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The Edinburgh International Book Festival presents Iain (M) Banks

I have a Press Pass. I am officially a SF/F Editor. Slightly rocking.

So. On Monday last I rocked on up to my first ever event as a fully paid up member of the Literary World (the pass was free). Naturally, I startd off amazingly well: I went to what I thought was the Press Pod, and made myself comfortable while I waited for the queue to form. A rather imperious woman looked down her nose at me and said, "If you're press, please go to the Press Pod". Ah, well done, Rebekah. You're in the authors' tent. Whoops.

Duly chastened, I slunk around the corner to the correct round tent (yurt?), grabbed a newspaper, and buried my head in it for a few minutes. Nice lady then showed me to the HUGE queue for Iain Banks' talk, and all was well with the world once more.

8 o'clock arrived and we were hustled into the main theatre and handed a dram of Highland Park whisky. I knew this was a good event to choose.

And then the man himself appeared. He's slightly scruffy, as you'd expect, and a little older than I thought he would be. He also has an amazing Scottish accent, and a penchant for dropping the F-bomb. I thought the old lady sitting next to me would be shocked and appalled, but then I remembered that I was in Scotland, and Fuck is practically formal language.

All sorts of topics were touched upon, although the majority of the question/answer session was about Transition. So. In note form, a few fascinating facts for you.


- Was written in a state of anger. Banks says he's been angry since the Iraq invasion, and Britian's involvement in torture. He says the book partly came from feeling ashamed of his own society.

- There is an element of Evil Financial Institutions in it, partly by accident (although he was writing this book at the time of the financial meltdown).

- The evil character is a woman because he did such a terrible job of making Grandma Win into the bad guy in
The Steep Approach to Garbadale so he had to try again. Apparently he was more successful this time. ;)

The Culture in general:

- a Socialist utopia written as a Lefty wish fulfillment.

- Response to the Space Operas of the 1970s, which he grew up on, and which were predominantly Right wing and American, and didn't have economic advances along with all the technological ones (apparently Capitalism = bad).

- Also a reaction to Britain's Sci-fi, which was depressing and miserable (think 1984).

- The protagonists are all outside of the Culture because, let's face it, Utopia is pretty boring.

Hints about the new Culture novel

Surface Detail is set 800 years after the last Culture novel, and there have been Big Changes in the Culture. There are some new agencies, and this has lead to inter-agency turf wars. Nice.

- More Minds and sarcastic drones.

- Exquisite name for a ship: Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints

General Stuff:

- Book he had most fun writing was
Dead Air - easy because it was ranting. Book he wrote most quickly was Player of Games - first draft took 3 weeks. Book he's most proud of is The Bridge.

The Crow Road was written to show what he felt about family and Scotland. Although he is an only child, he has a huge family, and so wanted to write a family novel.

- Favourite books and writers:
Graham Greene (made him more tolerant of religion)
Catch 22
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Lanark (by Alasdair Gray)
David Mitchell
Everything from Aldiss to Zelazny

- Mr Banks is very funny, and really good to listen to. The hour-long event felt like it lasted about half an hour.

And yes, I stole this from But I'm allowed to. I wrote it. :|

Also: hello. :)
Camilla likes this


I am glad we now have someone who can cover the book festival. It is killing me that I am missing it, ironically by being locked in the library.

I can't say I have yet to discover Ian Banks (with or without the M), despite the enthusiastic endorsements I keep getting from you and Tim. I should probably read one of his books before I leave Edinburgh. It would be annoying to get an overwhelming urge to stalk him once I've moved back to Norway.

We've got quite a few you could borrow. But you are not allowed to leave Edinburgh.

And we're doing Consider Phlebas for our September book club. It's great. I'm going to review it tomorrow.

I am quite looking forward to that. I'll make popcorn.
I might read Consider Phlebas. Maybe.

It is not a long book. And it is very good. I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, but really enjoyed it. Twice.
Camilla,  26.08.10 00:07

but Tor always start muttering stuff about food and lodging coming from money and money coming from jobs.

Ok. If you bring the book the next time we meet up, I'll read it. I promise.
Tor,  26.08.10 08:03

For some reason, I have always thought Iain Banks was some sort of crime/thriller author, along the lines of Robert Ludlum, or the guy who wrote The Broker, The Associate and about 20 other books with similar titles. And now that I look him up at wikipedia, I notice that there is a difference between Iain Banks and Iain M Banks, and that only M writes science fiction. Who would have thought?
Tim,  26.08.10 10:52

You are thinking of Ian Rankin, who wrote the Inspector Rebus novels. He lives in Edinburgh, and Banks lives pretty close (North Queensferry), and they are both called Ia(i)n, so it's an easy mistake to make if you haven't read any of their books.

Iain Banks and Iain M Banks are the same person, but he was aware that the general public likes to put authors in boxes, which means that if you write sci-fi, you're not "allowed" to write anything else. So he publishes regular fiction as Iain Banks and sci-fi as Iain M Banks.

Oddly, his latest book, Transition, was marketed as sci-fi (under Iain M Banks) in the USA, and as regular fiction (under Iain Banks) in the UK, apparently because his sci-fi sells much better in the USA than his regular fiction does. It may also be because when you're writing about 9/11, you need some extra distance from reality when it comes to American readers.

I haven't read the book yet, but apparently it's sort of borderline between the two genres: set in our world and involving real historical events but with parallel realities. I guess this is why they felt they had a choice of how to label it, which you don't have when you're writing space opera.
Iain Banks