The late, lamented Scottish writer Iain Banks (previously) was several kinds of writer, but one of his main claims to fame is his role in developing the idea of fully automated luxury communism, in his beloved Culture novels, a series of wildly original space operas about a post-singularity, post-scarcity cooperative galactic civilization devoted to games, leisure, and artistic pursuits, populated by AIs, city-sized space cruisers, spy networks, and weird bureaucracies.
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Imagine never having to take a pill again for anxiety, depression, or your heart condition. Imagine epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease being managed by the patient without drug interventions. What if control of these conditions were possible with a thought? Kiki Sanford reports on the advent of mind-genetic interfaces.
Niall sends us, "a newly-published 5,500 word interview with Iain Banks, conducted by Jude Roberts in 2010 as part of her PhD on The Culture, and includes discussion of how themes of gender, embodiment and violence work themselves out in his novels; published as bonus content for this year's fund drive for Strange Horizons." Read the rest
One year ago today
Iain Banks doesn't write sf for the money: I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case, and I can’t imagine that I’d have lied about this sort of thing, least of all as some sort of joke. The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me – the Culture series in particular – and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidised the SF, not the other way round.
Five years ago today
T-Minus: graphic novel tells the history of the space race: Jim Ottaviani's new science history graphic novel, T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, is a fast-paced, informative recounting of the events beginning with the launch of Sputnik, the first human-made satellite on Oct 4, 1957, to the first human landing on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Ten years ago today
Cicadas, the new no-carb/hi-protein snackin' sensation: Those gazillions of "Brood X" cicadas unearthing themselves this month also double as an Atkins-compliant meal-on-the-go. Cicada McBuggets, anyone?
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When Iain Banks announced in April that he was dying of gall bladder cancer, he said that his forthcoming novel The Quarry would be his last. I've just read it, and though I came to it with high expectations, I find that I was still surprised by just how good this novel is, and how it revisits so many of the motifs from Banks's earlier novels, and what a spectacular blend of emotions it carries.
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CBC radio's excellent magazine show As It Happens conducted a short, lovely interview with Scottish sf writer Ken Macleod about Iain Banks, who had been his friend since high school. It's a beautiful piece of audio, and a heartfelt one. My condolences, Ken. Read the rest
Iain Banks died yesterday. The Guardian's John Mullan does justice to the long and important career of one of the best writers in two fields:
In 2010 he gave an interview to BBC Radio Scotland in which he spoke with painful frankness about the breakdown of his relationship with his first wife. But then the media interview seemed his natural forum: it is difficult to think of a more frequently interviewed British novelist.
While his science fiction spanned inter-stellar spaces, his literary fiction kept its highly specific sense of place. The place that gives the title to his 2012 novel Stonemouth is fictional, but, like other fictional places in earlier Banks novels, it is a highly specific Scottish town. Like The Crow Road and The Steep Approach to Garbadale –it is the story of a man coming back to his family home, and it is difficult not to think that this is Banks's story of himself.
Iain Banks dies aged 59 Read the rest
SF/thriller writer Iain Banks has weighed in to quash a rumor that he only wrote his amazing SF novels to pay the bills because the (also amazing) high-brow literary thrillers didn't bring in enough:
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I wish I did have the time to reply to everybody individually but I don’t. I think I’ll only comment on any of the posts if there’s something factually wrong mentioned in them, and so far the only point I can remember is one where an ex-neighbour of ours recalled (in an otherwise entirely kind and welcome comment) me telling him, years ago, that my SF novels effectively subsidised the mainstream works. I think he’s just misremembered, as this has never been the case. Until the last few years or so, when the SF novels started to achieve something approaching parity in sales, the mainstream always out-sold the SF – on average, if my memory isn’t letting me down, by a ratio of about three or four to one. I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case, and I can’t imagine that I’d have lied about this sort of thing, least of all as some sort of joke. The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me – the Culture series in particular – and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidised the SF, not the other way round.
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:
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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.
One of my favorite authors, Iain Banks, announced that he has less than a year to live "It looks like my latest novel, The Quarry, will be my last." Read More. Read the rest
Geoffrey sez, "In April of 2011, Boing Boing posted that Michael Moorcock's New Worlds was coming back to life. Well, Issue 1 went live this past October. The website is slick and the stories are great, there is only one problem: no one seems to know that New Worlds has returned. I know Boing Boing hates to see the good citizens of the interwebs miss out on anything grand, so I had to pass this along."
