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An Introduction to the fiction and SF of Iain Banks

Iain Banks is relatively unique in the fact that he has published, to wide acclaim, alternately both fiction and science fiction. The literary crowd can't ignore him because of this; his fiction is just too accomplished. And the SF fans suffer from the same problem; not only is his SF top notch, his fiction sometimes verges on the fantastical (eg The Bridge) and drawing a distinct line between the two is hard and ultimately unnecessary. In fact, Iain's SF has more to say about the state of the world today than most fiction. As Iain himself says, his SF involves "...taking the intial, unsullied, wonderful science fiction idea and dragging it through the dirt of reality until it looks convincing!"

There are a number of factors that make Iain's books so accessible, and sheer variety is one of these. As if this wasn't enough, they are all excellently written too. Iain is adept at layering each story; leaving the reader to connect each thread together. In this way, clues are uncovered, characters revealed and the story slowly emerges. Merely from a literary point of view, each novel is highly accomplished and eminently readable.

And then there are stories themselves. Iain's imagination is fertile ground for what initially seem like the most bizarre ideas. Further investigation usually proves that yes, they are bizarre ideas. They're also well thought out and quietly clever with it. One of Iain's most famous inventions is that of the Culture - a functioning, hedonistic utopia with no laws, no monetary system, no exploitation and spaceships 30km long. This was what first attracted me to Iain's books; escapists will have a fie ld day here. A great deal of conflict in SF tends to be in dystopian societies. Instead of this, Iain sets the Culture (with its self-inflicted moral responsibility) alongside other civilisations, and this is where all the action takes place. SF fans should easily get their thrills from the epic universe Banks creates.

Iain's first book to be published was the controversial The Wasp Factory. Iain Banks writing debut was announced with a fanfare of child murders, animal torture and general nastiness. The fact that the book was a scorcher was smothered by outraged critics. However, Iain is a prolific author and Walking On Glass and The Bridge soon followed. Each was, by turns, fantastical and brilliant and the critics reappraised their "Iain Banks is a horror writer" opinion. His later works of fiction have enforced this fact; Complicity has just spent around 24 weeks in the best-sellers top ten.

So; he writes clever fiction and expansive SF, is loved by SF fans and the general populace alike; he must be a right boring bastard then, especially as he is so prolific. Well, annoyingly not. Iain seems to be a pleasant, humourous bloke; a sort of cross between your friendly uncle and your mate down the pub (if you can be bothered to imagine that). Right; so he seems to be a top bloke too. Theres got to be something wrong with the man; let me think for a sec... hmm... ah... uh... hmm. Nope, its no good; I can't think of anything bad to say. Iain Banks is a god (although, being an atheist, he'd firmly deny that statement) and thats all there is to it :-)

This was written by Simon Walley. Feel free to do what you want with it as long as this message is left attached and as long as it remains in the electronic domain.

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