Iain Banks: The Final Interview

Over at The Guardian today. Includes what I’m sure will go down as one of his most famous quotes:

“I can understand that people want to feel special and important and so on, but that self-obsession seems a bit pathetic somehow. Not being able to accept that you’re just this collection of cells, intelligent to whatever degree, capable of feeling emotion to whatever degree, for a limited amount of time and so on, on this tiny little rock orbiting this not particularly important sun in one of just 400m galaxies, and whatever other levels of reality there might be via something like brane-theory [of multiple dimensions] … really, it’s not about you. It’s what religion does with this drive for acknowledgement of self-importance that really gets up my nose. ‘Yeah, yeah, your individual consciousness is so important to the universe that it must be preserved at all costs’ – oh, please. Do try to get a grip of something other than your self-obsession. How Californian. The idea that at all costs, no matter what, it always has to be all about you. Well, I think not.”

Perfect. ‘How Californian’ indeed. There’s also a great quote that’ll get the more militant indie author/publishers’ backs up:

“I think my poetry’s great but then I would, wouldn’t I? But whether any respectable publisher will think so, that’s another matter. I’ll self-publish if I have to; sometimes I have no shame.”

Ha ha. And finally:

“…it wasn’t that Iain was still Iain, despite an illness that was as unexpected as it was tragic. It’s that in his last days he was more witty, more impassioned, more imaginative, more kindly, more caustic and even cleverer, as if concentrating and distilling the best of himself into the small time he had left. It was humbling to have been there.”

(Thanks to Steve Hall for the link.)

’11 Rules of Good Writing That Iain M. Banks Left as His Legacy’ at io9

I expect to see many wonderful tributes to Banks over the coming days, and it makes me happy that one of the first focuses on how truly innovative he was as a writer of SF.

1. There are no good guys

In Iain M. Banks‘ science fiction series about the Culture, there are no heroes who aren’t tarnished by morally ambiguous deeds. Even the good-intentioned people of Special Circumstances, whose goal is to export social democracy everywhere, are basically assassins… Having heroes whose intentions are mixed, rather than motivated by pure good, makes them more realistic as people. It also reminds the reader that one person’s “good” is another person’s “end of the world.”

Full list here.

Les meilleures ventes en Space Operas

Ascension Point has stormed into the top ten of the Amazon.fr English-language Space Opera bestsellers’ list, and is rubbing shoulders with Iain M. Banks’ Hydrogen Sonata and Orson Scott Card’s Enders’ Game!



(And a novel called WARPAINT, which I’ve not heard of before, but find oddly compelling for some reason.)

And what glut of sales do I have to thank for this new-found popularity, I hear you ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

I sold one copy.

In five months.

So… I guess they’re not reading a lot of English space opera in France.

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.

‘Our Human’ by Adam-Troy Castro

There’s a wonderful short story on Tor.com – Our Human, by Adam-Troy Castro.

I’d not heard of Castro before now, but I definitely want to read more of his work; apparently there are a couple of novels set in the same universe.

This novella is slightly reminiscent of the dark side of Banks’ Culture novels: ugly, flawed, populated by creatures and races with very different moral codes to our own, but all of the same worst characteristics.

Great sci-fi.

Memorable Characters in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

One of the reasons I love sci-fi and fantasy is the scope to create larger-than-life characters who really strike a chord with the reader (or viewer, depending on the medium). The success of The Avengers proves the public’s love affair with these super, heroic characters is still going strong.

But I also think the movie representations of such characters are always going to be shallow compared to what can be done in literature. It’s just a consequence of the shorter form – there’s only so much characterisation you can do in 120 minutes. Here are a couple of examples of some of my favourite, iconic SF/F characters, who could never be done justice on the big screen.

Read more…

My New Obsession – Cover Art

My new inclination toward self-publishing has brought with it an unhealthy obsession with book covers. I must have spent over an hour today just flicking through designer’s websites listed on the Writers Café Yellow Pages. There’s also a great cover art category on A Dribble of Ink, which has inspired me.

My novel is (at the moment, at least) called ASCENSION POINT. It’s far-future space opera, fitting neatly alongside Iain M. Banks, Neil Asher, Alastair Reynolds, and the like. As such, when it comes time to publish I’m going to want a proper, space opera cover that fits the genre. Something like these…

Read more…

Downton Galactica? Battlestar Abbey? It’s all Culture and Character, Folks

Great article on Tor.com here.

This piece reminds me of one of the best pieces of advice for science fiction or fantasy writers that I’ve ever read. My sieve-like memory for detail doesn’t allow me to quote or even paraphrase the source, but the essence of it was that in the best SF/F the science or the fantasy isn’t the centre of the story. They’re the framework, the setting, and probably certain plot drivers, which surround the actual heart – the people and civilisations interacting, the personality and culture clashes which resonate with the reader because of their familiarity. 

Iain M. Banks is the master at this, in my opinion. His Culture novels – the name itself flagging up the key theme – are anthropological masterpieces, often based around one civilisation (the Culture) being far more technologically advanced than the other that they’re interacting with, and dealing with the political and sociological fallout of even the most benevolent interventions. We can all recognise the parallels in that, I think.

“This has all happened before, it will all happen again” indeed.