Chi mi a-rithist thu, Iain

Iain Banks has passed away. He hasn't gone to a better place - he's just dead.

I first came across Iain Banks in my second year at 'Varsity when a buzz went around about this crazy book, The Wasp Factory, that would blow your mind. So I read it and thought "wow - that was pretty weird!", before having one of those very important University years' conversations about whether it showed nurture trumped nature, or Frank's extreme behaviour was a form of overcompensation for "his" gender misidentification.

Since that first exposure, I've read a fair few other Iain Banks novels over the years. Some read like novelisations of a particularly unpleasant video nasty (I'm thinking of Canal Dreams here). Some were interesting, without leaving any strong long-term impression (The Business and Dead Air, for example). Some came close to recreating the sense of wonder at effusive invention that accompanied my first reading of the Wasp Factory (The Bridge, in particular). But in general, I have to say that the more I read of Iain Banks, a sense of diminishing returns kicked in. I got the sense that, unlike contemporaries such as Neil Gaiman, he never had an idea he threw away (even if sometimes he should have).

However, in the early 2000s I discovered Iain M. Banks, the name under which Iain Banks writes his overtly science fiction works. (Although, to be honest, the line between the two "different" authors is pretty nebulous - think Walking on Glass or Transitions, and compare with Inversions.) These have been reliable sources of escapist pleasure - possibly because the genre allowed him to let his prodigious imagination run fully riot, without having to conform to the limitations set by more "literary" conventions or (to be honest) real-world physical laws. Plus I liked the tension caused by Banks setting up a galactic civilisation - "The Culture" - that appeared to encapsulate all the values and goals his personal politics valued, then making many of his protagonists misfit outcasts who had turned their backs on that civilisation. Like Milton, you got the feeling that Banks always had more sympathy for the devil.

And it helped, of course, that Banks (the real guy, not the "author" in either of his guises) was a big fan of whisky, and wrote a great book about the topic. Plus his politics were of the "reliably righteous left wing" variety - opposing the Gulf War, supporting the Palestinian cause, and so on.

But now he's dead, at the now too-young age of 59. There's apparently another Iain Banks novel on the way. I might read it - but then again, I might not. I am sorry, however, that it will be his last.