Tag Archives: Iain Banks

Diversity in SF, a zero-sum game?

Does diversity in Science Fiction and in gaming really need to be a zero-sum game? That’s the impression I get from long-winded rants accusing feminism of ruining SF.¬†James May’s argument seems to me as full of holes as a Swiss cheese; in particular his praising of Iain Banks suggests that he doesn’t do irony, or he hasn’t actually read much Banks. Banks’ genderfluid and decidedly non-imperialist Culture is about as “Politically Correct” as it gets.

Though I am not any kind of conservative, and find many aspects of the conservative world-view troubling, an SF world purged of all conservative voices in the name of social justice would be all the poorer for it. We’d lose the likes of Gene Wolfe or Jack Vance, for starters. But is anyone bar a tiny but loud group of zealots actually arguing for such a thing?

Even if it’s not to my taste, I’m sure niche subgenres of SF that read like engineering textbooks crossed with libertarian tracts will continue to exist for as long as there’s a market for that sort of thing. It’s just that they will no longer be the default.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Genre as Walled Gardens?

Good post on Genji Press on the problems that happen when SF authors and their readers don’t read nearly enough outside their own genre.

Most SF&F’s understanding of human nature seems to be derived not from life, or even from area outside SF&F, but from other works of SF&F, and that’s far too self-limiting.

I think that one of the big reasons Iain Banks was one of the greatest SF writers of his generation was that he didn’t just read outside the genre, he wrote outside it as well.

It’s not just confined to fiction, of course, it’s a problem in music. How many indie or metal bands are there out there who don’t listen to anything outside their own genre? And is it any surprise that their music ends up sounding like a derivative pasiche of other, better bands?

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 9 Comments

“Iain always insisted that he brought the same imagination to bear on his mainstream works as he did on his SF, and that conversely he lavished the same craft and care on his SF as he did on his literary fiction. The only difference, he said, was in the setting and scale. He likened writing literary fiction to playing a piano, and writing SF to playing a vast church organ” -¬† Ken MacLeod, noting that too many eulogies to Iain Banks downplay half his body of work

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

RIP Iain (M) Banks

Within a few days of losing Jack Vance, another of my all-time favourite authors, Iain Banks, has passed. While he had made it public that he was terminally ill back in March, his death still comes as a shock.

He had feet in two literary camps, writing mainstream fiction as “Iain Banks”, and science-fiction as “Iain M Banks”, possibly the most transparently obvious pseudonym in literary history.

Everything he wrote was larger-than-life. His science-fiction novels are filled with five-mile long starships carrying many millions of people, massive set-piece scenes, baroque cultures and dramatic villains, and ask deep questions about violence, war and what it means to be civilised. I’ll never forget my first introduction his his work, the novel “Consider Phlebas”. The opening chapter reading like a Traveller adventure run a particularly sadistic GM. Then followed a whole series of set-pieces, each more spectacular that the last, ending with the train crash inside a nuclear bunker on the dead planet of an extinct civilisation.

“The Culture”, the galactic civilisation at the heart of much of his SF have become one of the iconic SF settings. It says something about his skill as a writer that he could take a hugely advanced benevolent utopia as his central setting and still use it to tell compelling stories. If you’ve read his SF, then his mainstream novels have a very similar style; the scale isn’t as vast, but the characters, the imagination and plotting are strongly recognisable.

Much as I love his science-fiction work, my two favourites of his have to be two of his “non-M” books, “The Bridge” and “Espedair Street”. The former probably counts as so-called “slipstream”, where elements of speculative fiction enter a supposedly mainstream novel, with much of the narrative taken up with the dreams of a man in an induced coma after a road accident. The latter has to be the best fictional rock biography I know of. I won’t say exactly which band Banks’ creation “Frozen Gold” remind me of most strongly, but it is said that the central character, bassist Daniel Ward was based on Fish.

I still have yet to read his first and most infamous work, “The Wasp Factory”.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 1 Comment