Yesterday came the sad news that one of our greatest authors had died at the age of 59 after what he described as a "brilliant life" that was cut short by "bad luck" in the form of metastatic cancer of the gall bladder.
Like everyone else I was introduced to Banks by his first remarkable novel The Wasp Factory which I read shortly after its publication in 1984 when I started to hear all the fuss about it. He has since published another 27 books and I have read them all, several of them twice or more. It was a particular delight to discover his science fiction books which he wrote as Iain M. Banks, about which I have blogged in the past.
His writings revealed him as thoughtful human being with liberal views and a hopeful vision of the future where we will one day perfect medicine, get past scarcity, and, most importantly of all, stop being so horrid to each other and concentrate on creating art and just having fun. In his science fiction books this version of humanity is known as The Culture, and although they aren't always a force for good in the universe they are a beguiling thought experiment about how things might one day be.
My father and my three brothers were all huge fans of his Culture books and we would look forward to a new one coming out every other year, and then discuss it and share our thoughts via email. Banks' books were one of the things we had in common and we joined in all the fun of thinking up new names for the giant ship Minds that feature in the novels.
My brother Michael died last year after a similarly short battle with a metastatic cancer. Now both Michael and his favourite author are gone and the loss of one of the things we used to talk about seems to make it worse somehow.
I met Iain Banks at a book signing for his novel Surface Detail in 2010 and he was delightful. I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him. He always seemed to be humorous, witty and a genuinely nice bloke. The dignified way he dealt with the news of his own illness stands as a lesson to us all. I wonder if I will have the same courage they had when my time comes.
One day in the distant future we will finally crack the cancer problem and it will become a thing of the past. Until then we have to mourn the loss of decent people who are taken before their time.
Rest in Peace Iain and Michael.