Readers of the fiction of Iain Banks, or his science fiction alter ego Iain M Banks, will have been left wondering whether to laugh or cry at the characteristically bleak humour in his personal statement announcing his terminal cancer yesterday: he asked his partner if she would do him the honour of becoming his widow.
Well, OK, maybe not: crying is the thing. We just assumed there would be more dark mischief in Scotland, or more Culture shenanigans. As much as anything it was that dark, dark humour that drove home that there was just one more to come.
As a long standing SF reader it is his Culture novels that held me. If you want to know why – or just want to get a flavour of Banks at his best – then grab Look To Windward and do three things:
- Read the book
- Note the publication date
- Note the dedication
Science Fiction is often credited with prescience when it comes to technology, but this book show prescience when it came to humanity – even if it had at heart more optimism than the real world was able to deliver. It does what great writing does: illuminate.
Ian Rankin said on 5Live yesterday that he hoped to have more time to drink with his friend before he “wanders off down the road”, a lovely peaceful image. Whenever I’ve heard Banks interviewed he has always struck me as someone who you wouldn’t mind getting quietly sozzled with.
The world needs more people like that, not fewer.