And it is grand. There's an essay by Iain Banks on Ayn Rand and L Ron Hubbard, ferchrissakes (but the annoying regwall is really annoying).
Michael Moorcock's New Worlds Read the rest
Check out this great NASA video showing a coronal mass ejection—a burst of plasma thrown off the surface of the Sun—from several different perspectives. It happened on August 31 and it's really gorgeous. It's also rather huge, as far as these things go. Luckily, it wasn't pointed directly at Earth. Coronal mass ejections can affect our planet's magnetic field. There's a risk of large ones screwing with everything from our electric grid to radio waves.
Read more about coronal mass ejections on Wikipedia Read the rest
Fred "the shred" Goodwin, who presided over the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland and is now collecting a £200,000/year pension at taxpayer's expense (over and above his £3m bonus) for his work in helping to destroy one of Britain's great financial institutions, has secured a "super-injunction" prohibiting the press from discussing his affairs. The injunction also prohibits the press from disclosing that it exists (hence "super-injunction") and from mentioning any facts about Goodwin's life, up to and including the fact that he is a banker.
The super-injunction came to light when a LibDeb Member of Parliament (who is covered by Parliamentary privilege which exempts him from the injunction) asked a question in the Commons about it. The Telegraph lists more rich, powerful people and corporations who've gotten these gag-orders, including a philandering "sportsman" and a TV personality. The hearings at which courts award these super-injunctions are sealed, so the press can't report what evidence is presented in favor of the official censorship.
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He said: "In a secret hearing Fred Goodwin has obtained a super-injunction preventing him being identified as a banker.
"Will the government have a debate or a statement on freedom of speech and whether there's one rule for the rich like Fred Goodwin and one rule for the poor?"
Leader of the House Sir George Young said a forthcoming Westminster Hall debate would explore freedom of speech, adding: "I will raise with the appropriate minister the issue he has just raised."
The terms of the injunction are so strict that the Daily Telegraph cannot reveal the nature of the information that Sir Fred Goodwin is attempting to protect.
Iain Banks, the acclaimed Scottish sf and thriller writer, has joined with an illustrious list of prominent Scots in calling on the British government to reform the Royal Bank of Scotland. RBS received a titanic tax-funded bailout (much of which was diverted into a stupendous pension for Fred Goodwin, the bank's erstwhile CEO, who led it to ruin), which means that the taxpayer is now a major shareholder in the bank. But the bank is still refusing to lend to Britons who need mortgages, preferring instead to make dirty investments in climate-wrecking tar-sands in Alberta, as well as taking the astonishing step of loaning money to Kraft, an American firm, which is trying to buy Cadbury's a British firm -- if Kraft succeeds, then RBS will have funnelled British workers' pay into a loan that resulted in the shut-down of British factories and sent British jobs to America.
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More than 30 signatories, including Gordon Roddick, who founded the Body Shop with his late wife Anita, leading green campaigner Tony Juniper and Rev Ian Galloway, convenor of the Church of Scotland, take the government to task for failing to push RBS and the other bailed-out banks into supporting socially useful investments.
In their letter, written to mark the first anniversary of the British taxpayer becoming its largest shareholder, they call on Darling to transform RBS into the "Royal Bank of Sustainability".
The strongly-worded communication criticises the Treasury for standing on the sidelines while RBS took a controversial decision to support US foods group Kraft in its bid for chocolate maker Cadbury, despite the fact the bid will put jobs at risk and therefore work against the interests of the UK taxpayer.
This clever video pieces together scenes depicting the already-hoary suspense-film cliche in which a cellular phone's signal (or battery) gives out at just the wrong (right) time so that the characters will have something to be in suspense about. One thing I will always and forever love Iain Banks for is his 2003 novel Dead Air, a gripping, taut suspense novel in which everyone has a cellphone that always works. I was struck when I read it, believing that Banks had just created an entirely new genre: suspense novels in which none of the tension comes from characters not knowing key facts.
No Signal (and other cellular drama) Read the rest