RIP Iain Banks, who wrote naughty, exciting books that were exactly what I needed as a teenager and who never turned into an arsehole.
People (rightly) rate the early novels best, but the pages turn just as easily in late novels such as Stonemouth and Transition as they did in Complicity, and those latter works reflect a consciousness no more at ease with our collusion in the brutality of the world: no “thought experiments” about punishing Muslims for a man who was able to look far enough past the grey banks of our current condition to see the possibility of other Cultures.
Banks didn’t write sentence that harrowed like those of his friend M. John Harrison, and he wasn’t a living mural of 20th Century Scottish life like that other great contemporary influence Alasdair Gray, but the easy mixture of the demotic and the demonic in novels such as The Bridge, The Wasp Factory and Feersum Enjinn took the top of this Mindless One’s head clean off, and made space for the works of those writers to take root.
It wouldn’t be proper to dwell on the fact that I probably wouldn’t be a writer without Banks here and now though – after all, I’m hardly his most impressive achievement. That would be his Culture novels, the sci-fi series in which Banks’ apparently boundless enthusiasm for the possibilities of fiction was matched by a vision of a future in which capitalist realism has been left behind, our current seemingly insurmountable state merely a splash on the ground as observed from a terrifying height.
To quote from one Banks novel, “The point is, there is no feasible excuse for what are, for what we have made of ourselves. We have chosen to put profits before people, money before morality, dividends before decency, fanaticism before fairness, and our own trivial comforts before the unspeakable agonies of others.”
To quote from another, “Fuck me, a bit of fucking ambition here, for the love of fuck!”