R.I.P. Iain Banks

Iain Banks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2009
Iain Banks at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2009

The Scottish writer Iain Banks (photo ©TimDuncan) died yesterday from a cancer.

Iain Banks was born on February 16, 1954 in Dunfermline, Scotland. He decided to become a writer when he was still a child and finished his first novel “The Hungarian Lift-Jet” when he was 16 years old. In 1975, he graduated in English literature at the University of Stirling.

For years, Iain Banks did various jobs and spent a long time traveling around the world. After returning to U.K., in 1984 he published “The Wasp Factory”, which was an immediate success. It was in that period that he meet Annie, who became his first wife in 1992, a marriage that lasted until 2007.

After publishing three mainstream novels, in 1987 Iain Banks published his first science fiction novel, “Consider Phlebas”, under te name Iain M. Banks. The “M” stands for Menzies, who was supposed to be his middle name if his father hadn’t made a mistake registering his birth.

“Consider Phlebas” also marks the debut of the Culture, a post-scarcity civilization that represents an utopia which however on several occasions shows various ambiguities. Formed by various humanoid races and artificial intelligence, it’s semi-anarchic but must deal with other civilizations based on very different principles and also very different technological levels.

The series of Culture has been enriched over the years by other novels that show among other things various civilizations of the galaxy: “The Player of Games” (1988), “Use of Weapons” (1990), “The State of the Art” (1991), “Excession” (1996), “Inversions” (1998), “Look to Windward” (2000),” Matter” (2008), “Surface Detail” (2010) and “The Hydrogen Sonata” (2012).

Over the years, Iain Banks published several other novels and some mainstream ones had various adaptations: “Espedair Street” (1987) became a radio drama, “The Crow Road” (1992) became a television drama and “Complicity” (1993) became a movie.

Iain Banks also wrote some science fiction novels not set universe of the Culture: “Against a dark background” (1993), “Feersum endjinn” (1994) and “The Algebraist” (2004).

A borderline novel is “Transition” (2009). It is probably for that reason that the British edition was published under the name Iain Banks, the one used for his mainstream novels, while the American edition was published under the name Iain M. Banks, the one used for his science fiction novels.

In April 2013 came the terrible news by Ian Banks himself about his illness and his limited life expectancy. With his typical black humor, he asked his girlfriend Adele to become his widow. The publication of the British edition of Banks’s last novel, “The Quarry”, is scheduled for June 20. It’s a partially auto-biographical story where the main character has a terminal cancer.

It’s impossible to summarize in a few words Iain Banks’s narrative: even in the same novel he was able to deal with many different themes in stories that are complex and intelligent that also contain humor. The comments that came from colleagues and admirers after his death bear witness to how much he was appreciated.


  1. Oh I did not know. Such a shame the man was amazing such a loss.


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