When everything's done, with hindsight playing its part, the human need to find patterns and to put meaning into the ineffable, you look for signs and see things that aren't there.
Reading the final SF novel of Iain M Banks, The Hydrogen Sonata, with its transcendence maguffin, and then his final mainstream book, The Quarry (as Iain Banks), in which one of the main characters is dying of cancer, you could be forgiven for thinking that Banks's subconscious had some inkling that he wasn't well long before the doctors found what was ailing him. Maybe that was the case. For all that Banks heavily pre-planned his novels, that creative spark – what we happily call inspiration – comes from somewhere indefinable. And yet we all have it to some extent. However we express it, or chose not to, somewhere inside we often know ourselves better than we would sometimes care to.
But I'm talking with hindsight, trying to find a pattern and meaning to help explain why Iain (M) Banks is no longer here.
Maybe as he said in his final televised interview, it's just bad luck.
I was going to chat a bit about Banks's work here, but frankly bigger and better brains than I possess have done so elsewhere, and done it better than I could have done. I doubt there's anything of worth that I could add to their thoughts. I'll just content myself by saying that with his too-soon death his final works contain a poignancy as well as all the dazzling pyrotechnics of an astounding imagination and talent.
I was lucky enough to meet Banks a few times. Mostly at book events, but once at a magazine rack, where we both reached for the latest New Scientist at the same time and started chatting. Banks was open, friendly, and possessed no airs that I could detect. He was as happy to talk books and “stuff” at the magazine rack as he was at book signings and readings. So many others have said something similar, and it's not something to forget: with a healthy air of self-deprecation and a strong sense of humour, he was that rarest and most honourable of things - a nice guy. Sometimes you can't say fairer than that.
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