Today we learned the sad news that Iain Banks has terminal cancer, or with his usual understated manner he is "officially Very Poorly". I first came to the attention of his back in the 1980s - I picked up a copy of the Wasp Factory, and was so taken with the inclusion of all the negative reviews I simply had to read it. Within the first few pages I was completely hooked - I had never read anything quite like it before (or since). It was powerful, macabre, funny and sickening, and it remains one of the best books that I have ever read in my life. I have always looked forward to the new Banksy; science fiction then mainstream and back again.
His science fiction has been epic, in every sense of the word, and shows remarkable vision and story telling powers - he has made space opera his own playground and his work easily puts him on a par with Asimov, Clarke, Wells; any science fiction writer you care to name. His 'mainstream' material has equally been stunning; 'It was the day my grandmother exploded' has surely to be one of the very best opening lines in literature.
Apart from all of that, Iain is just such a nice person. I've been very fortunate to have had the opportunity of sitting with him at science fiction conventions, chatting and having drinks. One of my endearing memories is when he turned up an hour late to give an author reading, and read in a very thick Scottish accent; you had to have read the book to get what he was saying, and lots of people were sitting around entirely confused, while the rest of us were in tears of laughter. I remember how he got hauled down from a hotel scaffolding at 4am by the police - he thought it would be fun to climb it. I recall seeing him striding across a hotel room with a fixed expression on his face, carrying a fire extinguisher, only to be followed a couple of minutes later by several conference 'gofers'. "Where's Banks?" they said. We pointed and said "That way, carrying a fire extinguisher". The reply was lost in their rush for the door, but I believe it contained several profanities.
Iain is a fan's fan. That's to say, he's always turned up at conventions, mingled in with everyone else and has never taken the aloof 'I am a *writer*, kneel to me' that some authors have been inclined to do. He's sat on panels, awarded things, made fun of himself and has generally just been a really nice person. He is one of those people who have left the world a better place than they found it, and we are fortunate enough to have a good body of his work to enjoy. But that of course doesn't make up for the loss we will have.
Iain - it's highly unlikely that you'll read this, but if you do - thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the books, the stories, the fun, the laughter and the pleasure of just being in the same location as you. You're quite simply one of the very best.