Socialist Worker

Iain Banks 1954-2013

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2357

Iain Banks

Iain Banks

Novelist Iain Banks who died from cancer last Sunday, grabbed the attention of audiences and critics from his first novel, The Wasp Factory. It is the story of the twisted backyard empire of a mysterious teenage murderer and was voted one of the top 100 books of the 20th century.

He was remarkable among novelists for half his novels being science fiction and not being written under a pseudonym. As Iain M Banks he was one of the most boldly imaginative science fiction writers of the turn of the millennium.

His series of novels about the Culture showed a society so advanced that scarcity, exploitation and oppression had become obsolete. The people of Banks' communist future can change sex or species more easily than we can change jobs. They can devote their lives to anything from drug fuelled hedonism to crafting exquisite new worlds.

It's a society that doesn't always live up to its own promises. Its humans owe their freedom to technology, not self-emancipation, and often end up frustrated and confused, gnawing at the Culture's limits or immersing themselves in its darker side.

Banks applied the same inventiveness to his mainstream mysteries and adventures, from gruesome revenge against capitalists and tyrants in Complicity to the dark secrets of a Scottish cult in Whit.

Bank once described himself as a frustrated political writer and many of his characters echo these frustrations. He remained politically committed to the end. He was a high profile supporter of the Scottish Socialist Party a decade ago and of the anti-war movement—cutting up his passport in disgust at Tony Blair. He used one of his last public acts to build support for the cultural boycott of Israel against its oppression of the Palestinians.

The left lost more than a high-profile champion of good causes and a writer of great warmth and wit when Banks died last Sunday. In the best traditions of science fiction, the stranger his works became the more they showed us ourselves—and what capitalism stops us becoming. 

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Tue 11 Jun 2013, 17:35 BST
Issue No. 2357
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