Sad news: Iain M Banks, beloved author of brilliant science fiction novels and (to my taste), even better thrillers, has terminal gall bladder cancer that has spread to his liver, pancreas and lymph nodes, and is unlikely to live for more than a year (and he may live for less time). He posted the news early today, in a statement that's bravely and darkly humorous, as befits his work and his reputation:
As a result, I’ve withdrawn from all planned public engagements and I’ve asked my partner Adele if she will do me the honour of becoming my widow (sorry – but we find ghoulish humour helps). By the time this goes out we’ll be married and on a short honeymoon. We intend to spend however much quality time I have left seeing family. and relations and visiting places that have meant a lot to us. Meanwhile my heroic publishers are doing all they can to bring the publication date of my new novel forward by as much as four months, to give me a better chance of being around when it hits the shelves.
There is a possibility that it might be worth undergoing a course of chemotherapy to extend the amount of time available. However that is still something we’re balancing the pros and cons of, and is anyway out of the question until my jaundice has further, and significantly, reduced.
Lastly, I’d like to add that from my GP onwards, the professionalism of the medics involved – and the speed with which the resources of the NHS in Scotland have been deployed – has been exemplary, and the standard of care deeply impressive. We’re all just sorry the outcome hasn’t been more cheerful.
I've never (to my recollection) met Banks, but I am a huge fan of his works. As I wrote some years ago in Wired, his novel Dead Air is the first truly post-mobile-phone thriller I ever read, one where all the suspense comes from characters being in constant contact and knowing what the others are about, rather than the uncertainty of not being able to reach one another. There's a scene in that book, where someone is trapped in a closet when the killer comes home unexpectedly, and is texting to a confederate outside, that is nothing short of genius. Where the traditional mystery would have put the confederate through the stress of wondering what might be going on, in a position of total ignorance, Banks delivers a complete, minute-by-minute SMS set of updates to the confederate, and shows that knowing is infinitely more scary than ignorance, if handled by a master. Which he is.
Growing up, my whole circle of friends doted on his debut novel, The Wasp Factory, whose toe-curlingly, wonderfully macabre gross-out climax still makes me go a little sweaty-palmed when I think of it. And his novel Complicity was the book that set me on the path to giving up cigarettes.
I haven't even touched on his science fiction novels, the incredible Culture series, but they are worthy of your attention, too. In short, the field is losing one of its greats, and Scotland is losing one of its great champions for independence, and the world is losing one of its great campaigners for justice.
I wish Iain and his family a calm and loving and graceful time, and thank him sincerely for the hours of pleasure and the years of insight he's given to me and all of us.