Terrible News: Iain M. Banks Diagnosed with Cancer

It was announced yesterday that Iain M. Banks–or just Iain Banks to readers of his non-SF works–has been diagnosed with gall bladder cancer. The prognosis is bad, and gives him less than a year to live.

He released a public statement that’s as blunt, honest and wry as I expected, being familiar with his writing; “I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow” is exactly the sort of dark humour that runs through all of his books.

I don’t know Banks personally, of course. The sadness this news has triggered is purely the selfish kind–that his upcoming novel, The Quarry, will be his last, and particularly that all of the Culture novels there will ever be have already been written.

(I want to write something bigger and deeper about the Culture some time soon, but I need to gather my thoughts first. And possibly re-read Use of Weapons in another probably vain attempt to get that story straight in my head.)

Banks is also one of the few writers to whom I feel a deep gratitude, for the way their books have inspired me: to start writing, to keep writing, and to strive to get even close to being as good as they are. (China Miéville, Steven Erikson, and Neil Gaiman are the others, for the record.)

It’s strange to feel a connection to a person whom you’ve never met, and who doesn’t know you exist, but there it is. We should appreciate him while he’s here. And I’ll miss him when he’s gone.

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Fifty and/or Ten SFF Works Every Socialist and/or Conservative Should Read

This is great. Wonderful spec-fic author and renowned socialist China Mieville put together a list for The Weekly Ansible of ‘50 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read‘. Then The American Conservative, just for fun, did a counterpoint list of ten equivalent works for those of a more conservative bent.

intriguing stuff, and a great shopping list for readers who like some political theory with along with their hyperspace travel/dragons.

China Mieville on “Cognition as Ideology: A Dialectic of SF Theory”

Wow. I only just came across this, but China Mieville–Hugo Award-winning author of Perdido Street Station, The Scar, Iron Council and The City and the City–gave an hour-long lecture at the University of Kansas in 2009 where he discussed the scholarly theory and political implications of science fiction, and the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. It’s fascinating analysis from a fascinating writer and thinker.

“The cognition effect is a function of charismatic authority. It is the surrender of the reader to the authority of the text, and the authority of the author function.”

Or in other words, the science in SF need not be plausible for the story to be ‘believable’, and for the reader to happily immerse themselves in the writer’s world–but only as long as the internal logic of the story is consistent, and the author presents the ‘science’ of the story’s universe in an authoritative–or charismatic–way.

Worth setting aside an hour for. Videos embedded below the jump.

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Delightful Interview with China Mieville

At the Guardian, here. He’s one of my absolute favourite authors, a really wonderful storyteller.

I’m also super-impressed and delighted that the 12-year-old interviewer asked this question:

On a recent visit to a 16th century house called East Riddlesdon Hall, I found an early Victorian child’s sampler that used the ampersand (&) as a full stop. Have you ever come across this before and do you have any idea why they might have done this?

I have never heard of this, and I am quite fascinated. And troubled: my typographical philosophy is being shaken.’

Perfect.

Worlds Without End – Legends of SF

If you’ve not checked out Worlds Without End in my blogroll on the right, take a peek now. It’s OK, I’ll wait.

The site is an incredible resource, and ‘brings together the complete listings of novels, authors and publishers for 12 major awards in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror‘. I’ve mentioned ‘my inevitable Hugo Award’ enough times that you won’t be surprised that was the first place I went. And after spinning through the shortlists for the last 20 years I was awestruck by how many legendary names appear consistently, year on year.

Read more…

Retro Futurism

Nice post on io9 here.

I’m drawn to the Anachronista category – the others don’t do a lot for me. I’m no good at history so hardly qualified to suggest alternates. Cheese is . . . well, cheesy. And I think there are enough people writing steampunk – the best example of it, China Mieville’s work, doesn’t even get called it because it’s so much more as well.

But anachronista, that I could do. The next book I’ve got planned is somewhat tinged with this – it’s a Chandler-style detective noir, but set in the same technologically advanced far-future universe of my current WIP.

It wouldn’t quite fit the anachronista mould the io9 article talks about, as it’ll be stylistically redolent of 1930s/40s/50s pulp crime lit, rather than actually containing any technology that you might have found back then. But still – that’s one of the things I love about SF, the scope to combine it with another genre entirely and come up with an interesting hybrid. I’m looking forward to writing it.