A prolific author, Iain Banks was born in Dunfermline in1954; he died in June 2013, aged 59. Two months earlier he had made public – through his website - the fact that he had terminal cancer. In typical self-deprecating Banks style he started the post by saying I am officially Very Poorly, going on to explain that a sore back in January which he had put down to poor posture whilst writing led to a visit to his doctor the next month when symptoms persisted. He had a full diagnosis by early March; around three months later he was dead.
Banks brought forward the publication of his final book, The Quarry, in the hope that he would see it in print before he died. In an unusual twist of fate one of the key characters in The Quarry is suffering from cancer; Banks received his diagnosis when he had already written a large chunk of the book.
Iain Banks has two identities – the science fiction writer (books published under the name Iain M Banks) and the author of books which wormed their way into the canon of literary fiction. Banks is not an easy writer – his mainstream books have characters who are often alienated, isolated, drowning in the cruelties of life. Most of his science fiction books focus on a society called The Culture, where illness and death are things of the past and material wealth is a given.
Iain Banks always knew he wanted to be a writer; his first success came with the book The Wasp Factory , first published in 1984. The central character, a teenager called Frank, maintains a life of ritual and power, patrolling the remote area in Scotland where he lives with his father and marking the limits of his territory with dead animals. The book has a horrifying twist at the end that makes the reader re-evaluate all that has gone before. When released The Wasp Factory received a mixed reception, some critics struggling with the dark nature of much of the content of the book. Yet in retrospect the novel has gained huge acclaim, and has done well in polls of readers’ favourite books. Following a recommendation from his editor, Banks proceeded to produce a book a year. Some of the best known include the mainstream book The Crow Road and the science fiction book Consider Phlebes.
Although Iain Banks met death quickly and surprisingly, he built up a huge body of work which means his name will live on through future generations. His unique talent created books unlike any others, both fantastical and deeply real explorations of the human condition.