Welcome to my website, a homage I suppose to my one of my favourite authors who writes under two pen names, Iain M. Banks and Iain Banks. I’d class him as a “Thinking man’s author”, in a similar manner to Felicity Kendal being once described as “Thinking man’s crumpet”.
I’ve tried to write some reviews from the basis of the average man in the street, not poncy Oxbridge literary reviews written to impress other critics, literacy academics and Times readers. So whilst Mr Banks uses plenty of long words, I won’t be holding much truck with them here! The reviews are light hearted Panto style “Look out behind you!”, because there are plenty of serious academic ones written by people much cleverer than me elsewhere – well, everywhere else in fact…
The Iain M. Banks books are sci-fi novels, space operas, galactic operas really, featuring a civilization called The Culture (a Level 8 civilisation), whose members consist of a number of semi-humanoid species and artificial intelligence based machines that are acknowledged to be sentient and are given the same rights and protection as humanoids. The Society is politically correct on the surface, but slightly darker and more pragmatic underneath. Things taken for granted when you become a member of the culture are: You don’t have to work (other than philanthropic pursuits (which might include going to war)); you can change sex several times if you want to; change body shape or style; drugs can be used for recreational purposes as well as to enhance operational capacity in combat or whatever; you can negotiate the personal use of very large galactic warships; you are the top dog when it comes to pushing other civilizations around (which sometimes backfires spectacularly); the speed of light is for beginners (a long-held belief of my own – I’ve great hopes for the neutrino!); death is optional or only occurs due to bad planning or boredom (but that doesn’t mean you won’t go to hell).
Things that you need when reading an Iain M. Banks book: A broad mind; a broader imagination; a (good) dictionary (I mean, really, whoever has ever come across Labtebricolephile or Xenoglossicist in a spelling test at school? -No? No, me neither); something to hold your sides in so they don’t split laughing; a sick bag (on occasion); a handkerchief. A glass of Cabinet Sauvignon can also help, but not too many as you’ll never follow the plot! PhD’s in Astrophysics, Astro Engineering, Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence, Socialist Politics and Psychology are useful, as is a working knowledge of the Kama Sutra (you know – when you hold it up sideways, then upside down to see if it looks any more feasible?). Access to a good Psychiatrist or trauma specialist can also be useful after reading some passages.
How do you know whether you are getting into a good Iain M. Banks novel? Good signs are: A major player in the book gets killed in the first chapter (always brings a smile to my face – I know it’s going to be a good-un!); you’ve no idea what the main story is even though you’re 200-300 pages into the book; you don’t understand the technology but it sounds bloody convincing; you’re not sure who the bad guys are; you don’t understand the ending even after you’ve read it (and even at this point, you still might not be sure who the bad guys were!). It is perfectly acceptable, and probably good practice, to make notes as you work your way through the books!
Favourite characters? Probable the warships – crafty devious buggers some of them – I guess that’s the trouble when you create AI’s that are supremely more powerful than the human mind – they have their own game plan but convince you that it’s really your game plan and will begrudgingly go along with your scheme if that’s what you really want…
A great book to start with in this series is Player of Games. I was ill when I read this and dropped into an unconscious fever for about 24 hours in the middle of it. In the fever I was caught up in the game – a multi-layered multi-strategy board game that goes on for days. Imagine being in a nightmare that you can’t get out of? Talk about waking up sweating! It’s a great introductory text to the Culture series of books.
And so, that leaves us with his other novels, written under the name Iain Banks. What can I say? Every one completely individual, a unique storyline, moving, frustrating, funny, nauseous, sexy, emotive, satisfying, brilliant, memorable?
Example – how many times have you thrown book at the wall because the story line is so frustrating? That’s emotive right? It took me 18 months to read one of his books. I hid it in drawers, lent it to friends (a sure fire way of never seeing a book again usually), took it on holiday twice, and finally plucked up courage to make it to the end – stunning – was buzzing for about a week afterwards! After reading another one of his fictional novels you’ll never be able to sing the original lyrics to David Bowie’s “Lets dance” ever again. Nope. Well, perhaps if your parents are listening.
Explore the darkest corners of your mind. You know, the really well hidden ones, the ones that you wouldn’t dare tell either your best friend, a doctor, a priest or a complete stranger about? Now go beyond – put two dark corners together – the sort of thing that you feel guilty thinking about on your own in a dark room with the lights off in a power cut. It’s acceptable to have a black cat in the room at this point. What have you got? Bad? Sexy? Illegal? Genocidal (yes, I’ve worked with people who make you think like that too…)? Hmmm… Probably not as bad as The Wasp Factory. But don’t read that as your first Iain Banks book, even if it was the first one he wrote. A good starting point is probably Dead Air or possibly The Bridge.
My reviews give a bit more detail on each book. I’ll be adding to them as time goes on.
I hope you get as much pleasure from Iain [M] Banks books as I do. If you’ve not come across him before then you are in for a real treat.