Iain (M) Banks – A Gift to the Culture

Use of Weapons

I was shocked and saddened to read of Iain Banks’ ill health when the news was made public recently. It was Banks’ Culture novels that set me writing SF as an adult.

Although I’d had an interest in SF throughout my life, in the early nineties I was writing and reading lightweight mainstream stuff. This was mainly because I was on one of those correspondence courses that was around at the time, which encouraged short fiction for magazines such as People’s Friend and My Weekly – nice, safe stories to sit snuggly between the knitting patterns.

As I became a little disenchanted with it all, I remembered how I’d loved reading SF when I was younger, so decided to see what was available in the shops. I bought a book called Use of Weapons, by some Scottish writer called Iain M Banks.

I enjoyed the book, with its easy reading style, exotic names, mega-starships, entertainment value and sheer fun. When I’d finished it I found a tear-out slip in the back to subscribe to a magazine called Interzone. I looked at the slip, looked at the book, turned it over in my hands. People make a living writing science fiction. It was an epiphany. I subscribed to Interzone and didn’t look back.

I’ve bought and read a lot more of Iain Banks’ books since Use of Weapons, both SF and “mainstream”: Consider Phlebas, Against a Dark Background, the short story collection The State of the Art, The Crow Road, Espedair Street – loads. He’s someone who’s made an important contribution, entertaining readers, boosting the profile of SF, and judging from recent posts by other authors, influencing and inspiring a wave of new writers.

Although I’ve never met him, I’ve stood near to the man on a couple of occasions. I wanted to mumble a few words of admiration or… I dunno, something – anything – but never quite had the nerve. So now Mr Banks is “Very Poorly”, with just months to live, what do I say here on my little blog in such circumstances? What can anyone say? I guess the best I can do is thanks, Mr B. Your writing had an impact. May the coming months be the best ever.

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