The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 16, 2014

February 16, 1954

Iain Banks, (February 16, 1954 to June 9, 2013) was a hugely successful novelist.

The Business: A Novel (2001) is a typical Banks' book. Okay dialogue (it does not immediately grate on the reader),  creative plot development, and minimal cat references. This story about an enterprise existent since before Christianity features a heroine, Kate Telman, who has a friend with a cat named Squeamish. Kate's current job is persuading a small backward country to allow itself to be taken over by the eponymous Business, so said organization can obtain a seat in the United Nations.

We quote from his Guardian obituary, with small rearrangements to their narrative. (so did Wikipedia though they did not source it, but I digress.)

Banks was born in Dunfermline, the only child of an admiralty officer and a former professional ice skater. ... He was educated at .... the University of Stirling, where he read English, philosophy and psychology. (He would later teach creative writing at the university, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1997.)

After graduating in 1975 he took a series of jobs, including working as technician at the Nigg Bay oil platform construction site and at the IBM computer plant at Greenock. He visited the US and then moved to London, where he worked as a clerk in a Chancery Lane law firm. Here he met his partner, later to become his first wife, Annie.

While he worked he was writing. In the late 1970s he completed three science fiction novels that failed to find publishers, though all three would later be reworked and published successfully. Then followed one of the more remarkable literary debuts

His first published novel,
The Wasp Factory, appeared in 1984, when he was 30 years old, though it had been rejected by six publishers before being accepted by Macmillan. It was an immediate succès de scandale. The narrator is the 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame, who lives with his taciturn father in an isolated house on the north-east coast of Scotland. Frank lives in a world of private rituals, ...and has committed several murders. The explanation of his isolation and his obsessiveness is shockingly revealed in one of the culminating plot twists for which Banks was to become renowned.

It was followed by
Walking on Glass (1985),....The next year's novel, The Bridge, ... in combining fantasy and allegory with minutely located naturalistic narrative, ...was clearly influenced by Alasdair Gray's Lanark (1981). It remained the author's own avowed favourite.

His first science fiction novel,
Consider Phlebas, was published in 1987, though he had drafted it soon after completing The Wasp Factory. In it he created The Culture, a galaxy-hopping society run by powerful but benevolent machines and possessed of what its inventor called "well-armed liberal niceness". It would feature in most of his subsequent sci-fi novels. Its enemies are the Idirans, a religious, humanoid race who resent the benign powers of the Culture. In this conflict, good and ill are not simply apportioned. Banks provided a heady mix of, on the one hand, action and intrigue on a cosmic scale .... and, on the other, ruminations on the clash of ideas and ideologies.

For the rest of his career literary novels would alternate with works of science fiction,...
Player of Games (1988) was followed by Use of Weapons (1990). ....

In 1991 Banks moved from England to Scotland, settling in North Queensferry, Fife, very close to his childhood home. He had remained close to his parents, who in their old age moved to live next to him.

Scottish settings now became important to many of his novels.
The Crow Road (1992) is a Scottish family saga....Banks's abiding love of cars is encoded in the book, .... In 2006, finally conceding to the force of green politics, Banks sold his two Porsches, his BMW and his Land Rover in favour of a Lexus hybrid.

The Crow Road, with its cast of eccentrics and its exactly observed local detail, was successfully serialised for BBC television in 1996 ....The production was directed by Gavin Millar, who several years later also directed a TV version of Banks's next novel, Complicity (1993). This was a less buoyant and formally more restive work. Its protagonist, a Scottish journalist called Colley, finds himself implicated in the crimes of a serial killer. The novel alternates the narration of the journalist, written in the first person, with the narrative of the murderer, told in the second person.

By the time that Banks was duly named as one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists in 1993 (aged then 39) he was an established name with a strong and often youthful following.

....Always a man of the left, Banks was animated by political causes and his pronouncements began to attract journalistic attention. The Iraq war made him a loud critic of Tony Blair. The impress of his political views was increasingly evident in his fiction and it seemed to some of his admirers that they were exerting too strong an influence.
Dead Air (2002), featured a narrator, Ken Nott, whose views seem little distanced from his author's and who is licensed to berate the reader about political morality, American imperialism, the Royal family and the like.

Banks's next work of literary fiction was
The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007), a return to the territory of The Crow Road. Banks's protagonist, Alban McGill, struggles to prevent his family's company from being taken over by a US giant, occasioning diatribes against American capitalism and American foreign policy that seem straightforwardly authorial. 

His science fiction works, meanwhile, seemed liberated from some of his grimmer certainties and were notably even-handed in their treatment of moral and ideological dispute. From
Excession (1996) to The Hydrogen Sonata (2012), he produced a sequence of seven science-fiction novels, all but one of which, The Algebraist (2004), belonged to the Culture series. Agents of The Culture are on a mission to spread democracy, secularism and social justice throughout the universe. It might be thought that they represent Banks's own values. Yet, as a novelist, he had considerable sympathy for those who resist this imposition of contentment.

In 2010 Banks publicly joined the cultural boycott of Israel, refusing to allow his novels to be sold in the country. He was a frequent signatory of letters of protest to the
Guardian and a name recruited to causes of which he approved, from secular humanism to the legalising of assisted suicide to the preservation of public libraries. Banks himself was a self-declared "evangelical atheist" and a man of decided political views, often expressed with humorous exasperation and sometimes requiring ripe language. He relished his public status as no-nonsense voice of a common-sense socialism that had an increasingly nationalistic tint.

An expert on Scottish whisky (when he won TV's
Celebrity Mastermind, his specialist subject was Scottish whiskies and distilleries), Banks enjoyed the conviviality of a shared drink. In 2003 he published Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram, an account of his travels through the highlands and islands of Scotland in pursuit of the history and the special pleasures of malt whisky. ....

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...

The obit also talks about how Iain Banks used his web presence to make his readers feel important and in touch with him. Banks seems a man of our times, and that is not completely a compliment.  

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