When it comes to reading, I owe Iain Banks a hell of a lot.
Difficult though it is to believe now, there was a spell in my 20s when I’d got out of the habit of reading. Iain Banks was my route back into contemporary fiction.
Staying at a friend’s after a wedding and waking early, I picked up a copy of ‘The Bridge’ from the bookshelf the morning after, before anyone was up. I didn’t get very far but was sufficiently intrigued to get the book myself shortly afterwards.
It seems unlikely today but there didn’t seem to be much in the way of contemporary Scottish fiction at the time. Other, of course, than Iain Banks. Suffice to say that I bought every one of his novels in fairly short order.
When I finished the ‘literary’ novels, with nothing else to buy, I turned, with a little trepidation, to the Iain M Banks SF books. And enjoyed them just as much.
So having got me back into the reading habit, Banks was also my route back into written SF for the first time in over a decade.
Over the years, we went to a good number of his book events and were always struck by his larger than life persona. The last event we saw him at took place at Dundee Central Library last year. The abiding memory of that night was hearing him getting micced up beforehand, blissfully unaware that the mic was live and that his commentary on how much he disliked the mics was being broadcast to the gathering audience!
I also had the pleasure of a couple of brief chats with the man in recent years at events that my wife had organised, most recently when he launched the Sci-Fife series of events in Glenrothes.
That night I asked him which of his SF novels he thought would be most appropriate for the then 14 year old MPK1.
“None!” was his quick response before reconsidering on the basis of the materials that teenagers are exposed to through games. (If you’re interested, ‘The Player of Games’ was his eventual recommendation.)
Others will write far more eloquently and more knowledgeably than I can about his novels and the impact that they have had. However, on a personal basis, a new Banks every year or two was an event to look forward to.
The news in April that he had terminal cancer was a terrible shock. He seemed to be one of these cultural icons you imagined would be around forever. His statement announcing the grim news though seemed typical of the man, facing the worst of situations the only way he knew how – with humour.
His last statement, a couple of weeks ago, tapped the same vein. He announced that he had returned to driving gas guzzling cars to zip around the Highlands for the sheer joy of speed on the grounds that he was saving 20-30 years on his expected carbon footprint.
It turns out his carbon footprint was to be cut short sooner than we could have imagined.The news that he had died this morning was nevertheless still a shock.
The world truly is a poorer place for his loss and my thoughts tonight are with his family and friends.