Scottish author Iain Banks, a giant figure in both mainstream and science-fiction publishing, died on Sunday.
Banks, 59, came to prominence with his 1984 crime novel, “The Wasp Factory.” His second novel, “Walking on Glass,” followed a year later, to still more acclaim. He soon made a name for himself in the science-fiction universe with “Consider Phlebas,” published in 1987. That book was the first installment of his Culture series, which primarily follows stories within a massive technologically advanced anarchist utopian society.
Publisher Little, Brown announced the author’s death on Sunday, less than two months after the Scottish scribe told the world that he had terminal cancer. Three weeks before his death, Banks was able to see finished copies of his final novel, “The Quarry.” The book, scheduled to be published on June 20, is about a young man whose father is dying of cancer and the father’s friends that flock to his deathbed. (The subject matter of his final book was a tragic coincidence: Banks had no idea he was sick himself until the novel was nearly finished.)
“Iain Banks' ability to combine the most fertile of imaginations with his own highly distinctive brand of gothic humor made him unique. He is an irreplaceable part of the literary world,” the publisher said in a statement.
The author was extremely prolific later in life, turning out at least one book per year. But in April, Banks broke the news in his characteristically straightforward prose that he was doing “officially Very Poorly.”
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“I have cancer,” Banks wrote. “It started in my gall bladder, has infected both lobes of my liver and probably also my pancreas and some lymph nodes, plus one tumor is massed around a group of major blood vessels in the same volume, effectively ruling out any chance of surgery to remove the tumors either in the short- or long-term.”
Fellow UK author Neil Gaiman wrote a moving post about his acquaintance with Banks on Sunday. Amid the praise for his colleague’s work, Gaiman fondly recalled a fiercely intelligent man who occasionally scaled hotel buildings.
“If you've never read any of his books, read one of his books. Then read another,” Gaiman said. “Even the bad ones were good, and the good ones were astonishing.”
Some of Banks’ most recently published works include the last Culture novel, “The Hydrogen Sonata,” about a civilization on the brink of transcending to another plane of existence, with a four-armed musician protagonist; “Raw Spirit,” a travelogue about searching Scotland for a perfect dram of whiskey; and “Stonemouth,” a novel about a 20-something man that returns to a Scottish town for a funeral five years after being run out by a bunch of gangsters.
“I don’t really do themes,” Banks told the Scotsman in a 2012 interview. “I might accidentally, but themes are an emergent phenomena of the writing of the book, of just trying to get a story out there. These are the sort of things I rely on academics and critics to spot. I just come up with the stories and write them as well as I can. There’s not really a great deal of strokey-beard thinking going on.”