15-13, and that he estimated that his mainstream work outsold his genre writing by three or four to one. Which means, on the one hand, that he wrote SF – as he says – because he loved it, but on the other that the majority of his readers never read the work of which he was most fond. Fathom that, if you will.]

[***UPDATED II: The BBC audio and video coverage of Banks has apparently been quite even-handed. Last time I looked, however, the text coverage was up to three pieces – including, amazingly, a selection of quotes from the man himself – all of which seemed studiously to avoid acknowledging Banks’ own avowed sense that SF was his natural home.]

[Front page image by Tim Duncan under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.]

6 Comments to “So long, IMB, I never knew ye”

  • Richard said on June 9th, 2013:

    Well said. RIP IMB.

    He will always live on in his writing.

    But damn, I’m going to miss Culture, and so much more.


  • Tim said on June 9th, 2013:

    Damn. All the rest of my life stretching out ahead of me, and never another Culture novel.

    I’ve forced The Wasp Factory on at least two dozen people (three in the last month) over the years and every one of them has gone on to read Banks with the same obsession that gripped me. Who will ever write another novel like that? Who will have the effrontery to create something as big as the Culture–and the skill and stones to pull it off so magnificently?

    This world is officially poorer.

  • […] of people wrote lovely things about Iain – Nick Harkaway’s “So long, IMB, I never knew ye” and Neil Gaiman’s “Iain Banks. With or without the M.” being the first of many […]

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  • Joel Ward said on June 10th, 2013:

    The Wasp Factory was a stunner. Even as a teenager reading Ellison, Dick, Burroughs, Lafferty, Ballard…I felt jackhammered by Banks.

    Met him at a con in Madison, Wisconsin, 20+ years ago. Very nice man. Gave him one of my homebrews to enjoy and he lied (probably) that it was good.

    I often just sit and think about the Culture novels. Sit slack jawed, thinking about the audacity of the imagination behind them. And now that is gone.

    Honestly, this just stinks. Nothing can be done but read and re-read him. And give his books to friends and strangers.

    Yeah. Gonna stockpile used Banks for massive giveaways. That’s what I’ll do.

  • | Goodbye, Iain Banks said on June 11th, 2013:

    […] with the first lines of a fan letter he was in the process of writing, Nick Harkaway reflected on that very thought on his […]

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