You’ll be missed, Iain (M.) Banks

Just saw the news this morning about the death of Iain Banks yesterday, at age 59 (1954-2013). Banks was one of the living science fiction writers I wanted to meet; now I’ll never have the chance. And we won’t see any more stories from his hand.

Iain (M.) Banks (photo: Stuart Caie)

Iain (M.) Banks
(photo: Stuart Caie)

Banks wrote “regular” fiction (much of which was quite irregular) under the name Iain Banks, science fiction under the name Iain M. Banks. Oddly enough, I ran into “Iain Banks” first. At the suggestion of a friend named Mary Hopkins, I picked up Whit, or Isis Among the Unsaved. It’s the story of a woman who is supposed to play a major role in an eccentric religious cult in Scotland, and how she reacts as she discovers the cult isn’t exactly what it seems to be. Her conclusions are not what you would expect in a novel written by an avowed atheist, but instead offer some interesting thoughts on what a religion is.

Most of Banks’s science fiction was built around the idea that in the future humans would live in a benevolent society which has solved the scarcity problem, become capable of space travel, and ultimately turned control over much of their society to highly intelligent machines imbued with the same values. The first of these “Culture” novels I read was Excession, in which the Culture confronts an artifact that apparently is more powerful than it is, and was greatly entertained by the variety of imaginative ideas Banks incorporated into his story. Probably the most caustic of the Culture novels was The Player of Games, in which the Culture’s most renowned expert on games is sent to topple a scarcity-based hierarchical society in which one of the three sexes has engaged in both social and genetic engineering to keep the other two sexes in subordination. Besides being a critique of the way our societies are organized, it’s one of the few Culture novels to show that, even when every material need can be met, there are still things people will want and can’t get.

Banks found out some months ago that he was dying of cancer, and asked his partner of some years if she would agree to be his “widow.” They got married, and he announced to the public that he was dying. Although I knew it wasn’t realistic, I was kind of hoping that one of the intelligent space ships from his Culture novels would come rescue him and take him away before he died.


About Brian Bixby

I enjoy history because it helps me understand people. I'm writing fiction for much the same reason.
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6 Responses to You’ll be missed, Iain (M.) Banks

  1. Judy says:

    I do find it interesting how much thought an atheist or agnostic especially of scientific inclinations does put into the issue of God…and probably more thought than your average believer. I always thought Carl Sagan was an atheist until I read Contact. Atheist, agnostic not sure he was either because faith and wanting to believe in a supreme being with proof are two different things. I think Sagan wanted to believe and even makes a compelling point in Contact that sometimes science requires faith. Faith being belief without tangible proof. Even though I read that Sagan said death is, “a long dreamless sleep; I’d love to believe the opposite but I don’t know of any evidence”. I am not familiar with the writing of Mr. Banks but maybe he wanted to believe in something beyond himself also but simply needed proof too.

    • Brian Bixby says:

      To add to your discussion of motivations, I think some nonbelievers are very curious as to why religious belief is so prevalent, and why it causes people to act as they do, so try to make a special effort to understand it.

      • Judy says:

        Well I am surprised that nonbelievers would be curious at all as to the prevalence of religious belief. It is natural to human beings to be seekers and to want reasons. There is an expression called the God of the Gap..which means that as we get our answers through science the unexplained space which one would attribute to God becomes narrower. I am sure that the caveman looked up at the twinkling stars in the heavens and some strange inkling within him wondered about something beyond himself. For me science and religion have the same root….wonder!

        • Brian Bixby says:

          The wonder I would expect most parties to agree on as a starting point for religion and science. And for some, that’s enough: they can reconcile science and religion (their own, at least) without much of a problem: both provide part of the answers about how the world is constituted and why. It seems to be the rest of what comes with science or religion that causes some to reject one or the other out of hand.

  2. Pingback: Iain (M) Banks and grief for those we’ve never met. | Consider the Tea Cosy

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