“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.”
These words may appear ominous but unassuming when reproduced out of context, but they’ll send a shudder down the spine of many readers. This was the opening of The Wasp Factory, the astonishing debut novel of Iain Banks, that remains as powerful and evocative today as it did upon publication in 1984. This was the passage that announced the arrival of an undisputed genius.
DragonDark – and doubtless many, many others – will be now be revisiting this feted text (and others) as a small tribute to a master craftsman. Yesterday the news that all appreciators of astounding storytelling, regardless of genre affiliations, have been dreading since this heartbreaking announcement reached our ears back in April. The news that the great Iain Banks has lost his battle with cancer.
Ever since the aforementioned Wasp Factory blew minds – and the literary establishment – wide open, Iain Banks was a name synonymous with imagination, influence and intelligence. The remarkably proficient Dunfermline-born wordsmith also commendably straddled two career paths simultaneously. He effortlessly earned and retained the respect of the mainstream literary establishment with novels such as The Crow Road, The Bridge and countless others, frequently razor-sharp tales that encapsulated the state of the nation and addressed current affairs (Banks was never less than entirely politically aware, frequently lobbying parliament). Meanwhile, operating under the semi-pseudonym of Iain M. Banks, he fascinated and enthralled thousands with his Culture series that began with 1987’s Consider Phlebas.
Science Fiction was Banks’ first love, and he always considered himself an SF scribe at heart. Unsurprisingly it’s these books that DragonDark also clutch closest to our hearts, with cherished publications such as The Player of Games and Look to Winward selling by the bucketload, hovering awards, and perhaps most importantly, engrossing readers otherwise adverse to genre antics in the world of century-spanning space opera. If you’re yet to experience this world, take some small crumb of comfort from the jaw-dropping tales that await you, even if there will be no further instalments to the saga.
Neil Gaiman, a personal friend of the author, described Iain Banks as “one of us, whatever that meant”. It’s an obituary and tribute neatly encapsulated into one sentence, and a sentiment that many DragonDarkers will no doubt share. Iain Banks was a man that loved science fiction and telling stories, and thankfully for us all, he was kind enough to share his aptitude for these skill sets with an adoring public.
Banks’ untimely passing at a mere 59 is an indescribable loss, but he leaves behind a body of work that will continue to beguile and inspire readers and aspiring authors for years to come. The Quarry, his 27th and final novel, will be published on June 20th. While it’s a tragedy that he will not see the book’s publication, one final fling to the top of the bestseller list is the least we can provide the Iain Banks legacy.