Iain M Banks, who died this morning from cancer managed to conquer two literary genres in one career – “straight” fiction and “science” fiction. In both of these fields he displayed a remarkable talent. I read “The Wasp Factory” first. The strange, haunting and disturbing atmosphere that pervades the novel is as powerful a vision, in it’s own way, as Orwell’s, 1984.
I followed it with “Use of Weapons” one of his early sci-fi novels. I was blown away by Banks’s rich creation – “The Culture”. A futuristic, extremely liberal, technologically advanced civilisation forcing it’s own brand of enlightenment on the rest of the universe. An achievement easily on a par with Asimovs creation of “The Foundation”. The novel covers the Culture’s struggles with an almost Medieval, brutal religious civilisation. The juxtaposition of of any present day issue (in this case the US – Muslim world conflict), onto a separate future is possibly where the real power of all science fiction lies. It allows for a more dispassionate appraisal of a situation and an opportunity to re-value it from a distant perspective. He will be sadly missed.