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On Iain (M) Banks

I was sad to hear the news that Iain Banks is suffering from terminal cancer, as he is an author who has meant a lot to me since I first discovered him during a meal break whilst at the University of Southampton. It was when I was working at Silica Shop, unsuccessfully(*) selling PCs in the eyes of the manager, discovering the joys of the back passages and rooms frequented by the staff of the Debenhams in which Silica existed.

(*)I was 'unsuccessful' mainly because I tended to sell people a computer that met their needs and desires rather than a fully loaded and overpriced top end Compaq. Anyway, I digress.

I first encountered Banks through his SF epic
Consider Phlebas, which I found near impossible to put down after I discovered it on the shelf in WHSmiths. I can remember sitting outside on a bench in the cold, unwilling to move as I was gripped by the story, and getting annoyed that I had to go back in. It was glorious, enchanting and fast-paced space opera and so different to the norm of SF from the late seventies and eighties. Absolutely brilliant. I then went and bought everything that he had written at that point - The State of the Art, The Player of Games and then Use of Weapons. That book has the distinction of being one of the few that I've reached the end of and immediately re-read, as I never saw it coming. I moved onto his contemporary novels (published without the ‘m’ ), which are equally good and larger in number. The Wasp Factory was dark, macabre and I couldn't put it down despite intensely disliking it. Few books since have evoked that emotion, much like a film where you want to look away but can't. The Crow Road and Complicity are both great thrillers (and check out the TV series and the film respectively) and Espedair Street is a great rock novel (likewise the BBC Radio 4 version was excellent).

Banks quickly became one of the few authors I bought in hardcover (along with William Gibson and more recently Alastair Reynolds), and someone whose books I really looked forward to.
Excession is a personal favourite in his SF, and the surreal The Bridge in his 'literature'. Feersum Endjinn messed with my head when I read it, as the alternative phonetic and English chapters forced a meshing of gears.

I think his books went off the boil a bit about a decade ago, but even a weaker novel from him was worth a read, often surpassing other writer's best works. I think his work had been back on an upward improving trajectory over the last few years.

And now his next book is almost certainly his last unless there is some kind of reprieve or remission, which he states is unlikely. I'll miss his work, it has brought me great enjoyment. It also holds several unique places in my heart.

Thank you, Iain (M) Banks. You've thrilled me, inspired me and entertained me, not to mention set me on a journey in gaming that I hope I can complete this year.

Reflecting, what makes it even worse is that another of my favourite authors, John le Carré, is 82 this year, so I suspect there are a limited number of books left from him too.